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November 26, 2016

The new Punjab and the old PPP


November 26, 2016

Once the most popular party in the country, the PPP will be almost half a century old next week on November 30. A week before that, the party is almost done with its countrywide restructuring at the provincial level, by announcing the names of these officials in each province – president, general secretary and information secretary. More is to come soon at the divisional, district and union council levels.

After internal party deliberations and consultation over the past seven months since it dissolved all organisational bodies last April, the PPP has announced that from now on, Nisar Khuhro will lead its Sindh chapter, replacing Qaim Ali Shah who was earlier also replaced as chief minister by another Shah, Murad Ali Shah.

Sindh is left as the only province where the PPP is now in power. Several political heavyweights of opposition parties – even sitting parliamentarians – have recently left their respective parties and joined its ranks (from Imtiaz Sheikh of the PML-F to Hakeem Baloch of the PML-N, in addition to some other, smaller figures).

The PPP is in political recession in other parts of the country, mainly on Punjab’s political and electoral front. For this, an old loyalist and diehard, Qamar Zaman Kaira will have to reinvent the PPP in Central Punjab as its new president, since the outgoing Manzoor Ahmed Wattoo could hardly make any progress. Wattoo might have been a political success in Punjab’s power politics in the 1990s but over the past three decades Punjab’s political landscape and priorities have changed and switched to other major political competitors like the PML-N and PTI.

Along with Kaira in Central Punjab, Makhdoom Ahmed Mahmood has been tasked with reviving the PPP in southern Punjab. Both Kaira and Makhdoom will be aided by two vocal voices of Punjab – Nadeem Afzal Chann and Shaukat Basra as general secretaries; and Natasha Daultana and Mustafa Khokhar as information secretaries. This makes a perfect combination – as per the observations of party insiders and several analysts. However, only their performance will tell how well they work.

Likewise, Humayun Khan, the new head of the PPP’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chapter will have to create his own space, amid tough political competition in KP. Some parts of KP used to once be likened to Larkana. As time passed, they became alienated from the PPP.

The same challenge goes to Ali Mohammad Jattak, Balochistan PPP’s new president. He will have to readjust his party with the polarised political order in Balochistan, where the PPP is hardly on the radar these days.

Similarly, the PPP will have to make a huge effort to get over the burden of allegations that it earned in Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan due to the last PPP government’s performance. It also will have to be clear on the possible merger of Fata with KP, in light of the latest Fata Reforms Committee report. In all these strategic areas – from Kashmir to Gilgit to Fata – the PPP needs to earn back space.

The real challenge for the PPP is to revive – rather than reinvent – itself in Punjab, keeping in mind the changed political realities in the province. Its support base has been eroded and encroached. It needs a huge shake-up in its policies, particularly in Lahore, which has over the last three decades become a major stronghold of the Sharifs.

Moreover, central and northern Punjab have become almost totally alienated from the PPP; it is in this region that the party was founded almost 50 years back. How and why this political romance died out is another matter – to deliberate upon another day. With Kaira as the new president, the party can possibly revive its lost glory, conditional to its proactive response across GT Road from Lahore to Rawalpindi.

There are many reasons for this political erosion. In popular politics, direct people-to-leader contact and mass mobilisation figure at the top. Since the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, this scale of contact has gone down due to security and other considerations. That has badly affected the PPP’s common-citizen base, which was once the party’s key strength and identity in Punjab.

To renew and realign with this identity, Bilawal has been seen to be very active the past few months, visibly moving around in Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad and Quetta. However, his mobility is still restrained, and he needs to enhance it to regain and increase the lost glory of people-to-leader contact, more urgently in Punjab by basing himself longer in Lahore.

Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have been out of the PPP leadership’s range. By appointing old guards and stalwarts Humayun Khan in KP and Ali Madad Jattak in Balochistan as the new provincial presidents, the PPP can move towards regaining its eroded and lost political space in both these provinces. These provinces host a support base that has gone silent as a result of internal party differences and the party’s local political viability.

Once known as the chain running through all four provinces, with lifelines in Kashmir, Fata and Gilgit, the PPP is still very much valid if it re-chains its broken organisational and political base. Before it sets off to celebrate its golden jubilee next year, it should devise a comprehensive roadmap to make a strong comeback.


The writer is an Islamabad-based

anthropologist and analyst.

Email: [email protected]