March 23 is remembered as Pakistan Day and rightly marked as a day of rejoicing, since it was the same day when the foundation of our beloved homeland was laid down with clarity of vision and vivid line of action to achieve it.
It was the day when the Pakistan Resolution was approved by prominent Muslim leaders across the subcontinent. This vision was inspired by the dream of Allama Iqbal, who - almost a decade ago - had envisioned a separate homeland for the Muslims of the subcontinent, where they could live their lives in accordance with their religious, and social and cultural ideologies. This vision of Iqbal was evidently reflected in the resolution tabled by Maulvi Fazal-e-Haq, another prominent supporter and leader of Muslim identity on March 23, 1940.
This resolution was not only based on a roadmap to acquire a new country, but also comprised of an agenda of economic, social and religious freedom for the Muslims of the subcontinent, who were marginalised and discriminated against in every field of life due to their fewer numbers. This resolution promised a life of economic prosperity, social equality, cultural identity and religious freedom for all the inhabitants of the region irrespective of their religion, caste, colour or creed.
It was the occasion when this dream for building a new nation, dreamt by Iqbal and put into words by Maulvi Fazal-e-Haq, was set as a goal under the dynamic leadership of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Indeed, this struggle led an economically and socially weak community towards the establishment of a nation; hence, allowing them to write their own destiny freely.
While celebrating this historic day, we must not forget that the Father of the Nation never abandoned the dream of empowering the people, and providing them an enabling and conducive environment, where they could have equal opportunities and make Pakistan a prosperous nation. Therefore, it was the persuasion of the same dream when the great founding father termed the provision of better economic opportunity to people as his number one priority.
Quaid-i-Azam conceived Pakistan as a modern, progressive state established on the foundations of social justice and wellbeing of the people. During a speech few months before its creation, our great Quaid declared it in very clear terms that “it will be a people’s government.”
This fact clearly reflects from his first policy speech on August 11, 1947, when the Father of the Nation explained his vision about the newly emerging nation by saying: “If we want to make this great State of Pakistan happy and prosperous, we should wholly and solely concentrate on the well being of the people, and especially of the masses and the poor.” Thus, it can be said that Pakistan was envisioned as a country that ensures equal opportunities, as well as a just distribution of resources, for all the citizens, especially for the poor masses so as to enable them to live a life free of economic woes and hardships.
Later, Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (ZAB), too, initiated the struggle to give the people of Pakistan their rights. The economic agenda of Shaheed ZAB for the country was inspired and perfectly in line with the vision of Quaid-i-Azam. Shaheed ZAB formulated numerous policies based on his dreams for uplifting the lives of the poor masses.
It is an undeniable fact that Shaheed ZAB sacrificed himself in his struggle to give the people of Pakistan their fundamental rights, as well as equal opportunities and means, to live a dignified life. It is an irony of the history that the forces, who do not want to give the people their rights later deprived them from another courageous leader, Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto also laid her life during her momentous struggle to revive democracy, and to protect and safeguard the rights of the people of Pakistan.
Today, the political heirs of ‘Bhuttos’ are advancing the same legacy, while dealing with unprecedented challenges and crisis on the national and international fronts. The present democratic government has shown tremendous commitment with this vision and economic well being of the people, thanks to the unwavering determination and firm support from President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.
The democratic government right after its inception constituted the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) to alleviate the sufferings of the downtrodden segments of society and to combat with growing poverty effectively. The pro-poor vision of the PPP-led democratic government dictates that poverty in Pakistan is a complex phenomenon and needs to be tackled by applying innovative measures.
Therefore, a comprehensive strategy was adopted through the BISP, besides taking steps aiming at immediate relief, i.e. monthly cash grant to beneficiary families. Initially, the BISP was formed to provide cash grants to poor families that were in dire need to get immediate support. However, the horizon of the programme has been expanded gradually to turn it into an initiative in line with the vision of Quaid-i-Azam, as well as the economic and social agenda of “Bhuttos”.
The BISP is also contributing significantly for the cause of women empowerment and emancipation in the society, which was another important dream of Quaid-i-Azam for the state of Pakistan. As a comprehensive social safety net, the programme has not only revived hopes of the poor, but also laid the foundation for a sustainable and developed Pakistan by its new imitative, i.e. Waseela-e-Taleem, which aims at promoting education among the children from poor families in the country.
Today, 72 years after the endorsement of Pakistan Resolution, we are ensuing and advancing the agenda of empowering people, which was the primary and foremost important objective of the creation of Pakistan. The formulation of the BISP is contributing significantly in materialising the dreams of making Pakistan a truly social welfare state.
March 23 provides an opportunity to reaffirm our strong commitment of uplifting the lives of poor and marginalised segments of society, and make Pakistan a country full of opportunities for every Pakistani without any discrimination.
n The writer is chairperson of the Benazir Income Support Programme.