The PTI seems to be celebrating the creeping fragmentation of political parties, presumably believing that the party of change will remain immune to this cut-to-size process that has confined the PPP to Sindh and the PML-N to Punjab besides decimating the MQM. The analyst brigade is hailing this as a great transformation that will result in miracles, but those with a modicum of political consciousness fear it could be catastrophic.
If the history of this country is anything to go by, it is clear that the undermining of political parties has always damaged the federation. It is true that politicians are not angels and that a number of them are corrupt to the core. It is also a fact that they failed to live up to their promises but putting all the blame on them is not fair. Other players should also share the blame for the situation we are in today.
Despite all the demerits of political parties, at least they include various sections of society in their cadre. Mainstream political parties have always represented the various federating units of the Islamic republic. In a way they are a symbol of the federation because their roots can be traced to all parts of the country. Unfortunately, our political entities were systematically weakened. First, the Communist Party of Pakistan, which commanded the support of downtrodden masses from various parts of the country, was banned. Its students’ wing, the Democratic Students Federation, was also portrayed as an anti-state outfit.
The National Awami Party, formed in 1957, was the next target. Even the planned polls of 1959 are said to have been cancelled because of the fear that the NAP would sweep the polls – or at least clinch a large number of seats. Today we lambast political parties for their political narrow-mindedness, accusing them of being one province centric but NAP had top leaders from all nationalities – Maulana Bhashani from what was then called East Pakistan or East Bengal, Wali Khan from the erstwhile North Western Frontier Province, Mehmoodul Haq Usmani representing the Mohajir community, Mian Iftikhar from the Punjabi heartland and Ghous Buksh Bizenjo from Balochistan. In addition to these towering personalities, a number of other prominent Sindhi, Baloch, Pakhtun, Bengali, Punjabi and Mohajir politicians were also the part of this national political entity, which in a way truly represented the federation. The party not only stood up for the rights of downtrodden inside the country, it also vehemently opposed the imperialist policies of Western capitalist countries, urging Pakistan to stay neutral and not side with London, Paris and Washington.
But within no time, a brutal crackdown was unleashed against the party. One of its leaders – Hassan Nasir – was tortured to death at the Lahore Fort. The ruthless suppression of the party sowed the seeds of divisiveness and animosity against the federation. Resultantly Bhashani, who presided over the largest peasant conference in the heartland of Punjab in 1970, was forced to support Bengali nationalists.
The remaining NAP was reorganised after the debacle of 1971 – only to be banned again by the Bhutto regime. The populist leader was euphoric over the ban but those who used the feudal socialist to declare NAP defunct had other plans. The policy of repression that was unleashed by the Bhutto regime against NAP and other political opponents boomeranged on him, creating conditions that partly caused his downfall, imprisonment and hanging.
Like NAP, the PPP was also a symbol of the federation, welcoming almost all nationalities and ethnic groups into its fold. After getting rid of NAP, the guns were turned on to another federal party. Thousands of PPP workers were arrested, tortured and flogged. The ruthless suppression of the party, especially in rural Sindh during the Movement for Restoration of Democracy, fanned nationalistic feelings among the Sindhi people.
It is alleged that some nationalists were also used by the powerful to undermine the Benazir-led PPP. Gen Zia’s meeting with the late G M Syed is cited as one of the evidences of this. The crackdown against Bhutto’s party created a political vacuum that was filled, to the utter surprise of many, by religious and sectarian outfits. The PPP was founded in Lahore – but today it is virtually non-existent there. And it has been almost wiped out from the rest of Punjab as well.
So the PPP, which celebrated the demise of NAP, met with the same fate in later decades. The PML-N was exultant over the machinations against the PPP during the late 1980s and 1990s but today the party seems to be in complete disarray. When the MQM was facing action in 2013, both the PPP and the PML-N were satisfied. Now it seems Nawaz and Zardari may be thinking that what they thought was for one person may just come on to them too.
But it also cannot be denied that politicians are involved in corruption. Even die-hard supporters of Nawaz and Zardari would be a bit doubtful over the claims of their leaders that. Our politicians have pumped billions of rupees into mega projects but the bitter truth is: more than 25 million children are still out of school, over 40 percent children still face the risk of stunted growth, millions are still jobless and homeless and 80 percent waterborne diseases are flying in the face of the tall claims of our leaders. Perhaps the PTI can learn from the lesson our history tells us. We must wait and see.
The writer is a freelance journalist.