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Friday Dec 01 2017

The fifty years of the Pakistan Peoples Party – A unique struggle

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto with founding members of PPP at 1st convention in Lahore Nov 30, 1967

While it is true that most major political parties in Pakistan have seen their rise and endured falls, there is no political party in the country like the Pakistan Peoples Party which has, inarguable, sacrificed the most in terms of their leadership throughout the fifty years of their existence.

As the flag-bearer for democracy in Pakistan, the PPP celebrates its Golden Jubilee today, knowing full well that theirs has been the most unique struggle for democracy and supremacy of the Constitution and the Parliament in Pakistan.

The founder of the party, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto set the unimaginable standards of sacrifice when he steadfastly refused to bow down to a dictator, faced a sham trial and was executed for a case which even his worst critics termed as 'judicial murder.

His daughter, Benazir Bhutto, faced trial, prison, exile and was finally assassinated by the militants against whom she was most vocal. Begum Nusrat Bhutto, who herself led the struggle after her husband's arrest, faced the trauma both as a wife and a mother. Both her sons, Shahnawaz Bhutto and Murtaza Bhutto were killed.

Looking ahead, the biggest challenge for the PPP and its young leader and the scion of the Zardari-Bhutto clan, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, is to figure out how to reinvent the party which has lost its way since the assassination of his mother, Benazir Bhutto in December 2007. They can at least begin with reinvention from its home turf, the province of Sindh where they have been in power since 2008. If the present leadership is able to learn from its mistakes and set a good record of governance in Sindh, the PPP may yet succeed at the national level in years to come.

The Party’s decline is the result of its deviation from its basics, the 'Fundamental Document'.

Today, the PPP looks confused about whether to carry progressive, liberal ideas or conservative or should it mould itself with right-wing tendencies? Whether to compromise in the name of reconciliation or stand for basic principles?

Benazir Bhutto’s widower and former President Asif Ali Zardari did not do justice to his son Bilawal by making him chairman in 2007 – after his mother’s death – when he was not mature enough.

It is imperative upon the decision-makers within the party to seek help, guidance and, perhaps leadership, by turning towards the brilliant political minds the party has produced. Names such as Farhatullah Babar, Raza Rabbani, Aftab Shaban Mirani, Aitzaz Ahsan and Qamar Zaman Kaira are among many gifted politicians in the PPP with credentials to run the party on progressive and democratic lines.

Another challenge for Bilawal would be to figure out how to carry on the legacy of his grandfather, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan's most popular leader by all standards and that of his mother, Benazir Bhutto, whose struggle against the country's worst military dictator, General Zia ul Haq was unmatched.

The PPP's strength has always been it's committed and dedicated workers, often called the 'jiyalas'. Hundreds of them gave their lives for the party. Today, Bilawal may not be able to bring that kind of spirit in the party nor that kind of 'jiyala,' who can go to the gallows, saying, ' Jeay Bhutto,' or face lashes and endure the most inhumane kind of torture in the famous Lahore Fort.' For the old ‘jiyalas’, PPP was a 'romance' and so was Bhutto. It remains to be seen if the passion of the past can be evoked once again in support of the party.

PPP can proudly claim to be the architect of the Constitution in 1973 and also of Pakistan's nuclear program. One could criticize some of Bhutto's domestic policies but the fact remains that despite having two-thirds majority, he always took the opposition along on crucial issues.

It can be argued that had Bhutto not fallen in the trap of his obsession to crush the National Awami Party, and respected the governments of the-then North-West Frontier Province and Baluchistan, the state of politics and the country would have been different today.

The PPP also faced some of the most blatant conspiracies allegedly from the establishment. From the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad to Midnight Jackal to Mehran Bank, PPP was never allowed to get two-third majority after the 1977 election.

Even the conspirators admitted and boldly defended their position of not allowing PPP's landslide in 1988 and distributing money to the opposition to rig the 1990 elections. It was an utmost tragedy of our nation that not a single 'conspirator' was ever put on trial for violating the Constitution and their own 'oath.'

Formed in Lahore at the residence of Dr Mubashir Hasan on November 30, the party has decided to hold its main event of golden jubilee celebration in Rawalpindi as both Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto died in this city – one was hanged and other was assassinated.

Then PPP was the combination of true revolutionaries as well as the feudal class. Bhutto was himself a feudal but his entire political posture was progressive with complete command on national and international politics. He knew both the art of public oratory as well as the skill to address a global audience at the world’s most august forums.

In the last five decades, PPP's struggle can be divided into five phases. (1) 1967 to 1970, (2) 1972 to 1977, (3) 1978 to 1988, (4) 1988 to 2007 (5) 2008 to 2017.

The first phase of the party was completed when PPP emerged as the second largest party after Sheikh Mujeeb ur Rehman's Awami League in the 1970 election. The result divided the country as neither AL won a single seat from West Pakistan nor any party won seats from East Pakistan.

It brought an end to the first phase of PPP's three years and signalled the beginning of its second phase when Gen. Yahya Khan handed over power to Bhutto. In a serious Constitutional vacuum and left with no other option, Bhutto chose to accept the unpopular tag of being the first Civilian Marshal Law Administrator in 1972.

PPP’s second phase revolved around controversies, misrule, suppression of media and political opponents, both within and outside the party. This did not go well with the party or government and reflected a complete deviation from party's basic principles. But, at the same time, Bhutto emerged as a strong leader at the International level, the voice of the Third World, an Islamic World. He also emerged as a strong nationalist and someone capable of challenging arch-rival, India.

PPP's third and the most difficult phase revolved around the post Bhutto era. The period between July 1977 and April 4, 1979 was perhaps the worst for PPP leaders and workers as thousands faced prison, convictions, lashes, torture and some were even hanged. Bhutto's hanging was like a 'bomb shell' for PPP, Pakistan and for many world powers. Arab rulers in particular were shocked as they always considered him as their leader.

The phase between 1978 and 1988 revolved around Begum Nusrat Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto. While Begum Bhutto was very emotional but committed, it was Benazir Bhutto who emerged as the true successor to her father. Benazir was never allowed to settle down. Some elements within the establishment never accepted her as the Prime Minister or a leader. It was either because she was a woman or the daughter of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

Even her simple majority in the 1988 election was not acceptable. Therefore, in 1989, the agencies backed a vote of no confidence tabled against her but they were defeated. In 1990, in one of the worst kind of conspiracy was hatched against democracy in Pakistan, in which the role of the establishment was the darkest era of our democratic history. The infamous 'Mehran Bank' case is still pending before the Supreme Court after the passage of nearly three decades.

The establishment never accepted Benazir Bhutto as was evident from multiple events between 1988 and 2007. Even when she finally committed a political blunder of accepting the NRO, and that too after she signed a historic, 'Charter of Democracy,' her return from exile was not welcomed by the then military dictator, retired General, Pervez Musharraf.

She survived the first attempt on her life on Oct 18, 2007 in Karachi in which over 250 PPP workers died in a suicide attack. She survived another attempt in Peshawar, days before her last public meeting at Liaquat Bagh, Rawalpindi.

PPP could not recover after December 27, 2007, when their popular leader was assassinated at the same venue where the country's first Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali Khan was killed. Both murders remain a mystery.

The PPP, which we saw in the last phase, failed in making any major impact on Pakistani politics and one of the primary reasons was the change in the party, moving from Bhuttos to Zardaris.

Despite former President Asif Ali Zardari’s ability to ensure that the party completed its first ever term in the government, he has failed in making the PPP a popular party.

As the new phase starts for the PPP, the struggle and challenges go on too. Only time will tell if the party can reclaim their halcyon days under the young leadership of Bilawal Bhutto.

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