For Pakistanis familiar with the abysmal social development indicators in their country, it is baffling as to why our chief of army staff would have a beef with BISP (as reported in the media in recent weeks) that provides small cash grants to the most financially vulnerable households in the country. Launched by the PPP government in 2008, BISP has had three overarching goals: eradication of extreme and chronic poverty; empowerment of women; and achievement of universal primary education. A social safety net initiative such as BISP seems to be a good, if not the best, policy instruments to deal with the three challenges, at least in the short-term. The PPP had come to power in 2008 after more than a decade, and hence the party had to do something for its primary constituency — working-class women and low-income households. Pakistan’s economic managers in the previous decades had failed to ensure redistribution of wealth in society despite artificial and short-lived boom during Musharraf’s era. PPP launched the BISP against that backdrop. Since its launch in 2008, BISP has scaled up, with its beneficiaries increasing from 2.2 million to 5.2 million and its annual budget increasing from Rs 12 Billion in 2008-09 to Rs 96.65 in 2017-18. It has been running for almost ten years now, dispersing Rs 412 Billion. Ten years after BISP started and months from the upcoming elections, it is time to have an informed debate about the impact of the programme, and if it has achieved its stated goals. Pakistan is not the first country to be running a social safety net scheme. Such initiatives, part of the new politics of redistribution in global South, have been successful in Latin American countries such as Bolsa Familia in Brazil and Oportunidades in Mexico (both focused on families with children), which reduced poverty, improved education outcomes and enhanced the agency of women. Where successful, social safety net schemes are developing world’s answer to the welfare state model in advanced developed economies. There are indeed many perspectives on the Left that are critical of cash transfers, arguing that such interventions are a ploy to politically demobilise the citizens who would otherwise raise their voice against the economic inequality In his book ‘GIVE A MAN A FISH, Reflections on New Politics of Distribution’, an American anthropologist of development James Ferguson critically analyses the social safety net programmes in the South African countries, particularly South Africa. Around 16 million people, including women, elderly citizens and young adults, who are 30 percent of the total population, benefit from the South African equivalent of BISP, which spends around 3.4 percent of GDP. Namibia and Botswana also have similar programmes, though smaller in scale. South Africa had to start these schemes after its economy took a neoliberal turn in the 1990s (similar economic changes have happened in Pakistan in last two decades), increasing poverty and unemployment because of privatisation, deregulation and structural adjustment. The literature on South Africa’s social protection programme is generally positive about its impact. There are some strong arguments situated in politics and economy in support of BISP. I will focus on three. First, women bear the indirect costs of economic growth in almost every society, giving birth to the workforce, raising and feeding them. Economic productivity would be impossible without the social reproduction that is solely undertaken by women. Thus, even if women are not involved in wage labour economy and economic production, it makes sense for the state to provide them basic income. BISP is the right step in that direction, but the cash grant is still very small (less than Rs 6000 per quarter) to contribute to their household income in a significant way. The second argument stems from the discourse of rights and social contract between a citizen and the state. The state must provide for the citizens who do not have the purchasing power to buy basic goods and services from the market. One can argue that BISP makes the state and citizen relationship stronger, bringing the women out from the private sphere into the public sphere. Women have to get their CNICs and other documentation as well as bank accounts to get the cash transfer, enhancing their agency against a patriarchal society. Third, by improving the purchasing power of citizens through cash transfers, the state is giving an impetus to the economic growth: more money in the hands of people means more consumption and demand for goods and services. One wonders how much the third argument would apply in case of BISP, for the conditional grant is very small and it does not necessarily change the consumption patterns dramatically. There are indeed many perspectives on the Left that are critical of cash transfers, arguing that such interventions are a ploy to politically demobilise the citizens who would otherwise raise their voice against the economic inequality. It is a kind of tokenism from the state to keep citizens away from the radical political action. As we debate the efficacy of BISP and similar interventions in other countries, according to DFID around one Billion people across the world are beneficiaries of such programmes. One must closely evaluate this new politics of redistribution and determine whether the poor are better off. Meanwhile, the DG ISPR has clarified in a press conference on March 28 that the Bajwa Doctrine is only focused on security matters. For now, no more comments from GHQ on social development matters and economy, one hopes. The writer is a social development consultant & researcher. He studied Anthropology & Development as a Chevening Scholar at the London School of Economics. He tweets @Imran1Kh Published in Daily Times, April 6th 2018.