Is The Party Over?

The Pak­istan Peo­ples’ Party has been blown to smithereens un­der Asif Zar­dari’s dark shadow. It needs a leader who will come and pick up the pieces.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By S.G. Jee­lani

Trac­ing the rise and fall of the PPP and the causes be­hind the party’s poor show­ing.

Fall is to de­cline as spring is to win­ter. One fol­lows the other. In the case of the Pak­istan Peo­ples Party, the de­cline has taken the party in­ex­orably to its ul­ti­mate down­fall.

Re­call the hal­cyon days of the PPP’s past. Then it was the bea­con of hope for the peo­ple. Founded in 1967 at the Gul­berg res­i­dence of En­gi­neer Dr. Mubashir Hasan in La­hore, it in­fused the masses with a new spirit. Z.A. Bhutto shone on the po­lit­i­cal fir­ma­ment like a comet, mes­mer­iz­ing the masses with his charisma and ty­ing vet­eran jour­nal­ists like Ori­ana Fal­laci into knots with his wit. The galaxy of tal­ent rep­re­sented by stal­warts like J.A. Rahim, Yusuf Buch, Mubashir Hasan, Ab­dul Hafeez Peerzada, Khur­shid Hasan Mir, et al, fired the imag­i­na­tion of the peo­ple with the ad­vent of a new, egal­i­tar­ian or­der in which roti, kapra and makan would be en­sured for all.

Bhutto worked ‘mir­a­cles’ with his per­sonal charm as when he man­aged to get In­dia to free the Pak­istani pris­on­ers of war and va­cate Pak­istani ter­ri­tory it had oc­cu­pied dur­ing the 1971 war un­con­di­tion­ally. He tried to steer the coun­try to­wards so­cial­ism. But his mea­sures were too sweep­ing and too im­petu­ous, as if he wanted to do too much in too lit­tle time. That may be why his re­forms could not take root and de­liver.

Z.A. Bhutto had his short­com­ings, such as a short tem­per and a dic­ta­to­rial streak. But, there was never a ques­tion that his hands were squeaky clean. That sin­gle fac­tor, more than any­thing else, ac­counted for his rule over the hearts and minds of the peo­ple, who wor­shipped him as a mes­siah.

When his daugh­ter, Be­nazir, first ap­peared in pub­lic af­ter his ex­e­cu­tion, peo­ple from all over the place de­scended on La­hore to sym­pa­thize with the or­phan of the leader they had loved and give her a tu­mul­tuous wel­come, in the hope that she would carry for­ward her fa­ther’s mis­sion to its log­i­cal goal.

But in this as­sump­tion they were sorely dis­ap­pointed. Too keen to en­ter

pol­i­tics, yet, aware of the im­ped­i­ments as a sin­gle, she got hitched to Asif Ali Zar­dari, who was younger than she in age and lower than her in so­cial sta­tus. His an­tecedents as one who sold cin­ema tick­ets in the black mar­ket also did not bode well for the party’s fu­ture in his ca­pac­ity as the spouse of its chair­per­son.

Zar­dari’s con­ta­gion in­fected Be­nazir which led to the on­set of the de­cline in PPP’s for­tunes. She de­parted from her fa­ther’s ide­ol­ogy and path, ap­point­ing her mother, spouse and fa­ther in-law to cushy jobs and sidelin­ing her fa­ther’s trusted aides like Dr. Mubashir Hasan, Hafeez Pirzada, Khur­sheed Mir and Sheikh Rashid be­sides many oth­ers.

Peo­ple voted Be­nazir to power twice, still hop­ing to find some of her fa­ther’s promise in her, but it was a far cry. While Asif Zar­dari earned the moniker of “Mr Ten Per Cent,” Be­nazir’s name also went into cir­cu­la­tion for cor­rup­tion. There were scan­dals galore, like the pur­chase of the Rock­wood Es­tate in Sus­sex and a di­a­mond neck­lace that cost a for­tune. In fact, cor­rup­tion un­der Be­nazir bur­geoned to such a level that the New York Times came out with a Spe­cial Re­port on the sub­ject. Ti­tled “House of Graft” it re­counted in de­tail how cor­rup­tion flour­ished in the PPP and the ex­tent of Be­nazir’s own in­volve­ment in it.

By mar­ry­ing PPP chair­per­son, Be­nazir, Zar­dari had planned to hi­jack the party. His task was made eas­ier when Murtaza Bhutto, who posed the only hur­dle in his way, was elim­i­nated in a po­lice en­counter. Now, as Be­nazir’s con­sort, he was able to call the shots. There was none to dis­pute his right. How­ever, he achieved full free­dom when Dame For­tune smiled at him once again, re­mov­ing Be­nazir Bhutto, and his path to­wards Pak­istan’s pres­i­dency lay open.

How­ever, the PPP has con­tin­ued to wither un­der Zar­dari’s eti­o­lat­ing shadow. Peo­ple have dropped away in droves like dry leaves falling from trees. This has been true, es­pe­cially, of the Pun­jab, which was PPP’s fortress in its hey­day. The party has now been re­duced to the sta­tus of a re­gional party con­fined to Sindh and its rep­re­sen­ta­tion else­where is only nom­i­nal.

With Be­nazir’s demise, the hered­i­tary man­tle of the party’s chair­man­ship passed to her son Bi­lawal. But his fa­ther as­sumed the role of re­gent. As co-chair­man, he wields de facto power, while the young lad re­mains de jure as a show boy. The tran­si­tion is now com­plete: Bhutto’s PPP has be­come Zar­dari’s party.

To be­guile peo­ple with the Bhutto link, Bi­lawal was given the sur­name of Bhutto along with Zar­dari, - as Bhut­toZar­dari. But the Bhutto plumage could not hide the Zar­dari jack­daw. There is none of the Bhutto magic in him. To rally Bhutto loy­al­ists, he starts his speeches with cries of “Jiye Bhutto.” But it falls flat on the ears of the au­di­ence. At a Lon­don rally of the Kash­miri Di­as­pora, once, when he mounted the podium and raised the slo­gan, he was chased out.

Bi­lawal’s in­au­gu­ra­tion it­self was in sharp con­trast to ZAB’s. Un­like any­thing of the like seen be­fore, Bi­lawal was dropped from “space” at the venue of his first pub­lic meet­ing at Quaid-e-Azam’s mau­soleum and lifted back into “space” af­ter he had fin­ished.

He has no mes­sage for the masses; noth­ing to stir their pas­sion or give them a lead. He is him­self di­rec­tion­less, rant­ing and rav­ing with­out mak­ing any sense, such as vow­ing to “wrest ev­ery inch of Kash­mir from In­dia.” He in­vokes ZAB, but he lacks ZAB’s cuts and thrusts, his pun­gent hu­mour and taunts such as call­ing Maulana Shah Ah­mad Noorani the ulema’s “melody queen.”

Bi­lawal at­tacks the PML ( N) and PTI. But no one takes him se­ri­ously. He pre­sented a four-point de­mand to the gov­ern­ment and threat­ened a protest march if it was not met within a spec­i­fied time. But, when the gov­ern­ment ig­nored him, Bi­lawal failed to re­act.

Bi­lawal also made some half-hearted ef­forts to re­sus­ci­tate and re­or­ga­nize the party in south Pun­jab, but it flopped be­cause the lad was not up to the task. His trou­bles, in fact, stem from the fact that he is not free to de­velop his tal­ents. He works un­der the de­press­ing in­flu­ence of his fa­ther, whose name has be­come syn­ony­mous with cor­rup­tion.

At Be­nazir Bhutto’s last death an­niver­sary, Asif Zar­dari de­clared that Bi­lawal would con­test the next by­elec­tion to the Na­tional Assem­bly. The idea is to project him as Pak­istan’s fu­ture prime min­is­ter. But this may be a pipe dream, be­cause the PPP is in a sham­bles and Bi­lawal does not have the Bhutto magic to res­ur­rect the party to its orig­i­nal shape in time for the elec­tions which are barely a year away.

De­spite hum­ming and haw­ing, though, Asif Zar­dari is quite com­fort­able with the PPP hold­ing on to its fief­dom in Sindh, where his co­horts rule un­der his guid­ance, amidst un­lim­ited cor­rup­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to one po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst, “while it took Zia 11 years to de­stroy ZAB’s PPP, Asif Ali Zar­dari took no time in achiev­ing the same.” It can be said of him that he has truly suc­ceeded in ‘mur­der­ing the PPP.’

The writer is a se­nior po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and for­mer edi­tor of Southasia.

Peo­ple voted Be­nazir to power twice, still hop­ing to find some of her fa­ther’s promise in her, but it was a far cry.

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