PPP 50 years on
Lahore not only has immense historic significance due to Lahore Resolution of 1940 that set the course for an independent liberal state for the Muslims in Indian sub-continent, it is also privileged to have given birth to Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) led by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto 50 years ago. In 1967 he collected assortment of left-of-the centre and like minded genre of people who could collectively put in order a political party that could be a vehicle of change replacing fossilised, inordinate and fractured into factions Muslim League.
Being a follower of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah from his school days, his advent into politics and formation of PPP had only one aim to translate MAJ’s dream into an action plan for establishing a society based on egalitarianism as manifested by MAJ and him as Islamic socialism. Like MAJ he too would not have a Pakistan in which rich were to become richer, poor to become poorer, women treated like chattels, minorities subjugated, less privileged exploited as voiceless slaves.
He was just 30 years old, highly educated and privileged to have an easy access into corridors of power through family connections to become a federal minister at that age. Was it just an act of opportunism or a young man’s urge to learn statecraft from within the system-was a question that I sought an answer as his ardent admirer later in sixties before he formed PPP. Apparently there seemed to be a contradiction. He became a minister in a military regime, his class bearing was feudal and yet here was in him a soul that had great feeling inside him for the poor, who believed in democracy, rule of law, free expression—all to be a means for the greatest good of the largest number.
Bhutto had rare penchant for international politics. And he acquitted himself superbly well when assigned Foreign Ministry by President Ayub Khan. He had a Talleyrand in him, interest of Pakistan were first for him. His parting of ways with Ayub Khan came on the surface when he had visible differences with him over Tashkent Agreement with India brokered by the Soviet Union. As foreign minister he refused to take American diktats and later he wrote in his treatise on foreign affairs-“Myth of Independence”-how much strongly tied Pakistan was to American apron strings that they would tell which section officer was to be appointed to a particular post.
As the first leader who appeared on Pakistan’s much clouded political horizon as harbinger of change, Bhutto’s initial manifesto: “Islam is our faith, democracy is our polity, socialism is our creed—all power to the people—” continue to this day as gospel of rules for PPP. It got tempered by crossing rivers of blood, walk to the gallows, long periods of incarceration, intimidations, persecution and prosecution—with no parallel in the history of sub-continent. Without its leaders—Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Begum Nusrat Bhutto and their daughter Benazir Bhutto—Pakistan’s claim to be a democracy would have been mentioned in the foot notes of history.
Pakistan came into being through vote, PPP sought its survival and consolidation through ballot after the fall of Dhaka when there was nothing left but deluge. During its 50 years of inception PPP has weathered one storm after the other much severe than the previous and yet credit goes to its resilience that starting as a romantic dream of ZAB, it now braces itself under the leadership of Bilawal Bhutto to pragmatically move forward to achieving the socialistic goals as earmarked by the founding father and later PPP’s founding Chairman, martyred Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
No doubt too many extra-constitutional interventions by Bonaprtist generals over the years and also born-again democrats— though resisted tooth and nail by democratic forces spearheaded by the Bhuttos and PPP, have stymied progress towards a dynamic and truly representative government. Notwithstanding what has been happening currently in Pakistan, unseating of prime minister Nawaz Sharif on charges of corruption, lately emergence of dharna politics of the religious radicals and earlier by PTI—all are recriminatory manifestations of the forces of status in their last bid to way lay democracy from moving forward.
PPP’s leadership and its workers must look retrospectively what they need to do to dispel growing perception of it drawing too much on its past laurels without doing enough to move forward. It needs to revive its left-of-the-centre ideological moorings, its populist politics over and above the delectable, PPP slogan of seventies “Roti, Kapra, Makkan” is as good now as it was then. It would forever remain a bind stronger than religion. It should not only revive its socialistic programme but should be seen to be pursuing it.
Anti-democratic engineering of political parties by the powers that be since the advent of Pakistan is now seem to going in top gear. We have seen how Bhutto Sahib was eliminated by General Zia, we have seen how he implanted his prototypes in politics in the eighties, how the military establishment denied martyred Benazir Bhutto landslide victories in successive party-based election since 1988 and how the judiciary played balls with them to keep PPP out of power.
The game played by the powers that be has been not to let any single political party have its federal roots and nationalistic tentacle in the four corners of the country. Zia ethnically and religiously fractured the Pakistani polity to eliminate PPP as the unifier of the nation. And his legatees continue to pursue that goal. Remember establishment propped Nawaz Sharif was the one who raised the slogan of “Jaag Punjab Jaag” in 1988 election and when he became chief minister of Punjab, he almost declared Punjab his fiefdom by not accepting federal government appointed officers, established Punjab Bank and would have moved forward had not President Ghulam Ishaq Khan dismissed Benazir Bhutto’s first government.
Since Punjab represents 60 percent of the population, it has monopoly representation in the armed forces and bureaucracy and the powers that be would not let PPP win election to form government in the province. This is the trend since 1988 until now. I remember President General Pervez Musharraf had told her in his first face-to-face meeting in Abdu Dhabi in 2007 that PPP shall never be allowed to form a government in Punjab.
Whatever the machinations of the “political engineers” one must remember that electoral dynamics are different. PPP by strengthening its links with the left-of-the centre forces in Punjab and working in the rural peasantry—especially in South Punjab—can change the political complexion. In 2013 elections it became a target of Pakistani Taliban in cahoots with the right wing political parties. PPP voters having seen worst of Nawaz Sharif’s, realising that the stage has been set to keep it out of electoral race, decided to vote for PTI. Conditions don’t seem to have changed much in Punjab as reflected in NA-120’s by-election. However, ongoing triangular struggle among the power centres have definitely provided space to PPP with its federalist credentials. Let jiyalas take charge and Bilawal Bhutto leads them from the front.
Author is the former high commissioner of Pakistan to the UK.