Looking for that crucial moment in our politics
The irony is that ideological affinity bred animosity in the case of Pakistani politics. The confrontation between the right- and left-wing parties didn’t have a pronounced manifestation simply because extreme right-wing groups or factions (they even did not qualify to be branded as political parties) could not muster enough electoral clout in the 1960s and 1970s.
Reading closely, the party profiles of Awami League (AL), Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) or for that matter National Awami Party (NAP), it was difficult to decipher any substantive difference. In its manifesto, AL propounded six points in order to re-design the federal structure into a confederal one but it remained negotiable. The same can be said about NAP. Political groups and parties from provinces other than the Punjab, cobbling up a tough alliance, flagged up the issues confronting the regions, nursing serious grievances against the most influential province.
Vociferous condemnation of counterparts instead of negotiation to settle outstanding disputes had been the hallmark of our political leaders -- from Liaquat Ali Khan’s vituperation for Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy to Z.A.Bhutto calling names to his political adversaries and so on. Disparaging epithets like Aloo Khan (reference to Asghar Khan) or Chuha (rat) berating Mumtaz Daultana may be fresh in the minds of many, who had seen Bhutto address big rallies in the 1970s.
What I am arguing here is that the basis of political animosity has hardly been ideological if Pakistan’s history is critically evaluated. Liaquat Ali Khan and H.S. Suhrawardy had the same political moorings; both had worked with the founder of the nation. One may allude to atrocities unleashed against the Communist Party and its leadership during the early 1950s but that was the period of oligarchic rule: the bureaucracy, Army and landed aristocrats collaborated to perpetuate their hold with bureaucracy as the senior partner.
Even if for argument’s sake, we admit that ideological factor also played a role in the setting up of Pakistan’s political landscape, the contention that stares in the eyes is the electoral/popular insignificance of those steeply imbued in ideological politics, Jamaat-i-Islami or Mazdoor Kissan Party being a few examples.
The three major parties today have no ideological agenda or priorities; the clash is among personal egos, and the aim and aspiration is obviously ‘power’, which of course is not a bad thing. However, what is ominous is the personalities and their egos, which have come to determine the political fate of the masses.
Reverting to the question (broached in the previous column) about the crucial moment when Pakistani politics could have taken a direction that strengthened the democratic process. I will, in particular, pinpoint the disallowing of NAP to exist as an opposition party to the ruling PPP as that moment. Had it not been sabotaged through arbitrary measures by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, religiously neutral democratic norms and practices could have found their way into Pakistan’s political culture.
Hegel once lamented, "What experience and history teaches us is that people and governments have never learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it." ZAB, with all his erudition in history and political theory, epitomised Hegel’s assertion. Exactly that sort of intolerance demonstrated towards the Awami League had led East Pakistan to secede in 1971. One must learn from the past for the sake of a better future. One may also contend that had NAP been allowed to act as an opposition, politics would have been issue-based which could have helped Pakistani politicians to resolve the dichotomous relationship between various ethnic and linguistic groups.
More importantly, religious groups with all their exclusionary and sectarian agendas would have been consigned to political peripheries. But all these possibilities remained unrealised. NAP itself knuckled under pressure. Yet, ZAB clamping a ban on NAP cannot be condoned. He will have to carry that chip on his shoulder till eternity.
Wali Khan and the rest of NAP’s leadership forged a political alliance with the religious Right and lent unequivocal support to the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) in 1976-77 and its Nizam-i Mustafa movement. One must underscore here that the PNA was the biggest political anomaly in the entire history of Pakistan. Nine parties with different histories, ideologies and agendas joined hands on one-point agenda -- to oust Bhutto. There was no clarity about the post-Bhutto scenario at all. Wali Khan and Jamaat-i-Islami joining hands in a political alliance was the oddest of combinations. Among the PNA leaders, it was Wali Khan and Asghar Khan who opposed any possibility of rapprochement with PPP.
Also read: Left of the political spectrum -- I
Interestingly, of all the leaders of the PNA, both Wali and Asghar Khan were the most secular in their political orientation. Leaders like Mufti Mahmood, Shah Ahmad Noorani or Mian Tufail Muhammad, with all their ideological differences with Bhutto, were ready to strike a deal with him. That political impasse eventually led to Operation Fair Play in July 1977, and Zia-ul Haq’s draconian era commenced with all its ramifications; one of them being the split in the PNA.
Almost groping in the political wilderness for eight years, NAP was reinvented with a new name, Awami National Party (ANP) in 1986, following a merger of the National Democratic Party, the Awami Tehrik of Rasul Bakhsh Palejo and the Pakistan National Party of Mir Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo. Wali Khan was its President. That party could not hold itself together for long. A split occurred, and it was reduced to Khyber PakhtunKhwa (KP), then NWFP. Even in KP, dissidents broke away to form the Pakhtun Liberation Movement.
Parting of ways between Wali Khan, Palejo and Bizenjo cannot be explained though the praxis of ideological difference. The ideological affinity between the three ‘seasoned’ politicians once again failed to bring about any meaningful compromise, which proves the point that ideological commonality and not ideological difference has been the ‘irritant’. Wali Khan joined hands with Nawaz Sharif and Jamaat-i-Islami against Bhutto’s daughter, and Ajmal Khattak even accepted cabinet position in the Sharif government in the 1990s.
Ideology didn’t matter once again, and I don’t think it mattered ever in Pakistani politics.