"It’s not possible to write off PPP so soon"

December 21, 2014

Senior political analyst and author of Qatil Kaun, Suhail Warraich, reminisces about the death of Benazir Bhutto seven years back and examines her party as it stands today

The News on Sunday (TNS): Seven years after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, how do you contextualise her murder on December 27, 2007 in front of her political supporter, a national loss or a cruel inevitability?

Suhail Warraich (SW): It’s a great loss. Because, she was the only Pakistani leader who had an international vision, who was well versed in world history, who was an avid reader and would discuss the books with intellectuals and writers. By comparing her two tenures as prime minister -- from 1988 to 1990 and then from 1993 to 1996 -- one could tell that she was maturing as a politician. Say, for instance, if she was politically partial towards her party in the first tenure, she was all-inclusive in the second tenure, when she wanted to be part of the whole country and keep every Pakistani on board with her.

During both her tenures, people suspected the establishment was not allowing her to govern effectively and thought she was too inexperienced, did not know the nitty gritty of Pakistani politics. But, I think, Benazir always moved in the right direction with the right set of ideals, like education, health and human rights. She only came to be personified with bad governance; here she could not deliver.

TNS: In your 861-page book, Qatil Kaun, you have tried to put down almost everything that a curious mind must know about the mystery of Benazir Bhutto’s murder. But what if you were asked to pronounce a clear verdict on the murder…

SW: Her murder mystery has been solved. Look at the reports of the Scotland Yard detectives, the excellent report by the UN probe commission that Zardari rejected, then reports by ISI and MI, essential features of the security plan for the public meeting at Liaquat Bagh, the confession by a police officer… all come to the same conclusion -- that al-Qaeda and Taliban together killed Benazir.

It is so simple that we do not want to believe it. The FIA has conducted the DNA test of the suicide bomber and the result matched the blood samples taken from his shoes found by investigators from a facilitator’s residence. Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, an Egyptian al-Qaeda leader based in Afghanistan, has said the decision to kill former Benazir Bhutto was made by al-Qaeda leader Aiman Al-Zawahiri.

Look at the Scotland Yard reports, the UN commission probe, ISI and MI reports -- al-Qaeda and Taliban together killed Benazir.

The murder trial is still lingering on in the Anti-Terrorism Court. Pervez Musharraf may be blamed for not providing adequate security to Benazir. Likewise, the US. For, it was Condoleeza Rice, secretary of state, who convinced her to return to Pakistan from exile, and ensured her security. Unfortunately, Benazir was hung out to dry by all of them.

In Pakistan no murder has been as thoroughly investigated as Benazir’s.

TNS: How relevant is the PPP to the politics of Pakistan? Can the party still relate to the political aspirations of the people? How far has it moved from ZAB’s legacy?

SW: The PPP has tasted one of its bitterest defeats in the May 2013 elections. It only secured 15 per cent votes, which is the worst in its history since 1970.

However, the party has faced electoral defeats many times in the past. If we recall the local bodies election of 1983, the PPP was unable to win a single district nazim seat, not even in Sindh. Its performance in 1987 was no better. Back then, I remember, the political analysts predicted the demise of PPP. But to everyone’s surprise in the Punjab elections of 1988, the PPP won majority. In 1990, its number of seats dropped and in 1993 it bounced back again. So, the PPP has a tradition of rising after every fall.

Unfortunately, the party has lost Benazir Bhutto. She was the symbol of the party. And with her passing on, the ideology of the party -- pro-poor, anti sectarian, anti-establishment… -- has altered too. The party leaders may claim to uphold the same ideals but in reality a lot has changed. Zardari has been the custodian of the party, not a symbol.

The PPP’s struggle against dictators and in strengthening democracy has been long -- to list only two merits, it has lost two elected prime ministers and has given the country the constitution. So, it is not possible to write off a party with such high credentials so soon.

TNS: How would you distinguish between the Benazir Bhutto’s and Asif Ali Zardari’s vision of politics?

SW: When Zardari was released from jail in 2004, I went to see him in Karachi. He told me jokingly, "Suhail, you will see, I will form the new government in the country in six months with the help of the establishment". Well, he was not able to do it six months but was able to do it nevertheless in 2008. Asif Ali Zardari believes in taking the establishment along. Unlike Benazir, who was an idealist, Zardari is a pragmatist. She had lofty ideals that were difficult to attain -- like being anti-establishment, a champion of human rights, advocate of friendly India-Pakistan relations and more. Sadly, there was no acceptance for her lofty ideals in Pakistan. Benazir often used to joke that her husband possesses "drawing room wisdom". She was right, because he is such a smooth-operator that his political meetings hardly ever fail.

TNS: After having launched Bilawal as the party chairman in Karachi with much fanfare, he is not engaging with the party matters (for medical reasons), as was seen at the PPP convention in Lahore recently. Do you see Bilawal playing an active role in the party in future? Is there tension between Zardari and Bilawal?

SW: This father-son [Asif Zardari-Bilawal Bhutto] duo often reminds me of Akbar-Jehangir [Mughals] relationship… in terms of the tussle of power. It has become difficult for the two to work together. Bilawal wants to criticise Nawaz Sharif and Altaf Hussain and his father doesn’t like it. Bilawal knows he is inexperienced, has a language barrier and his life is at threat. They should have tried to co-exist in the interest of the party.

Bilawal is young and idealistic. I see determination in him. The way the PTI supporters tried to sabotage his speech on the liberation of Kashmir in London in October… he stood there unruffled, and said what he wanted to say.

Now, after their strained relationship, I feel, Asifa and Bakhtawar may get a more prominent role in politics.

TNS: Do you think the PPP needs to massively rethink its narrative, do some introspection and devise a new strategy?

SW: Yes. Definitely. The PPP must design new slogans, new dreams, new promises. They must perform in Sindh.

TNS: Do you still see a window of opportunity for the PPP in Punjab? It has seen PML-N as the main adversary in Punjab for almost 30 years. But now with the PTI gaining strength, how will the PPP take on the fight with the PTI in future?

SW: The PPP is increasingly getting irrelevant in Punjab. Some revolutionary ideas must be implemented to revive the party in this largest province of the country. There is one ray of hope though: if the PPP regains the support of the lower and lower-middle classes. I think, any delay caused by the PPP in winning over this class may spell doom for the party in the province. The PTI or PML-N, representing the middle classes presently, may win over the downtrodden segments of society as well.

I have a feeling that if the PTI comes into power, the PPP will form the main opposition because the PML-N and PTI both bank on the middle classes and have rightist leanings. And the huge gap left behind by these parties will be filled by the PPP.

"It’s not possible to write off PPP so soon"