Benzair Bhutto — indeed larger than life
There are some people who grow larger than life. Benazir Bhutto is among them. Today is the anniversary of her martyrdom, which was embraced in a gun and bomb attack after she addressed a successful public gathering in Rawalpindi in 2007. The attacker was captured on camera aiming his pistol at her but, still, how she died remains a mystery to this day. There are reports that snipers were perched on high buildings to take her out. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack since they did not want to see a woman lead the nation. UN investigators found a criminal aspect in washing the crime scene shortly after the assassination, hence pointing a finger at the government, headed at that time by General Pervez Musharraf. The former military dictator, however, has his own heady brew of conspiracies. And what not. In short, the assassination of Benazir Bhutto is an addition to the unresolved deaths that Pakistan has witnessed of its leaders starting from Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah to Liaqat Ali Khan. Khan was assassinated at the same park as Benazir; it was then named after him.
History of Pakistani politics is plated with tragedies and mysteries. Unfortunate is the fact that close to this park is another park where her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged in what was clearly a judicial murder. To his credit, Nawaz Sharif arrived at the Central Hospital and shed genuine tears, calling it the darkest day in the history of the nation.
On her assassination day, this newspaper ran its front page in black shade with an image of her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto rising at its heart. It was the reality at that time as riots were about to break out from Rawalpindi to Karachi. And who knows what damage would have been done if not for the mature slogan of Pakistan Khappay that former President Asif Ali Zardari chanted. Benazir Bhutto was even larger than the PPP politics, which came into power once again after her assassination. The party was mature enough to have completed its five-year term, which was a first for any civilian government in the country. Political insight of the party is evident from the fact that no one else can think of matching it in introducing laws in public interest, be it at the centre or in the provinces. But she was more than the PPP and today is the day to remember her message
The Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) has been subject to yet more scrutiny after the federal government removed more than 800,000 beneficiaries from the database, declaring them “undeserving”. This is a huge number, and the government must revise its decision. The cabinet meeting heard from Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Social Welfare and Poverty Alleviation Dr Sania Nishtar that “undeserving” people were detected because of several factors. Earlier, Dr Nishtar had been grilled at cabinet and parliamentary party meetings for not accommodating PTI workers in the social safety net programme and that most of the beneficiaries had been recommended by PPP and PML-N. Their reservations might be true for the programme was launched in July 2008, and most of the 5.4 million beneficiaries were recommended by parliamentarians of the time. Equally, however, is true that those beneficiaries passed several layers of surveys and they really were deserving people. The recent scrutiny carried out with the help of the National Database and Registration Authority examined the well-being of the beneficiaries on factors like: foreign travel by beneficiary or spouse, ownership of a motor vehicle, average monthly PTCL and/or mobile phone bill of more than Rs1,000, spouse’s government job, ownership of 12 acres, and so on.
The government must revisit its decision and reexamine the ground reality. A BISP beneficiary’s foreign visit does/should not disqualify him/her from the life-changing programme. The travel could be sponsored by family members or donors for religious reasons or medical treatment. The programme started by the PPP government dished out Rs1,000 per month, which has now reached Rs5,500, thanks to the programme’s impact and foreign donors’ confidence. PTI plans to increase the stipend to Rs6,000 and name the new grants as “Ehsaas Kifalat”. Changing the name would again brew another controversy and this would be a second attempt by the PTI and allied parties to change the programme’s name for political gains. The PML-N government tried to name to it as income support programme but stepped back after vociferous public opinion against the move. Earlier, PTI and GDA Sindh leaders demanded at a meeting with Imran Khan in Sindh that BISP’s name be changed. They complained to the prime minister that the people of Sindh believed that the BISP was a provincial work, so all dividends of the federally-funded programme were being milked by the PPP. The PTI government allocated Rs124 billion for the project.
PTI leaders are justified to say that the word ‘Benazir’ in the project has lots of political complications, which benefit the PPP. The best answer, however, is not to change its name but to run parallel poverty reduction plans with their favourite names.