Whither the Party?

Ever since com­ing into ex­is­tence some fifty years ago, the Pak­istan Peo­ple’s Party has been in gov­ern­ment on four oc­ca­sions but, ex­cept for Zul­fikar Ali Bhutto’s rule, has failed in mak­ing an im­pact on the na­tional ethos. It is now fast los­ing sig­nif­i­canc

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Khawaja Amer

The Pak­istan Peo­ple’s Party un­doubt­edly lent a new trend to pol­i­tics in Pak­istan. In fact, the emer­gence of the party in 1967 marked the be­gin­ning of vi­brant po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­ity in the coun­try. Un­for­tu­nately, at present this party of the masses, if not dy­ing, has been re­stricted to the prov­ince of Sindh. Across the other three prov­inces in Pak­istan, the vot­ers are mov­ing away from the party. To un­der­stand why and how the PPP is los­ing ground, there is a need to know the con­di­tions and forces which re­sulted in the for­ma­tion of this party. The back­ground cir­cum­stances and hu­man choices that uni­fied the peo­ple were only on the ba­sis of just one slo­gan i.e. Roti, Kapra Aur Makan --- a rar­ity in the his­tory of po­lit­i­cal par­ties.

Gen­eral Mont­gomery once said, “Lead­er­ship is the ca­pac­ity and the will to rally men and women to a com­mon pur­pose and the char­ac­ter which in­spires con­fi­dence.” When Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) formed the Pak­istan Peo­ple’s Party (PPP) he had both. He proved his char­ac­ter by re­sign­ing as the most com­pe­tent and pow­er­ful for­eign min­is­ter of the coun­try, soon af­ter the Tashkent Dec­la­ra­tion which shocked the peo­ple who were ex­pect­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent. On the other hand, he cashed his overnight pop­u­lar­ity of a rebel to be­come a mass leader and laid the foun­da­tions of the PPP with some other like-minded politi­cians, such as J.A. Rahim, Dr. Mubashir Hasan, Mir Ra­sul Bakhsh Talpur, Mairaj Mo­ham­mad Khan, Khur­shid Hasan Meer, Hayat Mo­ham­mad Khan Sher­pao and a few oth­ers. Above all, he was able to main­tain a cer­tain di­rec­tion un­der the PPP and cre­ated a na­tional nar­ra­tive con­sid­ered to be quite dif­fer­ent from that of his pre­de­ces­sors, such as Ayub Khan, etc. and it did suc­ceed in giv­ing Pak­istan a dis­tinct iden­tity and set a course for its fu­ture. The PPP also pro­fessed a ‘left­ist’ line which was prob­a­bly the fash­ion in those days, and his timely slo­gan of Taqat Ka Sar­chashma Awam Hain, re­ally worked.

Not only did he give a new di­rec­tion to the po­lit­i­cal thought process, he com­pletely changed the com­plex­ion of pub­lic meet­ings by shift­ing from the tra­di­tional style of ad­dress­ing a pub­lic meet­ing to a com­pletely the­atri­cal one. In­stead of the sher­wani, he started wear­ing shal­war-kameez --- a dress worn by the masses. While speak­ing at a pub­lic meet­ing he used to take off his coat, un­but­ton his shirt sleeves and say, “There are two Bhut­tos in Pak­istan one me and the se­cond you all.” His un­kempt ap­pear­ance, emo­tion­ally charged voice and the lan­guage of the masses was enough to charge the crowd. He al­ways tried to en­sure full par­tic­i­pa­tion of the au­di­ence through metaphor­i­cal ques­tions and tempo. For in­stance, he would pose a ques­tion and let the au­di­ence an­swer it in a sin­gle cheer­ful roar. With­out any doubt, Bhutto was among Pak­istan’s most charis­matic lead­ers who ruled the minds and hearts of the peo­ple for al­most four decades and even af­ter his ex­e­cu­tion, the charisma con­tin­ued which en­abled the PPP to win three gen­eral elec­tions.

Though Zi­aul Haq wanted to erase the name of ZAB from Pak­istan pol­i­tics, his pop­u­lar­ity graph re­mained in­tact even af­ter his death. And Be­nazir Bhutto (BB) who was groomed per­son­ally by her fa­ther man­aged to prove her worth as a na­tional leader. Af­ter win­ning sup­port from a coali­tion

gov­ern­ment in the na­tional assem­bly, she as­sumed the Prime Min­is­ter's Of­fice in De­cem­ber 1988. Like her fa­ther she was also con­sid­ered as one of the most charis­matic lead­ers of Pak­istan even by non-Pak­istani jour­nal­ists. A crit­i­cal anal­y­sis, how­ever, re­veals that when BB came to power, she could not suc­ceed in car­ry­ing ZAB’s phi­los­o­phy for­ward with the same ded­i­ca­tion and a sim­i­lar sense of lead­er­ship that her fa­ther dis­played. This was prob­a­bly be­cause the com­mit­ted PPP lead­ers like J.A. Rahim, Dr. Mubashir Hasan, Mir Ra­sul Bakhsh Talpur, Mairaj Mo­ham­mad Khan, Khur­shid Hasan Meer and Hayat Mo­ham­mad Khan Sher­pao were ei­ther no more in the party or had ex­pired. In ZAB’s time, the jiyala (ded­i­cated party worker) also com­manded a cer­tain im­por­tance.

De­spite all of Be­nazir’s flaws, one can­not deny the fact that like her fa­ther, she was at the peak of her pop­u­lar­ity when she was as­sas­si­nated and, as such, an ex­cit­ing po­lit­i­cal chap­ter of our his­tory ended with her killing on De­cem­ber 27, 2007. The PPP’s pop­u­lar­ity graph had al­ready started slid­ing down­wards dur­ing BB’s last ten­ure as the prime min­is­ter. It had al­ready started the down­ward slide when BB, as Prime Min­is­ter of Pak­istan and as the leader of the party, came un­der the in­flu­ence of her hus­band Asif Ali Zar­dari. She mar­ried Zar­dari in 1987 while Bhutto was hanged in 1979. Zar­dari was never a PPP worker in the true sense and ZAB prob­a­bly wasn’t even aware of his ex­is­tence while he was in power. In fact, Zar­dari was not very much in pol­i­tics though his fa­ther Hakim Ali Zar­dari was once elected as mem­ber of the Na­tional Assem­bly. There­fore, news of her mar­riage with Asif Zar­dari sur­prised many, in­clud­ing some of her close friends. It can be said, how­ever, that when Asif got the chance, he suc­ceeded in un­do­ing the party phi­los­o­phy, sys­tem­at­i­cally de­stroy­ing the PPP be­cause it did not serve his ends. Grad­u­ally and steadily, Zar­dari started call­ing the shots, re­duc­ing BB to a mere pawn in his hands. As a re­sult the party was nowhere near the ideals and ob­jec­tives that ZAB had set for it. Though many thought Asif Zar­dari would not take up ac­tive pol­i­tics, but slowly and grad­u­ally he started show­ing his true colours and within a few months af­ter the PPP’s first gov­ern­ment, sto­ries of his al­leged cor­rup­tion started com­ing out in the me­dia.

Frankly speak­ing, BB’s as­sas­si­na­tion brought an end to charis­matic lead­er­ship in PPP and in the ab­sence of a vet­eran Bhutto, there was a shift from Bhutto to Zar­dari through a con­tro­ver­sial “Will.” In the post-BB pe­riod, the PPP lost its di­rec­tion, phi­los­o­phy and with a com­plete shift in po­lit­i­cal be­hav­iour it vir­tu­ally be­came some sort of a sole pro­pri­etor­ship. Since there was no­body within the party to chal­lenge the ac­tiv­i­ties of the pro­pri­etor, cor­rup­tion was ram­pant and he was up­graded from Mr. 10 per cent to Mr. 100 per cent. Af­ter all, power tends to cor­rupt and ab­so­lute power cor­rupts ab­so­lutely. The PPP started chang­ing its po­lit­i­cal con­duct to com­mer­cial­ism and in­stead of loyal party work­ers, some of Asif Zar­dari’s col­lege day friends started get­ting promi­nence. These in­clude Javed Pasha, Dr Asim Hus­sain, Zulfiqar Mirza and many oth­ers. Ex­cept for Mirza, other hardly had any po­lit­i­cal back­ground. All this tar­nished the im­age of the PPP. In short, the tag of cor­rup­tion and nepo­tism de­stroyed the fun­da­men­tal theme – Taqat Ka Sar­chashma Awam Hain. It is un­for­tu­nate that the PPP’s im­age as the party be­hind the most cor­rupt gov­ern­ment be­came stronger and stronger.

The sit­u­a­tion in Sindh, a prov­ince be­ing ruled by the PPP, started be­com­ing dif­fi­cult when for­mer petroleum min­is­ter Asim Hus­sain, in a video state­ment broad­cast on me­dia, re­vealed star­tling al­le­ga­tions against for­mer pres­i­dent Asif Zar­dari's fos­ter brother Owais Muzaf­far alias Tappi. In the video state­ment, Asim Hus­sain said that for­mer Sindh min­is­ter Owais Muzaf­far was the de facto chief min­is­ter of Sindh dur­ing the se­cond reign of PPP and was in­volved in do­ing all sorts of cor­rup­tion. Sadly enough, the PPP gov­ern­ment in Sindh did not even spare the sub­ject of ed­u­ca­tion. The shock­ing fact was that there were over 40,000 ghost teach­ers and 5,229 ghost schools in Sindh, eat­ing up quite a large share of the prov­ince’s Rs. 145.02 bil­lion ed­u­ca­tion bud­get. Although an opin­ion poll by a US-funded think tank IRI (In­ter­na­tional Repub­li­can In­sti­tute) in­di­cated a dra­matic re­duc­tion in the PPP’s pop­u­lar­ity, Bhutto’s party still has some fu­ture in Sindh. Of course, there is not much sat­is­fac­tion that can be drawn from this be­cause the over­all sit­u­a­tion for the party is not very en­cour­ag­ing.

With Asif Zar­dari, an al­legedly cor­rupt per­son, at the helm of af­fairs, the party now found it dif­fi­cult to at­tract a new breed of jiyalas who would be loyal to the party. The jiyalas of ZAB days were ded­i­cated men and women who were at­tracted to the party due to its as­sur­ance of bet­ter dis­tri­bu­tion of re­sources and demo­cratic pol­i­tics but when they saw the rise of char­ac­ters like Tappi, etc. they started dis­as­so­ci­at­ing them­selves from the PPP. In all the prov­inces ex­cept Sindh, the party has grad­u­ally failed to make its pres­ence felt. The present gen­er­a­tion of Bhut­tos led by the young Bi­lawal Bhutto Zar­dari is find­ing it hard to meet the chal­lenge of PPP’s re­vival in the Pun­jab where the bond of com­mit­ment with Garhi Khuda Bakhsh is weak­en­ing with the pas­sage of time. Though the young Bi­lawal, be­ing the chair­man, in a bid to reestab­lish the party in Pun­jab, has shifted from Karachi to La­hore, the task seems a bit too dif­fi­cult be­cause of the rot that has set in. To make it a peo­ple’s party in the real sense re­quires a com­plete se­ri­ous over­haul­ing but only af­ter free­ing the party from the clutches of Zar­dari who is still pulling strings from Dubai.

Bi­lawal Bhutto is be­ing touted as the next Prime Min­is­ter of Pak­istan and is ex­pected to con­test a by-elec­tion for a seat in the Na­tional Assem­bly. At the same time, it is true that there is not much of the PPP left in the Pun­jab and the party has also lost much ground in Sindh. For his part, Bi­lawal has also not dis­played the kind of traits of lead­er­ship that his grand­fa­ther ZAB did and, to some ex­tent, his mother dis­played. The son seems to be to­tally un­der the po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence of his fa­ther, Asif Zar­dari, who has his own axes to grind and has never showed any signs of sub­scrib­ing to ZAB’s po­lit­i­cal ap­proach or stick­ing to the PPP phi­los­o­phy.

Zar­dari’s re­cent move to wel­come Ir­fan­ul­lah Mar­wat in the party and the re­ac­tion of his daugh­ters and loyal party work­ers is also seen as an ir­repara­ble dent to the PPP. Af­ter an hour-long meet­ing with Zar­dari, Mar­wat an­nounced that he would be switch­ing his loy­al­ties from the PML(N) to the PPP. Zar­dari’s daugh­ters Bakht­war and Aseefa re­acted by tak­ing to Twit­ter to ex­press­ing their dis­plea­sure over the de­vel­op­ment and adopted a harsh tone hard tone.

"Sick man should be rot­ting in a jail cell some­where not com­ing any­where near PPP," tweeted Bakhtawar. “Ir­fan­ul­lah Mar­wat should not be in PPP. One of the core PPP values is re­spect for women! His re­pul­sive and il­le­gal ac­tions are rep­re­hen­si­ble” tweeted Aseefa.

It is said that this drove Mar­wat to take a u-turn on his de­ci­sion of join­ing the PPP. Does this also mean that now the Zar­dari daugh­ters have a greater say in party af­fairs – an area that was deemed to be the sole ter­ri­tory of their fa­ther un­til re­cently?

As for Bi­lawal, who is sup­posed to be the next ruler of Pak­istan if the Bhutto lin­eage is taken into ac­count, not­with­stand­ing of course, Asif Zar­dari’s 5-year ten­ure as the Pres­i­dent of Pak­istan, it can be said that the lad still has a lot to learn if he is to lead the PPP and rule Pak­istan. For the time be­ing, the PPP has lost its na­tional ap­peal and all thanks to the wheel­ing and deal­ing of Asif Ali Zar­dari.

The writer is a vet­eran jour­nal­ist.

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