The Platform


Since Pakistan’s inception, poverty has remained one of the prime concerns for all governments. Various governments have launched numerous programs with the aim of reducing poverty. In addition to government initiatives, countless organizations have also contributed to addressing the issue of poverty. However, poor governance has hindered effective poverty-reducing programs.

Despite this, a significant decline in the poverty rate was witnessed between 2001 to 2015, as the poverty headcount fell from 64.3% to 24.3%. Dating back to 1950, during the regime of Ghulam Muhammad, a commission was established to oversee economic development. In 1951, the commission launched a Six-Year Plan covering fuel, agriculture, energy, mining, transport, communication, and ‘social uplift schemes.’

In 1953, Muhammad Ali Bogra, the former prime minister, set up a Five-Year Plan that aimed at averting food shortages, and a regional agreement was established as a means of getting Western aid to reduce poverty. In 1955, Iskander Mirza, another former prime minister, initiated a series of programs on industrialization and rural development in order to support people belonging to low socio-economic backgrounds.

During the 1960s, Pakistan witnessed the glorious ‘Decade of Development’ under the government of Ayub Khan. This period was marked by remarkable agricultural and industrial reforms, the formation of an economic union, extra bonus schemes, literacy programs, and massive rehabilitation programs, followed by other social and educational reforms. The green revolution generated millions of jobs in the manufacturing sector. All these programs and initiatives collectively helped bring down the poverty rate.

After assuming office in 1971, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto set forward a series of effective reforms. He attempted to bring down the inflation rate and poverty through nationalization and land ownership programs. After Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq took office in 1977, the Zakat Ordinance was introduced that imposed a 2.5% wealth tax while the Ushr Ordinance imposed a 5% tax on agricultural income and this fund also assisted the poor. These initiatives helped reduce poverty.

In 1988, after becoming the first female prime minister, Benazir Bhutto ended the bans on trade unions, took steps to spread electricity in rural areas, and took other related steps to reduce inflation, poverty, unemployment, and drug trafficking. Shortly after taking power in 1990, Nawaz Sharif introduced several large-scale projects to stimulate the economy. He tried to solve the problem of poverty and unemployment by importing thousands of taxis and provided cheap loans to buy them.

A comprehensive program called the Social Action Program was initiated to improve the delivery of basic social services and manage the poverty situation. Another public work program was the Khushhal Pakistan Program and it has successfully provided job opportunities to almost 2 million people. The Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF) is operating in 137 districts while the Khushhali Microfinance Bank Limited has 240 branches across Pakistan, with its operating strategy to establish a sustainable forum of financial and social services to the poor.

In 2001, the Zakat system was refurbished to emphasize more on rehabilitation instead of relief, effectively using Zakat funds for the establishment of small-scale commercial activities. In connection to this, founded in 1992, the Pakistan Bait-ul-Maal aims to offer assistance to the needy who are not covered by Zakat, such as marginalized communities. A number of social security and pension schemes are also aimed at improving the poverty situation in Pakistan. Through the Workers Welfare Fund, approximately 45,000 people benefitted from these projects while the Employees Old Age Benefits Institution provides pension benefits and old age grants to millions of employees.

The Benazir Income Support Programme, launched in 2008, provides unconditional cash support and is the largest support program in Pakistan and has distributed 90 billion PKR to 5 million low-income Pakistanis. In 2019, the government launched a social security and poverty alleviation scheme called the Ehsaas Program. During the height of the pandemic, a new project, the Ehsaas Emergency Cash Program, was launched through which low-income households gained access to financial assistance and a total of 12 million families were helped through this program. Some other innovative solutions were the Kamyab Jawan Program and a youth skills development program which included various loans for youth startups.

Non-governmental organizations have played a significant role in the provision of basic services to the poor. The Agha Khan Rural Support Programme has helped almost one million Pakistanis living in remote mountain districts. The National Rural Support Programme has the mandate to lessen poverty through hitching individuals’ potential and pledging development activities in Pakistan.

Various civil society groups work closely with local communities, engage in building social capital, and implement integrated rural and urban development programs. In addition to the efforts of governmental and non-governmental organizations, significant support from the World Bank, USAID, and other organizations have also helped improve the poverty situation in Pakistan and stabilize the economy.

Even though significant initiatives regarding poverty reduction have been carried out in Pakistan, poor governance has made it impossible to fully cope with the poverty crisis which is why the poverty rate still remains high. Poor governance, lack of effective targeting, high population growth, rising militancy, lack of transparency in resource allocation, corruption, internal disparities, increased vulnerabilities, deteriorating law and order, and a weak public sector capacity remain some of the key underlying factors engendering poverty. Radical changes need to be bought in to bring down the poverty ratio in Pakistan.

Fatima Pasha Mughal is studying Social Sciences at SZABIST, Islamabad. Fatima is exploring the dynamics of human society and social relationships. Through this multi-disciplinary field, her aim is to understand how people interact with each other, behave, develop as a culture, and influence the world.