Who speaks for Pakistan’s poor?

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Does the plight of the country’s disproportionate poor figure in the political debate in Pakistan? Who speaks for the poor in Pakistan? Certainly, neither the PPP nor the PMLN.

PTI has the vote of the youth, the enfranchised modern females and a fair section of society but is it a pro-poor party? But is it seen as sympathetic to the plight of the country’s disproportionately large number of poor, the unfed, the unwashed, the homeless, the Les Misérables of Pakistan? Or is it merely appearing sympathetic enough? Pakistan’s poor are the largest single social bloc. Any politician would only ignore them at his own peril.

Can Imran Khan and PTI catch their imagination as Bhutto did with his slogan of Roti, Kapra aur Makaan(food, clothing & shelter)? The fact that Bhutto failed to deliver on his vaunted promise is totally irrelevant. The promise of the slogan, just like that of Liberté, égalité, fraternité, remains unfulfilled.

In the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte has just won the Presidential election and he is not from the countries “upper class”, which is a first. He has done this by basing his entire campaign on a promise to tackle the problems faced by the poor: drugs, alcoholism, crime and most importantly corruption. The poor of the barrios, the slums, the squatter colonies, those from the shacks by the railroad tracks and those who live on garbage heaps have spoken, thumbed their noses at the gated communities with manicured lawns and security guards and elected one of their own.

This is a sea change, not only in the political landscape of the Philippines but a possible harbinger of what could happen in the rest of Asia. The Ashrafia(ruling elite) be damned for all I care, they are a marginal section of the total population, they can fend for themselves; the poor, after all, are in majority and it is only fitting that someone who is perceived by the poor as representing them, as one of them, holds the reins of government. Only someone from among the poor can solve the problems of the poor. Otherwise US AID would have been a phenomenal success story.

Will the promise of food, clothing and shelter, which is contained in the State’s primary promise to protect its citizens, be ever fulfilled in Pakistan?

 

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