The road not taken in Pakistani politics

Idealism in Pakistani politics suffered a severe blow with the assassination of Benazir Bhutto

While turning the pages of Pakistan’s political history, which event do you lament the most? It was after quite a while that someone had asked a question. Separation of the East Pakistan in December 1971 was the obvious answer.

But the answer was far too obvious for the young student of politics to be gratified with. Thus, there were subsidiary questions. What was the one lapse in Pakistan’s history that could have prevented the separation of East Pakistan?

Now the conversation became a bit problematic. I believe that Fatima Jinnah’s victory in the 1965 presidential election could have prevented East Pakistan’s secession. That has been my usual answer to the question.

But a deeper analysis of national politics has forced me to revisit this conclusion. I now believe that the dismantling of the National Awami Party was indeed the biggest disaster. Democracy was shoved off the rails by not allowing the NAP to function because it had emerged as the biggest democratic force after it had brought together all leftist factions and parties to a single platform.

It was the first clear manifestation of class-based politics and it promised social democracy. The conglomerate included political groups and personalities from East Pakistan, Sindh, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It might have bonded together people from various regions. Its leadership had an idealism which it held very dear.

Politics without idealism is a crime. But that character of NAP leaders probably was what Pakistan’s ruling elite of the time was wary of. Therefore, a ban was placed on the NAP by the state which looked askance at the progressive politics.

Only after the NAP had vanished into thin air, did the fissiparous voices start gaining strength. With this the citizens’ stake in a united Pakistan started eroding. Constant demonisation of NAP leadership and the subsequent dissolution of the party proved the death knell for the integrity of Pakistan.

To me, that was the most lamentable event in the history of Pakistan. When I felt I was done answering the question, yet another subsidiary but very important query followed. What about more recent political events which have obstructed the smooth evolution of democracy in Pakistan?

I gave that question a deep thought. Democracy never had an easy or smooth ride when it comes to its evolution. Several revolutions, battles, persecutions and the colonisation form the part of the saga of democracy’s evolution. In the Third World, political struggle against the colonial masters and then another struggle against the local elite had to be waged with varied results. Frequently there were coups and conspiracies.

Obviously, Pakistan is no exception. The struggle for democracy is still on. The most niggling problem confronting democracy in Pakistan is the continuous peddling of ideology as the basis of Pakistan. Consequently, people cease to be the source of sovereignty which is the fundamental characteristic of democracy. After saying that much, I resort to answer the main part of the question: a lamentable incident in relatively recent history.

I have alluded to idealism as an essential ingredient of politics. With the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, idealism in politics suffered a severe blow. Among her contemporaries she was the only one nursing some sort of an idealism.

Greater damage was done to her party and political constituency when the leadership of Peoples Party passed on from the Bhuttos to Zardaris. In the Peoples Party under Zardaris, the likes of Raza Rabbani and Aitezaz Ahsan are quintessential misfits.

With Zardaris and Sharifs in the political forefront, politics has become a means for financial gains. Both these families lack an over-arching vision that can steer Pakistan out of the morass it is currently stuck in. Peoples Party can revive its image and regain the confidence of the people in provinces other than Sindh if its leadership changes hands.

The reins of Pakistan Peoples Party must go back in the hands of Bhuttos for its destiny to be other than doom and gloom. The only person capable of restoring that party’s credibility today is Fatima Bhutto. She is charismatic, insightful and erudite. Like her grandfather, she is eloquent and has a pleasant personality. In public meetings, she can be a crowd puller. But I have no idea how this might be done. After this exclamation, I could notice utter disappointment on the face of my interlocutor.

Asif Ali Zardari, his sister Faryal Talpur and their coterie run the party differently. Any serious student of Pakistani politics would have noticed a sea change in the party cadre since Zardari has assumed its leadership.

Despite the media hype he gets, Bilawal Bhutto has proved a non-starter. So far, he has managed only to trivialise politics by trying to imitate his mother’s style.

The only bet for Peoples Party to regain its past prestige and popularity is tied to Fatima Bhutto coming forward and laying her claim to its leadership.

The road not taken in Pakistani politics