The PPP leadership became increasingly autocratic and dictatorial, it crushed independently-organized grassroots which were outside of PPP, it brought the landlords and local power-holders into the fold, it courted Islamists, it botched the nationalization of industry, and it made Pakistan so deeply dependent upon the Gulf that now all presidents, prime ministers and military dictators alike have to go to Saudi Arabia and UAE to kiss the hands of backward kings
The collapse of the military regime in the early 1970s, and the humiliating defeat of the Pakistan Army to India in Bangladesh (but not before Pakistan Army and their local paramilitaries conducted genocide of hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of Bengalis), weakened that plank of the deep state. The mass uprisings pushed the limits of Pakistan’s three dependencies – international, regional and class.
Observers of Pakistan tend to remark on the “spontaneous” nature of the uprisings in the late 1960s. While things all came together at once (this is the nature of uprisings), there had been painstaking work done on the ground by student organizers, labour organizers and peasant organizers. Most of their stories are yet to be told.
We do know that many of them worked to build the Pakistan People’s Party. And we also know that the leadership of the PPP, after relying on these grassroots radicals to gain popular support, sidelined many of them and pushed them out of the party.
But before that happened, the PPP did something few parties have done before or since, and that is speak directly to the lowest classes of society. Village to village, slum to slum, party grassroots organizers spoke to the masses directly, bypassing chaudhuries and intermediaries. If not economically, the political dependencies that may have existed started to fray. People voted for a programme, not by negotiation with local powerholders.
Although the new government also spoke of land reforms, they were not, in content, very different from the ones previously imposed. They did little to redistribute land or empower people in a fundamental economic way. They did, however, strengthen the rights of tenants to continue to possess and farm lands. This led to evictions as landlords sought to control their lands. But this time, tenants often fought back.
But the PPP’s leadership sought to bring in these intermediaries and landlords, not to alienate them – except in NWFP and Balochistan, where landlords were generally with NAP. Indeed, NAP governments were dismissed and in Balochistan the PPP government boosted the military by engaging in yet another dirty counter-insurgency operation against Baloch nationalism. Having lost Bengal, rather than thinking through the problem and issue of nationalities and keeping people together, the PPP government adopted the same heavy-handed centralizing thrusts of previous regimes. The PPP government adopted the same brutality in keeping Baloch nationalism in check. However, Sindhi nationalism was redirected into the PPP as the bureaucracy was opened up beyond the Punjabi-Urdu-speaking axis.
The PPP government decided to nationalize industry. This sounded good, but it was not about empowering workers, nor about managing industry efficiently and in a directed planned way. Indeed, workers were put down with excessive brutality in Karachi strikes, as industry had to keep functioning. And the industries that were nationalized or that were created anew under state ownership became means of distributing patronage and earning loyalty. If nothing else, at least the PPP government created a lot of new jobs. It’s not that these state enterprises performed too poorly, but that they simply did not perform all that well. Industrialists were demoralized and took their capital out of the country, not least of all to the Gulf.
And it is the Gulf that became the most important for the PPP on the international scene. The PPP spoke strongly of limiting ties to the US. But this was a lot of bluster, as the US had already started to wind down aid to Pakistan after the 1965 debacle with India. Pakistan had opened up particularly to China and was seeking other international links. In this field Saudi Arabia was Allah’s double-edged gift to the PPP.
If US is bade mian, Saudi Arabia is chhote mian. But mian is mian. Pakistan Army was in Middle East helping Saudi Arabia and other reactionary monarchies against the newly emerging secular and progressive movements, like Nasser’s Egypt. In Jordan, one Pakistan Army commander named Zia-ul-Haq was helping to put down Palestinian freedom fighters in 1972. Saudi Arabia, it was afraid of rising progressive feelings in the Muslim world, and so it funded groups like Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan to win the battle for hearts and minds and laid down a network of madrassas.
PPP turned to the Gulf for economic aid. The Gulf oil boom needed cheap workers, and PPP needed a way to resolve the labour problem as the lack of land reforms in the countryside meant there were too many people with no gainful way to make livelihoods. And so began Pakistan’s deep and lasting dependence on the Gulf countries, as hundreds of thousands and ultimately millions of Pakistanis went to the Gulf to make money—good money by Pakistani standards, but far below standard wages in Saudi Arabia. Gulf countries also saw a way to influence Pakistan’s government overall, and through the backdoor, this was how US continued to dominate Pakistan.
Having crushed the working class, having alienated nationalists, having thrown out so many radicals and grassroots workers from PPP, the leadership of the party started to tilt to the right as it faced economic problems. Now the leadership started to court the industrialists again—but the industrialists were not to be wooed. And, now dependent on Saudi Arabia, it started to court the Islamists. Ahmadis were declared non-Muslim in the constitution, though the Qur’an and Sunnah are clear that is Allah’s business to decide who is and who is not a Muslim, not the job of governments and rulers. Certainly public culture was more deeply Islamized under the following military regime, but it was the PPP leadership who threw the doors wide open.
The PPP leadership became increasingly autocratic and dictatorial, it crushed independently-organized grassroots which were outside of PPP, it brought the landlords and local powerholders into the fold and gave them more power, it courted Islamists, it botched the nationalization of industry, and it made Pakistan so deeply dependent upon the Gulf that now all presidents, prime ministers and military dictators alike have to go to Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain to kiss the hands of backward kings.
The PPP interlude could have been a project for the greater independence of Pakistan on the three counts. But it failed in almost every way. Although landlords and local powerholders have to face with increasing market competition, they have still retained their power over the rural masses. No land reforms and no industrial boost has occurred to give them power over their own lives or gainful employment, instead they have gone as cheap labour to the Gulf. Although Sindhi middle-classes found themselves more empowered, gaining access to the bureaucracy and having Sindhi recognized as a governmental language (not that that actually went anywhere, either), the Baloch were being repressed and the Pakhtun leadership alienated. Although the US was not the top dog, that was more the US’s doing than any anti-imperialist sentiment, instead, Pakistan became deeply dependent upon the Gulf countries. And where once Islam was struggled over by people in mosques and in streets, the government now started to declare in very fundamental ways what Islam was and how people should think of it.