Saturday, December 3, 2016
Business Recorder editorial Dec 3, 2016
PPP at 49 As the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) gathers the faithful to celebrate the 49 years of its existence and 50th Founding Day in Lahore where the party was born, there is much to reflect on. Looking at Pakistan’s political history in this period through the PPP’s prism is not without merit. In many ways, the party has been at the heart of great and momentous events during this time. It may be a reflection of the party’s trajectory that the Founding Day celebrations are being held in Bilawal House, Bahria Town, and both the venue and host of the founding moot, Dr Mubashar Hasan’s house in Gulberg, do not even merit mention. In any case Dr Mubashar and almost all of the left wing intellectuals who joined hands with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) in 1967 to create a new party have either passed away or are no longer within the fold of the party. The PPP came into existence after ZAB was sacked by Ayub Khan from the office of foreign minister as a result of differences arising from the 1965 war and the subsequent Tashkent Declaration. After casting around for an alternative from the existing political parties, ZAB was attracted to the ideas and programme proposed by the group of left wing intellectuals mentioned above. The result of their coming together was the formation of a party espousing a radical agenda of reforms, including among other measures the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy (thereby knocking out with one blow the infamous ‘22 families’ that had monopolised the country’s industrial and commercial wealth under Ayub) and land reforms to weaken feudalism and benefit the landless and poor peasants. Ostensibly Islamic socialist, then and later when in power the party was clearly espousing populist politics (e.g. its slogan of roti, kapra, makaan – bread, clothing, housing). None of the PPP’s ambitions could have been realised if circumstances had not favoured it. The 1968-69 revolt against Ayub was sparked and led by the Left, but a belated entry by ZAB allowed him to hijack a revolutionary upsurge in the direction of populism. The events before the PPP’s advent into power are too well known to bear repetition. But what ZAB and the PPP inherited in 1972 was a broken, defeated and demoralised Pakistan. Promising to pick up the pieces, ZAB started well by an inclusive approach to the opposition and consensus building around a new constitution. However, he soon turned on his adversaries as well as the left wing in his own party. It was to prove a fatal flaw as it led eventually to his overthrow and hanging by General Zia. The rest of the party’s history since that seminal event in 1979 revolved around the struggle against the Zia dictatorship, accompanied by a transition of leadership to his daughter Benazir Bhutto (BB). While justification could be found then for the succession to be confined to the Bhutto family given the circumstances, it became the harbinger of a dynastic culture in which her husband Asif Ali Zardari and then her son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari have inescapably been accepted as the only ones meriting the mantle of leading the party. Along with these sea changes in the political culture of the party came, incrementally, the watering down of the PPP’s erstwhile radical left wing programme, leaving its committed workers out in the cold. Bilawal’s foray into Punjab to revive the PPP’s lost main base can only succeed if he can translate the presence of the sea of workers who came to see and hear him once more into the tidal wave of revolutionary enthusiasm that once characterised the PPP culture. Unless the PPP returns to its radical roots, it will remain just another middle-of-the-road mainstream party largely indistinguishable from, and therefore unable to effectively challenge, its rivals. The sine qua non for such a rebirth though is for Bilawal to become his own man and extricate himself from the shadow of his father. Whether he is prepared or willing to do this the days ahead will determine, but without a break from the culture and politics of the recent past, the PPP’s reinvention aspirations must be looked at askance.