Tweaking ideology, bit by bit

The PPP has shifted its place on the ideological spectrum

Tweaking ideology, bit by bit


he Pakistan Peoples Party, like the Jamaat-i-Islami, is one of the very few political parties in the country that have a rich legacy of ideological orientation. Ideology can be a strength as well as a burden. A party can benefit from it or lose on account of it. The PPP, under the leadership of Asif Ali Zardari and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, has been often accused of having deviated from the ideology associated with its founding fathers. Some of its critics say that it has transformed from an ideological to a non-ideological party. They allege that its policy choices have changed from socialist to capitalist; anti status quo to conformist; and resistance to reconciliation. Most leaders and advocates of the PPP resolutely reject these allegations. They maintain that the party stands firm along the lines it was founded on.

The PPP was founded by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on November 30, 1967 in Lahore at the residence of Dr Mubashir Hassan. Besides Bhutto, the founding members had included ideologues like Mubashir Hassan, Jalaludin Abdur Rahim (popularly known as JA Rahim), Mairaj Mohammad Khan, Mumtaz Bhutto, Rafi Raza, Ghulam Mustafa Khar and Hayat Muhammad Khan Sherpao. The party promised to bring about a socialist-democratic revolution in Pakistan after the military dictatorship of Ayub Khan was overthrown. After leaving the Ayub regime, Bhutto had showed an interest in joining the National Awami Party, then Pakistan’s largest leftist party. However, he eventually went on to launch his own party.

The party was launched at a convention, which was attended by a number of progressive intellectuals, leftist student leaders, labour and trade union activists and journalists. It also benefited from the split in the NAP between pro-Beijing and pro-Moscow factions. It was a consensual collection of communists, socialists, socialist-democrats as well as Sindhi, Baloch, Pashtun and Bengali nationalists.

The party’s first manifesto was written by JA Rahim – a Bengali nationalist. The following basic principles were put forth: (a) Islam is our faith; (b) democracy is our politics; (c) socialism is our economy; and (d) people are the source of all power. A popular slogan i.e., roti, kapra aur makan; maang raha hai har insaan (Bread, clothing and shelter is the demand of every human) cemented the ideological orientation of the party.

Affirming such an ideological orientation was seen as a courageous decision and an uphill task, as the society was still considered religiously conservative. Rightwing rivals linked its ideology to atheism and materialism. In particular, the PPP’s socialism attracted the wrath of religious political parties, the JI in particular. The rightwing champions described the PPP ideology as secular, socialist, atheist and anti-Islam.

Tweaking ideology, bit by bit

The PPP was forced to defend its ideology. On the ideological front socialism gave way to Islamic socialism and then Musawat-i-Muhammadi. The PPP argued that Islam and socialism were compatible and had many similarities. While justifying this stance, Bhutto stated that “the first seeds of socialism were sown in the days of our Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).” While defending Islamic socialism, he declared that the founding fathers of the country, Allama Muhammad Iqbal and Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, were of the same view in the context of socio-economic challenges.

Tweaking ideology, bit by bit

While socialism was always clear in its working agenda and election manifesto of 1970, the superficial change in ideology was a need of the hour to counter the allegation of an alien ideology faced by the party. The PPP emphasised that socialism was essential for Pakistan as it provided equal opportunities for all and was close to the democratic ideal. So, the party followed an ideology of socialism, under the leadership of Bhutto whose very name later became associated with an ‘ideology’ – Bhuttoism.

For practical reasons, the PPP deviated from its ideology of socialism by giving space, party positions and party tickets to landlords while ignoring many of its leaders with socialist leanings. The party did not make any attempts for a rapprochement or collaboration with the leftists in other parties and groups. It can be argued therefore that the PPP’s stance on socialism exploited the theory on one hand and the masses on the other.

During the Benazir Bhutto regime, the change in the ideological position of the PPP became more evident. She shifted from Islamic socialism to capitalism. Her government welcomed investment by US companies in Pakistan on the one hand and promoted privatisation on the other. Meanwhile, her stance on resistance against the establishment and struggle to challenge the status quo remained intact. Eventually, she was thrown out of power twice, by powers that be.

In 2006, Benazir Bhutto signed a Charter of Democracy with her long time rival, Nawaz Sharif. Their common agenda was to keep non-political forces at bay to prevent them from interfering in political matters in the country. However, her assassination, in December 2007, prevented her from playing a role in this regard.

After the assassination, the party leadership fell in the hands of her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, who led the party to victory in the 2008 general elections. In 2008, fight against Islamic extremism became one of the central planks of the party’s manifesto.

Tweaking ideology, bit by bit

During Zardari’s regime, the PPP transformed from a force of resistance against the establishment and challenge to status quo to a party of reconciliation. He constituted a new wing in the party led by handpicked pragmatists whose job it was to keep an accommodating relationship with the military and the coalition partners.

The PPP has deviated from what was recognised as its ideology in the late 1960s. It has transformed from a socialist, anti-status quo and resistance party to a capitalist, conformist and reconciliation party. Considering that other mainstream parties too have similar positions and prescriptions, some critics even argue that it has become a non-ideological party.

Mazhar Abbas has a PhD in history from Shanghai University. He is a lecturer at GCU, Faisalabad, and a research fellow at PIDE, Islamabad. He can be reached at His X handle: @MazharGondal87.

Muhammad Yasin Shafique is an MPhil student in history at GCU, Faisalabad

Tweaking ideology, bit by bit