50 years of PPP: A unique struggle

Mazhar Abbas

Lahore: Every mainstream political party in Pakistan has seen ups and downs, rise and fall, but what makes the different from others is the amount and the kind of sacrifices its leadership and workers have given alike in the last 50 years, as it celebrate its golden jubilee on Nov. It is a unique struggle for democracy, supremacy of the Constitution and Parliament.

There is also a lesson for those who thought and may still think that the party would be over with the elimination of leadership. Bhutto becomes more dangerous after been executed. PPP’s fall only came when it got its full term in office but could not deliver.

The biggest challenge to the PPP and its young leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari today is to reinvent the party which has lost with the loss of leaders like Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto. If the present leadership would be able to learn from its mistakes and set good record of governance in Sindh, where it has been in power for years, the PPP may succeed at the national level in years to come.

Forming government through manoeuvring is one thing but organising the party on certain principles is another. In case of a hung Parliament, Asif Ali Zardari can play his role, but can he win over thousands of PPP workers particularly in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa who are no more with the party?

The party’s ideals were different in the 70s or 80s then what is being practice today, and the decline was a result of deviation from the ‘Fundamental Document’. It is true that one cannot live with the glorious past forever but can learn a few lessons from it.

The PPP today looks confuse whether to carry progressive, liberal or democratic ideas or conservative and mould itself with right-wing tendencies and whether to compromise in the name of reconciliation or stood for basic principles.

Zardari did not do justice to Bilawal by making him chairman in 2007 when he was not matured enough. It is the time that senior leaders should now be considered to leading PPP-Parliamentarian. It will help carrying the party’s legacy on democratic lines. The PPP in 50 years had produced some brilliant political minds and parliamentarians like Farhatullah Babar, Raza Rabbani, Aftab Shaban Mirani, Aitzaz Ahsan and Qamar Zaman Kaira.

Another challenge for Bilawal would be how to carry the legacy of his grandfather Zulfikar Ali Bhutto – Pakistan’s the most popular leader by all standard – and mother Benazir Bhutto whose struggle against country’s worst military dictator Gen Zia ul Haq was unmatched.

The PPP’s strength has always been its committed and dedicated workers called Jiyalas. Hundreds of them gave their lives for the party and their love for Bhutto. 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 ‘Jeaye Bhutto’, who faced lashes and one of the worst kinds of torture in the famous Lahore Fort. For them, PPP was a romance and so was Bhutto. So, they even burnt themselves, some committed suicide after hearing about Bhutto’s execution.

It’s a unique struggle in a sense that its leaders and workers faced the worst kind of torture, hanging, lashes, prison and even workers burnt themselves in their love for the leader. In Pakistani politics, only one party could proudly claim that from leaders to workers, they have sacrificed for constitutional and democratic order in this country. It is the PPP which completed its 50 years on November 30.

The PPP founder himself faced the trial and was hanged, which even his worst critics term as judicial murder. His daughter Benazir Bhutto faced trial, prison, exile and was finally assassinated. Begum Nusrat Bhutto, who led the struggle after her husband’s arrest, faced the trauma of both as a wife and mother. Murtaza Bhutto was killed in a mysterious ‘encounter.

The PPP can proudly claim to be the founder of the 1973 Constitution and also of Pakistan’s nuclear programme. One can criticise some of Bhutto’s domestic policies, but the fact remains that despite having two-thirds majority, he always took opposition along on crucial issues, like formulation of Constitution and Shimla Accord. Had Bhutto not fallen in the trap of crushing the National Awami Party and the governments of the then NWFP and Bal0chistan, politics would have been different today.

The fall of the party’s popularity is as tragic as are its sacrifices. PPP’s post-Benazir leadership needs to share the responsibility for not doing much. The party, which never carried the tag of corruption, during its first 20 years, saw a decline as a result of too many compromises, the NRO being the worst.

The PPP also faced some of the most blatant conspiracies, allegedly from the establishment. From PNA to IJI, from Midnight Jackal to Mehran Bank, PPP was never allowed to get two-thirds majority after 1977. Even the conspirators admitted and boldly defended their position of not allowing it a landslide victory in 1988 and distributing money to opposition to rig the 1990 elections. However, 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 Nov 30, the party decided to hold its main function of golden jubilee in Rawalpindi, as both Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Benazir died in this city, one was hanged other and assassinated.

The PPP was a combination of true revolutionaries as well as feudal class. Bhutto, himself a feudal, but his entire political posture was progressive with complete command on national and international politics. He knew both art of public oratory and also had a command over addressing international gatherings.

If on one hand, the PPP had people like late JA Rahim, Sheikh Rasheed, Dr Mubashir Hasan, Meraj Muhammad Khan, Sheikh Rafiq, Meraj Khalid, it also had feudal like Makhdoom Talib-ul-Maula, Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, Mumtaz Ali Bhutto and Ghulam Mustafa Khar.

Its struggle could be divided in five phases. (1) 1967 to 1970, (2) 1972 to 1977, (3) 1978 to 1988, (4) 1988 to 2007 and (5) 2008 to 2017.

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

It brought to an end the first phase of PPP’s three years and beginning of the second phase when Gen Yahya handed over power to Bhutto with a serious Constitutional vacuum and he left with no other option but to accept an unpopular tag of the first civilian martial law administrator. This phase revolved around controversies, misrule and suppression of media and political opponents, both within and outside the PPP. This did not go well with the party or the government and reflected complete deviation from party’s basic principles.

But at the same time, Bhutto emerged as a strong leader at the international level as the voice of the Third World and the Islamic World. He also emerged as strong nationalist and someone capable of challenging arch rival, India.

The PPP’s third and the most difficult phase revolved around the post-Bhutto era. The period between July 5, 1977 and April 4th, 1979 perhaps was worst for the 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 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 and Benazir Bhutto. While Begum Bhutto was very emotional but committed. However, it was Benazir Bhutto who had always been considered as his successor.

Benazir was never allowed to settle down. Some elements within the establishment never accepted her as a prime minister or a leader. It was either because she was a woman or as daughter of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. As intelligence reports predicted a landslide for PPP, the then ISI chief Lt-Gen Hamid Gul formed an opposition alliance, IJI, and blocked the way for a clean sweep.

Even her simple majority was not acceptable. Therefore, in 1989, the agencies backed vote of no confidence tabled against her, but was defeated. In 1990, one of the worst kinds of conspiracies was hatched in which the role of the establishment was perhaps the darkest in our democratic history. The famous Mehran Bank case is still pending with the Supreme Court.

Establishment never accepted Benazir as is evident from events from 1988 to 2007. Even when she finally committed a political blunder of NRO and that too after she signed a historic ‘Charter of Democracy’, her return from exile was not welcomed by Musharraf. She survived first attempt on Oct 18, 2007 in Karachi in which over 250 PPP workers died in a suicide attack. She survived another attempt in Peshawar just days before her last public meeting at Liaquat Bagh, Rawalpindi.

The PPP could not recover after December 27th, 2007 when the popular leader was assassinated at the same venue, where the country’s first prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan was killed. Both murders still remain a mystery.

The PPP, which we saw in the last phase, failed in making major impact on Pakistani politics and one of the reasons was the change in the party, from Bhuttos to Zardaris. Despite Zardari’s ability to ensure that the party completes first ever term in the government, he has failed in making PPP a popular party. So, the struggle and challenges goes on as we enter into a phase where the party face the challenge to reinvent itself, whether it can or not, is another debate.

The writer is a senior columnist and analyst of GEO, The News and Jang

Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO

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