Slip­pery Slope

The PPP has seen many ups and downs. It has been in gov­ern­ment on four dif­fer­ent oc­ca­sions. How­ever, with all its ap­peal, it still finds it­self rel­e­gated to the po­si­tion of a pro­vin­cial party and seems to be los­ing na­tional rel­e­vance.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Dr. Raza Khan

The re­newed and much-awaited ef­forts by the PPP lead­er­ship to re­vive the party as a coun­try­wide po­lit­i­cal en­tity and a force to reckon with in the po­lit­i­cal arena of the coun­try seem to have fiz­zled out as the young po­lit­i­cal heir of the Bhutto clan, Bi­lawal Bhutto Zar­dari, could not make a big im­pact.

The PPP was founded by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) in 1967. He did this af­ter re­sign­ing as for­eign min­is­ter. Gen­eral Ayub Khan is said to have groomed him in pol­i­tics. Once in power, ZAB took his party to great heights of glory. The irony is that the PPP could not win im­pres­sive sub­stan­tial num­ber of par­lia­men­tary seats in the last elec­tions held in 2013. Al­most all of its 40 odd NA seats were won in the party’s strong­hold, Sindh, while in the Pun­jab; the party could win only a sin­gle NA seat.

In elec­tions in 1970, the PPP won hand­somely in the then West Pak­istan

while it could not win a sin­gle seat in East Pak­istan ( now Bangladesh). The PPP formed a gov­ern­ment in the left­over Pak­istan and Zulfiqar Bhutto ruled first as civil­ian chief mar­tial law ad­min­is­tra­tor and then as an elected prime min­is­ter till he was sent pack­ing by the mil­i­tary un­der Gen­eral Zia in July 1977. Bhutto was later hanged by Gen­eral Zia in 1979 through a ver­dict of the Supreme Court of Pak­istan which was deemed as ques­tion­able.

As po­lit­i­cal heir of ZAB, his daugh­ter Be­nazir Bhutto went in ex­ile along with her fam­ily mem­bers but re­turned to Pak­istan rid­ing on a tidal wave of sym­pa­thy in 1986 and be­came Prime Min­is­ter af­ter the death of Gen. Zi­aul Haq. He died in an air crash in 1988. She be­came the 11th Prime Min­is­ter of Pak­istan on De­cem­ber 2, 1988. She was also the first woman to head a Mus­lim ma­jor­ity na­tion. Her gov­ern­ment was dis­missed on Au­gust 7, 1990 on charges of cor­rup­tion and nepo­tism. She again be­came Prime Min­is­ter of Pak­istan on Oc­to­ber 19, 1993 and her se­cond ten­ure lasted till Novem­ber 5, 1996.

Af­ter Gen (R) Pervez Mushar­raf dis­missed Nawaz Sharif as Prime Min­is­ter in 1999, Be­nazir went into self-ex­ile, fear­ing pun­ish­ment due to her fam­ily’s al­leged in­volve­ment in fi­nan­cial cor­rup­tion. She re­turned in 2007 to lead her party in the gen­eral elec­tions af­ter a deal with Gen. Mushar­raf but was killed by a sui­cide bomber in De­cem­ber. Be­cause of her death, the elec­tions were de­layed till Fe­bru­ary 2008.

New sto­ries of cor­rup­tion by the PPP ap­peared dur­ing its five year rule un­der Asif Zar­dari which lasted from 2008-2013. Asif Zar­dari has been sin­gle-hand­edly run­ning the af­fairs of the PPP since the death of his wife. He got him­self ap­pointed as Pres­i­dent of Pak­istan and dic­tated in­struc­tions to Prime Min­is­ter Yousuf Raza Gil­lani and later Raja Pervez Ashraf. Zar­dari has also men­tored his son Bi­lawal but the dark shadow of his fa­ther and his own lack of lead­er­ship qual­i­ties have pre­vented Bi­lawal from be­com­ing a true and in­flu­en­tial leader.

More im­por­tantly, the PPP’s im­ma­ture stance on po­lit­i­cal is­sues fac­ing the coun­try like ter­ror­ism, ex­trem­ism and fi­nan­cial cor­rup­tion and its in­abil­ity to mean­ing­fully con­trib­ute to its sig­na­ture slo­gan, Roti, Kapra aur Makan have also re­duced the po­lit­i­cal stature of the party.

If one looks into the his­tory of the PPP, some very im­por­tant in­con­sis­ten­cies in pol­icy and strat­egy emerge. From its ini­tial so­cial­ist agenda pro­moted by Zul­fikar Ali Bhutto, the PPP has veered to­wards some kind of vague cap­i­tal­ism. More im­por­tantly, from a na­tional po­lit­i­cal party, it is now con­fined only to Sindh. From a party with a na­tional out­look, the PPP is now largely a Sindhi ethno-lin­guis­tic party. While the charges of fi­nan­cial cor­rup­tion in its first stint may have been en­tirely con­cocted, the PPP is now ex­ten­sively in­volved in large-scale fi­nan­cial cor­rup­tion.

From the study of his­tory of the PPP and the chang­ing pol­i­tics of the party, the con­tention of the be­hav­ior­ist po­lit­i­cal schol­ars be­comes clear - that the per­son­al­i­ties of lead­ers have a strong bear­ing on the poli­cies and out­comes of their in­sti­tu­tions. For in­stance, Zul­fikar Ali Bhutto had a dis­tinct im­pact on the party and its pol­i­tics. It would be wrong to call him a com­mu­nist but he did adopt a left­ist ide­ol­ogy. How­ever, had he been a true left­ist, he would not have served as com­merce min­is­ter or as a for­eign min­is­ter un­der Gen. Ayub Khan, be­cause the lat­ter sub­scribed to the cap­i­tal­ist model. It was prob­a­bly only un­der the in­flu­ence of his left­ist party ide­o­logues like J.A. Rahim and Dr. Mubashir Has­san that he adopted left­ist poli­cies such as large-scale land re­forms and na­tion­al­iz­ing in­dus­tries, bank­ing and in­sur­ance. Such mea­sures cul­ti­vated the so­cial and po­lit­i­cal base of the PPP. Even to this day, the PPP has some rel­e­vance be­cause of its ini­tial left­ist pro­file. As mostly farm­ers and peas­ants ben­e­fit­ted from the land re­forms of Zul­fikar Ali Bhutto in Sindh, the party still has a sup­port base there.

It is im­por­tant to note that while to­day U-turns are as­so­ci­ated with Im­ran Khan but, his­tor­i­cally speak­ing, the PPP in its dif­fer­ent regimes took 180 de­gree turns from its past poli­cies and pro­grammes. For in­stance, dur­ing the rule of ZAB, the eco­nomic pol­icy of na­tion­al­iza­tion was pur­sued vig­or­ously. But dur­ing both the regimes of Be­nazir Bhutto from 1988 to 1990 and 1993 to 1996 a new pol­icy of pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ship was claimed to be the corner­stone of her gov­ern­ment pol­icy. ZAB pur­sued the na­tion­al­iza­tion pol­icy un­der the gen­eral global trend of so­cial­ism. Whether he was com­mit­ted to it or not is quite ques­tion­able. With the grow­ing in­flu­ence of Mus­lim cler­i­cal forces and ZAB’s need of these forces in do­mes­tic pol­i­tics, he raised the strange slo­gan of ‘Is­lamic So­cial­ism.’ The slo­gan was to­tally un­jus­ti­fied as Marx­ist and Maoist strands of com­mu­nist thought never gave any role to re­li­gion in a so­cial­ist so­ci­ety. In fact, Karl Marx de­clared re­li­gion as an ‘opi­ate of the peo­ple.’ As a re­sult, both na­tion­al­iza­tion and the slo­gan of Is­lamic So­cial­ism be­come so dis­cred­ited that even ZAB’s own daugh­ter never pur­sued or raised it.

It was Be­nazir’s regime in 1996 which spon­sored the cre­ation of the Afghan Tal­iban move­ment as was ad­mit­ted by her in­te­rior min­is­ter and hench­man, Ma­jor Gen­eral (R) Naseerul­lah Babar. How­ever, later the PPP lead­er­ship took credit for wag­ing a de­ci­sive strug­gle against the ex­trem­ism and ter­ror­ism of Pak­istani Tal­iban, which emerged as an ex­ten­sion of the Afghan Tal­iban in Pak­istan.

Apart from ide­o­log­i­cal and pol­icy in­con­sis­ten­cies and un­cer­tainty in var­i­ous regimes of the PPP, an­other very im­por­tant de­vel­op­ment which had a great in­flu­ence on the party’s pol­i­tics and poli­cies was the mar­riage of Be­nazir with Asif Ali Zar­dari in 1987. Ar­guably, Zar­dari has been the most im­por­tant per­son­al­ity in the party in the last three decades. He has been in­flu­enc­ing the pol­i­tics and poli­cies of Be­nazir and of those who came later. He is also al­leged to have a gen­er­ally per­ceived in­volve­ment in colos­sal fi­nan­cial cor­rup­tion scams and abuse of power which has in­flicted ir­repara­ble dam­age on the party. Un­der ZAB, there never were any charges against the party and its lead­er­ship of any fi­nan­cial cor­rup­tion. Zar­dari spent nearly 11 years in jail on the ba­sis of these al­le­ga­tions of fi­nan­cial cor­rup­tion.

As men­tioned ear­lier, since the killing of Be­nazir, Zar­dari at­tempted to

The PPP’s im­ma­ture stance on po­lit­i­cal is­sues fac­ing the coun­try like ter­ror­ism, ex­trem­ism and fi­nan­cial cor­rup­tion and its in­abil­ity to mean­ing­fully con­trib­ute to its sig­na­ture slo­gan, Roti, Kapra aur Makan have also re­duced the po­lit­i­cal stature of the party.

com­pletely dom­i­nate the PPP. Firstly, he ap­pro­pri­ated for him­self the po­si­tion of the head of state and se­condly he ap­pointed a rel­a­tively weak per­son like Yousuf Raza Gi­lani as prime min­is­ter, so that he could dic­tate to him. This proved more than cor­rect when Gi­lani re­fused, as or­dered by the Supreme Court of Pak­istan, to write a let­ter to the Swiss au­thor­i­ties to open cases of money laun­der­ing. Con­se­quently, he was given a sym­bolic pun­ish­ment of a few sec­onds by the apex court, dis­qual­i­fy­ing him as prime min­is­ter.

Fol­low­ing the death of Be­nazir, Zar­dari de­clared as per the ‘will’ of the for­mer, that Bi­lawal would be given the charge of the PPP. Act­ing upon the said will, Zar­dari made Bi­lawal Chair­per­son of the party, with him­self as Co-Chair­per­son be­cause Bi­lawal was too young to take charge. The ar­range­ment was put in place to groom Bi­lawal as a fu­ture leader.

Ob­vi­ously, Zar­dari did not want to risk giv­ing full au­thor­ity to Bi­lawal for fear of dis­turb­ing the ap­ple­cart. Af­ter re­main­ing for nearly ten years un­der the tute­lage of Zar­dari, Bi­lawal got sym­bolic hold of the party but the fa­ther is still con­spic­u­ously call­ing the shots. His style of pol­i­tics and run­ning the af­fairs of the PPP may have strength­ened his per­sonal grip but has ir­repara­bly dam­aged the party.

By agree­ing to help Nawaz Sharif and the PML-N in times of po­lit­i­cal cri­sis, Zar­dari has given up the role of an op­po­si­tion party to se­cure the gov­ern­ment’s sup­port to the PPP’s mis­rule in Sindh. One ex­am­ple of this quiet agree­ment be­tween Zar­dari and Nawaz Sharif is the re­fusal of the PPP to take the Panama cor­rup­tion case to the Supreme Court. It is gen­er­ally said that the iron-fisted and re­pres­sive rule of Gen. Zia could not elim­i­nate the PPP but Zar­dari’s strat­egy has nearly wrecked the party’s ship. The mul­ti­ple launch­ings of Bi­lawal as the new face of the PPP have com­pletely failed. The next na­tional elec­tions could be held any time, de­pend­ing on the out­come of Panama leaks case and the com­ple­tion of ten­ure by the in­cum­bent gov­ern­ment. In the mid­dle of all this, the PPP is far from hav­ing be­come a po­lit­i­cal force that could be ex­pected to have a for­mi­da­ble pres­ence in the next elec­tions.

The writer holds a doc­toral de­gree in In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions and is a po­lit­i­cal-econ­omy and se­cu­rity an­a­lyst spe­cial­iz­ing on South and Cen­tral Asia and the Mus­lim world.

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