KARACHI: The government’s reported move to ‘rename’ the country’s flagship social protection programme – Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) – on Sunday stirred a controversy, with the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) terming it a conspiracy to end crucial support to poor segments of society.
Top leadership of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) also seemed to be in different league as Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi took separate stance over the issue.
“Personally, I am not in favour of changing the name of BISP,” the foreign minister said when quizzed by the media in Multan, adding changing the name “is a legislative matter and a legal process must be followed in this case”.
A poverty-targeted cash transfer, the BISP provides a regular stipend to over five million families. Almost 90% of BISP initiatives are funded by the government, the remaining 10% comes from donor organisations such as the Asian Development Bank, World Bank and the UK’s Department for International Development.
Qureshi urges opposition parties to cooperate with government
The minister said that certain opposition members in the Sindh Assembly, including PTI members, the MQM-P and the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) had requested Prime Minister Imran Khan to change the name of BISP while he was visiting Ghotki on Saturday.
According to the media reports, the premier replied: "BISP's name is being amended."
Qureshi explained that they felt the programme had been "misused" by the PPP and its political activists, and that they also had raised "objections and concerns" to a survey that had been conducted under BISP earlier.
He described the opposition's demand as an opinion. "People can have opinions," he continued.
There was nothing in the name but the main thing was performance, that how many people could be benefited from the financial assistance programme, Qureshi stated.
Qureshi said the incumbent government was not in favour of deal or relaxation as it strongly believed that things should move forward as per law.
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He said the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) was an independent institution which was taking action against corrupt elements without any prejudice.
NAB held the PTI, PML-N and PPP members accountable without any discrimination, he said, adding the government was not interfering into its matters.
The foreign minister said the country was passing through a critical juncture as India was trying to isolate Pakistan and put it in black list.
He urged PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Opposition Leader Shehbaz Sharif to avoid narrow thinking and show more responsibility for country's interest.
He said there were and would be political differences between PTI and the two opposition parties but he hoped that both the parties would play their role in the development of the country.
Regarding the recently launched 'Ehsas' programme by the government, Qureshi hoped that it would serve the poor in amicable way.
To a question about South Punjab province, Qureshi said south Punjab province was not a slogan but it was need of the hour. “It is very difficult to run a province having 120 million population,” and added, “The government is committed to resolving the problems of South Punjab.”
Meanwhile, PPP Chairman said the reported name change of BISP was a "conspiracy" of the prime minister, who he alleged wanted to end the programme.
He claimed that women in Sehwan and Thatta were protesting as those who should be receiving the BISP funds were being treated unfairly.
"But this is a long-term conspiracy to end the Benazir Income Support Programme," Bilawal alleged.
"These people are enemies of the people and enemies of the poor," he said, alluding to the government. "First they will change the name then they will reduce the money, then they will completely end it."
Bilawal said the BISP programme was the "best use" of the country's money. By giving poor women money not only are women empowered but the economy is also strengthened from the bottom up, he added.
He explained that when a poor person has money, they purchase something which in turn improves the economy.
"Their (government's) thought process is that 'we just need to make the rich richer and a country develops with this'," Bilawal alleged, saying that this was an ideological difference between the PPP and the PTI and PML-N.
Adviser to the Sindh chief minister, Barrister Murtaza Wahab, also condemned the reported decision, saying that "someone should tell the prime minister that to change the name, the law has to be changed".
He added that the premier should try and understand the law before making such announcements and reminded him that he is "Pakistan's prime minister, not [its] king".
Party stalwart Khursheed Shah while addressing a ceremony in Sukkur today strongly condemned such a move. "If they want to remove Benazir's name from the card, they can. But how will they remove her name from the hearts and minds of the people of Pakistan?" he asked.
"Benazir's politics don't need any card. The announcement to remove her name in Sindh is [like] contempt of Sindh," he claimed.
Benazir's daughter Bakhtawar Bhutto-Zardari said on Twitter that "It would save a lot of time and resources if puppet governments didn't attempt to re-label and really badly recycle the Benazir Income Support Programme."
Separately, Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Chaudhry Fawad Hussain asked PPP leader Khursheed Shah to stop using the names of Benazir Bhutto and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
In a tweet, the minister said Shah was the main person responsible for the destruction of public sector institutions.
Fawad reminded the PPP leader that he was head of the committee which inducted incompetent cronies on political basis in various institutions and departments.
He said the political inductions in the national institutions destroyed them like termite attack.
With additional input from News Desk, APP