The Pakistan People’s Party, or PPP, is once again bracing for celebrating its 44th Foundation Day while facing the often repeated criticism by its opponents who are working day and night to get rid of its rule. Though its traditional opponents are giving dates for its exit time and again, the party, led by its controversial co-chairperson President Asif Ali Zardari, is still holding the mantle of power.
Viewpoint interviewed Dr Mehdi Hasan, one of Pakistan’s most prominent communication experts with a specialization in political analysis, about the 44-year political journey of Pakistan People’s Party. Excerpts:
Can we call PPP a left-wing party when it has since 1993 given up the motto of socialism in its election manifesto and has been privatising, refusing to even hint at land reforms and given up Bhutto's foreign policy?
The Pakistan People’s Party was founded in 1967 by a group of middle class educated people who were disillusioned with the political parties at the time of military dictator Ayub Khan. Founder of the party Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was considered an architect of Pak-China friendship, had parted ways with General Ayub Khan by resigning from his cabinet after developing some differences with him over Tashkent Peace agreement with India. Yes, the contours of the party were drawn as a left-wing party, but with the passage of time the party changed into centre-right. Till 1970, the party maintained its leftist outlook, but when it came to power, it was joined in 1970 by a bandwagon of opportunists and Pakistan People’s Party lost its leftist shade. Party stalwarts Dr Mubashar and Meraj Muhammad Khan quit the party in protest against the party policies that were taken over by the opportunist elements in the party.
When Dr Mubashar resigned as the party’s secretary general in 1976, he wrote a letter to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto suggesting some changes and reforms in the party. Bhutto had replied, “I agree with what Dr Mubashar says, but I don’t have the power to do so.” Benazir Bhutto also failed to restore the real image and purpose of the party as most of her decisions were overshadowed by elements who were with her just to stay in power ignoring the party manifesto and the promises that it had made with the people.
Can PPP be called a secular party when one of the four founding mottos was: Islam is our faith? Also, was it not pure opportunism back in 1967 to incorporate Islam in the party manifesto. The NAP (National Awami Party) was doing good even without embracing religion?
No. PPP can’t be called a secular party now as it is playing to a gallery of religious segment and has indulged into politics of compromises in order to stay in power. “Islam is our faith” was brainchild of Maulana Kausar Niazi and Zulfikar Bhutto agreed with him as he believed that the popular sentiments of the masses should be included in the party manifesto. He declared Ahmedis as non-Muslims, banned the use of liquor and declared Friday as holiday to win the support of religious elements. Though it was purely a political move to win popular support, Bhutto’s religiously-driven decisions proved harmful for the party and alienated its core workers. The workers had envisioned a changed political culture to resolve people’s problems, but the party failed to come up to their expectations.
Bhutto went to the Muslim world. Introduced Islamic measures. Declared Ahmediyya sect as non-Muslim as you point out. Don’t you think all this also contributed to Zia’s efforts to Islamise this society?
Ahmedis were declared non-Muslims following pressure by Saudi Arabia which did not want Ahmedis to go to Saudi Arabia for performing Haj. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto succumbed to pressure by mullahs and Saudi Arabia and no member of the parliament, except Mahmud Ali Kasuri, opposed Ahmedis being declared non-Muslims. It is not true that Bhutto paved way for Zia’s Islamisation. The Islamisation process during the Zia era was a result of the U.S. policy to contain Communism and expansion of Soviet Union. The United States supported and funded Zia’s Islamisation to wage jehad in Afghanistan. It was Afghan jehad that contributed to Islamisation of the Pakistani society.
From Meraj Muhammad Khan to PPP-Patriot, we have seen PPP split many times. Can you count for us how many splits this party has gone through?
All the PPP factions, or better call splinter groups, including PPP-Sherpao, PPP-Murtaza Bhotto and PPP-Patriots, are irrelevant and they have no nuisance value. The real and powerful PPP is now headed by Asif Ali Zardari. The Bhutto charisma is so strong that Zardari had to change the surname of his son to keep the PPP vote-bank intact. Every dictator tried to weaken the PPP by splitting it into factions but they failed to dent the party. Zia-ul-Haq used all his resources to eliminate Bhutto and PPP from the political scene and he was fully supported by the forces of obscurantism and religious fanaticism. Zia also tried to hijack the party, first through Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi and then through Kausar Niazi, but failed because of the workers devotion and commitment to Bhutto and his programme of socialism and social justice.
The party has gone through different phases since its inception. It stuck to its manifesto till 1976; then it changed into a group of opportunists; after Benazir Bhutto came to power in 1988, she changed the outlook of the party by making compromises with the killers of her father. And now the party is altogether different under the chair of Asif Zardari. The party prime minister now says that he is a follower of Pir Pagaro.
In 1997, PPP despite Benazir Bhutto's presence bagged hardly 19 parliamentary seats and was wiped out from Punjab. Also, since 1970, in every successive election (save 1977s controversial election), PPP has been getting less percentage of votes than previous election. Can we say then that PPP's voter is very 'loyal'. Don’t you think this notion insults PPP voters' critical approach when this vote-bank has been critical?
The party is lucky in a sense that it has got devoted and committed workers. Zulfikar Bhutto emerged as a charismatic leader of the youth and was given a warm welcome at Lahore when he reached there after resigning as foreign minister under the Ayub regime. His charisma and leadership created a class of workers that other parties lack. It was Zia that weakened the party hold in Punjab through traditional political opportunists. After the judicial murder of Bhutto in 1979, the party remained rudderless and in complete disarray as all important leaders and devoted workers had either been arrested or had sought political asylum abroad to avoid the dictator’s wrath.
Which class the PPP serves now? Capitalists? Feudal lords? Both? Or workers and peasants?
The party thrives on the support of deprived classes and it has succeeded in keeping its vote-bank intact. Except Punjab, the party enjoys considerable support throughout the country. The driving force behind the formation of the party was a political programme meant to empower the downtrodden classes. It promised direct participation of the masses in the political process. The need to form a new party for the welfare of the masses was justified in the foundation papers of the party which were produced by Zulfikar Bhutto, JA Rahim, Dr Mubashar and Hanif Ramay. The party still claims serving the deprived classes, though the governance and corruption issues are there.
Left-liberals continue pinning hopes on PPP. The PPP in turn keeps drifting to right and opportunism. Don’t you think it is time to break with PPP and build some alternatives?
There is no restriction on the formation of new parties. But the liberal left has not succeeded in its agenda and has failed to win any election. There is a flaw in their strategy and they should reconsider their policies and methodology to make a room for themselves in the society.