Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Ehsaas social assistance program

The writer is the Focal Person for English Print Media to Minister for Information and Colonies

I voted for Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in 2013. I voted for Imran Khan in 2018. He was the National Assembly PTI candidate in my area of residence in Lahore. Despite a few disappointments related to PTI government’s performance since Sepetmber 2018 after Khan’s swearing-in as the prime minister of Pakistan, there has not been a single occasion when I had to self-question: why did I vote for Khan?

My lifelong fascination with politics is deeply interconnected with my unchangeable belief: political leaders, through their intention, vison, sagacity and action have the power to change the destiny of a country, in every way. Notwithstanding the certain flaws of their character, as a Pakistani who has unabashed love for her country, and as a human being who observes and cares about every little thing happening in her country, I believe that if they have three qualities, they have my trust. And my vote. I turned into a PTI supporter from a cautious sceptic in 2011. I didn’t think PTI had a very bright future. All I focused on were three qualities of Imran Khan, which despite his much-discussed few imperfections made him the leader I could trust Pakistan’s future with:

Imran Khan is sincere to the point of being an idealist to the wellbeing of Pakistan and Pakistanis.

Imran Khan is financially incorruptible.

Imran Khan’s empathetic of the pain of the underprivileged, making him unique in the world of politics where self-preservation and self-advancement are always paramount.

As long as Imran Khan is these three things, he is my leader.

On April 9, Prime Minister Khan tweeted: “Today saw the launch of the biggest cash distribution by any govt in Pak’s history, directly to the most vulnerable & needy citizens in our society. This is a great achievement of our govt to transfer cash to the needy in our society on such a massive scale across the country. Rs 144 billion will be distributed amongst 12 million families over the next two weeks.”

The biggest cash distribution program in the history of Pakistan is the Ehsaas Emergency Cash program. Ehsaas is Khan’s government’s “biggest and boldest program ever launched in Pakistan to uplift marginalised people.”

Under the impeccable supervision of Special Assistant to the Prime Minister of Pakistan on Poverty Alleviation and Social Protection Dr Sania Nishtar, government of Pakistan’s Rs 150 billion social protection plan will help 12 million families. The raison d’être of the Ehsaas Emergency Cash Program, according to Dr Nishtar, is “to provide social protection to more than 12 million deserving families affected by economic downturn due to COVID-19.”

Through regular interactions with members of the affected segments of society, and updates via videos and tweets, Dr Nishtar’s current work is focused on providing comprehensive information about the relief program and ensuring its glitch-free implementation. Using NADRA’s database, identification of welfare-eligible families has been done; contact has been made through SMS. In Pakistan where the majority of the people lack access or knowledge of banking processes and technology-assisted transactions, making a system that is easy to avail is not a simple process. A large number of Pakistanis, already familiar with the online transaction processes of Easy Paisa and JazzCash, with adequate guidance, are and will be able to benefit from the Ehsaas relief program.

A significant step to ensure sustainable delivery of cash for 12 million families to “buy rations so that they don’t go hungry” is the reorganisation of the district system to avoid mismanagement. Fear of overcrowded-ness at counters of 18,000 branches of banks assigned to reimburse funds is another issue that must not be allowed to become an obstacle in providing relief to people in the time of COVID-19.

Social and physical distancing is the fundamental safeguard against coronavirus; establishing that in reality and in full is a herculean task in a developing country like Pakistan where the material status of millions of people makes distancing and remaining indoors for long periods a physical impossibility. It is an agonising reality of Pakistan that Prime Minister Khan highlighted, with pain, in one of his coronavirus awareness and prevention speeches to the nation in March.

Dr Nishtar and her team, under the constant supervision of Prime Minister Khan, are doing their best to make Ehsaas the temporary relief millions of Pakistanis need as they lose their daily or monthly livelihoods due to the horrific reality of the ongoing pandemic.

On April 11, the total number of reported coronavirus cases in Pakistan is 4, 788. The number of recovered patients is 762. The number of those who didn’t survive is 72. It is painful to read these numbers. To the prime minister of Pakistan, these are not mere numbers. To him, they are Pakistanis who are suffering, who lost their lives, whose families weren’t with them when they died, whose loved ones will mourn them for forever.

Prime Minister Khan’s April 2020 Ehsaas Emergency Cash Program in a cash-strapped Pakistan is merely an extension of his decades’ long concern for the poor, the invisible of Pakistan. The Urdu “ehsaas” defies a perfect translation. In the sense that it is used as the title of Pakistan’s social relief program, it could be translated into concern, compassion, empathy. The last word is the fundamental of Khan’s politics. Empathy of Khan for the invisible of Pakistan is why I look at him as my leader, my hero. Empathy of Khan is not a new phenomenon.

In an interview in 2004, Imran Khan, former cricketer, philanthropist and politician, said: “It was one moment. I saw her [Khan’s mother] in pain. I was waiting for her doctor. This old man walked in with a slip in his hand; he asked the assistant if he had brought all the medicines, who answered one more was needed. I saw this man; his face just became sad. And he left. When asked, I was told that the man’s brother was dying of cancer. He had brought him from a place 100 miles away; no bed in the hospital, he slept on the floor. All day he worked, returned and sat with him all night. And he toiled to buy him medicines.

Because of my own situation [his mother’s cancer], this became a turning point. Here, I am privileged, no shortage of resources, and look at what I’m going through. What must this man be going through?

That was when I thought of building a cancer hospital. Where a poor person can walk in, and if he doesn’t have money, he shouldn’t have to worry about having a loved one treated free.”

On the issue of the complete lockdown of Pakistan, Imran Khan, Prime Minister of Pakistan, on March 20, addressed the nation: “…our issue is that 25 percent of Pakistanis live under the poverty line. That means that they are unbale to have two proper meals. If I do a complete lockdown today, it would mean that rickshaw drivers, roadside sellers, taxi drivers, small shopkeepers, daily wage earners of my country will be locked inside their homes. Would they have resources to feed their families for two weeks? Do we have the capacity that we provide them food at their homes? Right now, our capacity is not that.

If I do a full lockdown, I’d have to think: what will happen to my Pakistanis who live under the poverty line?”

Pakistan went into a lockdown on March 22. A few days later, the prime minister of Pakistan, with his deep ehsaas, his unflinching empathy for the poor, the invisible of Pakistan, announced his Ehsaas Emergency Cash Program.

If I’m alive, I’ll vote for Imran Khan in 2023. InshaAllah.


(This article was first published in Gulf News on April 11, 2020)


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