Dawn Editorial 27 December 2019

PPP’s disappointing trajectory

GRANTED permission by the Lahore High Court to observe Benazir Bhutto’s death anniversary at the site of her assassination, PPP leaders, including party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, are set to honour the memory of their late leader at Liaquat Bagh, Rawalpindi, for the first time.
The aim of the party, which was earlier refused permission by the local administration to hold a rally at Liaquat Bagh, is to create some heat and light that can revive its bleak political fortunes ever since the PPP received a drubbing in the 2013 elections.
Today will mark a moment of remembrance for the party but also one of reflection.
There is much to reflect on for a party that has gone from a truly national symbol of resistance to a regional outfit of acquiescence. The slide has been gradual and painful.
From the fiery nationalism of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to the fierce defiance of Benazir Bhutto to the wily pragmatism of Asif Ali Zardari, and now the unsteady aggression of Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, the PPP has seen and endured it all.
Today, however, the rank and file of the party — that battled with tyrants and wrestled with the establishment — is fighting for relevance.
Reduced to its stronghold of Sindh, the party today is wandering in the political wilderness in search of a message, a slogan, an electorate and some traction. So far it has found very little.
The reasons are not hard to fathom.
Decades of self-flagellation with whips of corruption and ill-governance have left the party politically bloodied and weakened. It continues to be haunted by its own demons of ineptitude that are continually fed fat on a diet of gross mismanagement and lack of performance in the one province that it rules. The most ominous part of this tragic story is that the PPP does not seem to have learnt any lessons.
Does the leadership realise that it has almost been wiped out from its former stronghold of Punjab, and that it has been reduced to a negligible presence in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa?
Even in Sindh, it may be surviving on borrowed time as it has failed miserably to ensure good governance.
If the party leaders understand these grim realities, they are definitely not making any serious, focused and deliberate attempt to tackle the challenges they face.
Democracy is still fragile in Pakistan which needs leaders that raise a voice for progressive ideals and liberal values.
Mr Bhutto-Zardari may have shown that he is not reluctant to take firm positions on delicate matters but his task is to also transform the party by giving it direction that can help it regain the trust of a disillusioned vote bank. This requires more than fiery speeches. Let him show what he can deliver in Sindh and the voter will judge him for that.


BISP tumult

THE Benazir Income Support Programme that began in 2008 with the aim to provide cash support to the poorest of the poor households across Pakistan has entered another round of controversy as its newest leadership has taken action to remove more than 820,000 people from the rolls of its beneficiaries. The programme had attracted adverse attention throughout the decade in which it has been operational, with one army chief even going to the extent of describing the funds dispersed through it as a “waste”. The fact that the programme has survived, and in fact grown over this time period, shows the robustness of the original design. Now, under the leadership of Sania Nishtar, a technocrat from international NGOs, it has taken the controversial step of excluding a huge number of beneficiaries from the rolls. Ms Nishtar is surrounded in the cabinet by those who would prefer to turn the programme into some form of political handout, and one of the complaints that they are directing at Ms Nishtar is that under her leadership, the programme is benefiting their political opponents.
Ms Nishtar deserves all the support that she can get. The BISP must not become a regime for handing out goodies to those who vote for certain politicians. If they feel that the handouts are ‘benefiting their opponents’, they need to find some other way of delivering to their constituents rather than creating a back door for them to get onto the beneficiary rolls of the country’s largest social support programme. But at the same time, Ms Nishtar needs to avoid creating the impression that she is moving to scan the rolls to exclude beneficiaries simply for the sake of saving money. After thanking her cabinet colleagues following the deletion of more than 820,000 names, she also mentioned the fact that up to Rs16bn of government money would be saved as a result. That must not be the purpose of her leadership and the exercise she has just completed. It is now imperative for her to find an equal number of new and deserving beneficiaries and add them to the rolls. Equally important, transparency in the criteria for being excluded from the programme is necessary to avoid a situation where a government disqualifies beneficiaries on technical grounds for the sake of saving money. Allocations, coverage, reach and targeting need to be increased, not decreased. That is the first and foremost task.


Young hero

“THE teenage years of the Twenty-First Century are nearly over,” reads the UN year-end review of the past decade, before it goes on to name Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai as the ‘Teenager of the Decade’ for her work for the cause of girls’ education. At 21, Malala may not be a teenager anymore, but she has been using her voice and pen to speak out against tyranny for a decade, since she was an 11-year-old child: blogging for the BBC, or visiting different parts of Pakistan with her father to talk about the situation in Swat and her inability to pursue an education under the Pakistani Taliban’s brutal rule. At that time, the militant group had captured Swat Valley under the command of Mullah Fazlullah. He campaigned ferociously against the education of girls and destroyed several schools. In 2012, the Taliban attempted to silence Malala with a single bullet as she was making her way back from school in a van — an attack which also injured two other girls. Luckily, Malala survived the attempt to kill her and went on to be celebrated as a global icon focusing on girls’ education around the world.
In 2013, on her 16th birthday, Malala spoke eloquently at the UN. In 2014, she became co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize at the age of 17. And in 2017, she was admitted to the University of Oxford. Despite her colossal achievements on the global stage, many at home continue to slander her, particularly on social media, due to their own deep-rooted misogyny, envy, suspicion and ignorance. Those who write disgraceful comments from behind the comfort of their computer screens could probably never muster the courage to speak as eloquently as she did as a child, and they seem to forget that when this country was in the grip of terrorism, schools were continuously targeted. Now as a young woman, Malala continues to campaign for the right to education, which is especially important considering that two-thirds of the world’s illiterate population is comprised of women.


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