EDITORIAL: PPP (Pakistan People’s Party) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto’s warning that it would “become difficult” for his party to remain part of the federal government if the centre does not cough up cash promised to flood victims in Sindh could not have come at a worse time for the prime minister.
The PDM (Pakistan Democratic Movement) coalition is getting enough bad press as it is, because of its failure to stabilise the economy and take timely action against resurgent TTP (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan) terrorism.
Now, a split with PPP with the general election only months away will give a very charged PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) in the opposition yet more ammunition to grill it with. So it’s sure to address this situation with a lot of urgency.
Bilawal is upset that the centre has failed to honour its promise of providing a Rs 4.7 billion grant out of a total of Rs 13.5 billion that were needed to provide relief to flood-hit farmers through a subsidy programme.
And since the Sindh government did keep its word and transferred its share, Rs 8.39 billion, from the provincial budget to the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) — for disbursement of Rs 5,000 per acre to small growers holding up to 12 acres of agriculture land — he did not hold back about how he, rather his party, felt about the PDM dragging its feet over this issue.
PPP is right that this matter concerns not only farmers’ livelihoods destroyed by the floods and disruption of the crop cycle, but also food security.
That’s bad news for a country that’s already dropped from being a net food exporter to a desperate importer, especially when the trade imbalance is playing a big part in the overall economic collapse. And it’s very unfortunate that at such a sensitive time the government’s attitude smacks of an unforgivable disregard for farmers ravaged by record floods as well as the suffering economy.
Hopefully, it will realise that it has neither too many options nor the luxury of time and settle this matter sooner rather than later.
But that’s not all. PPP has also raised difficult questions about the ongoing digital census. “How is it justified that election to one provincial assembly is held on the basis of 2018 census, while the other on the digital census?” Bilawal questioned, in a way echoing the government’s own concerns in the wake of the recent Supreme Court suo motu case ordering elections in Punjab and KP (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) within 90 days.
This is an important matter, no doubt, but it doesn’t help the government that PPP is threatening to reject the census if it is conducted in a “fraudulent” way. It seems authorities are simply trapped in a situation where they are forced to do what PPP is warning against, so the coming days and weeks will show whether or not the PDM-PPP coalition can overcome this problem.
Surely, the government realises that it cannot ignore these issues any longer. It is already under severe pressure, and a public breakup with PPP will be bad for it as well as the people, who always suffer the most whenever there is political uncertainty.
The issue about the subsidy to farmers, especially, deserves immediate attention. The world may have moved on from the plight of farmers once they dropped out of the headlines, but the government cannot afford to look the other way.
It will be suicidal for everybody; including farmers, the economy and also the government itself. Leaving flood victims out in the cold when all political parties are gearing up for their election campaigns is not just bad governance, but also bad politics, and amounts to completely misreading the current situation.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2023