By Wajid Shamsul Hasan
Lahore is known for its beautiful gardens and colossus Mughal architectural sites and some major events in history. Its politically historic significance, has come to be due to Lahore Resolution of 1940, that set the course for an independent liberal state for the Muslims in India, as a student of political science it is more important for giving birth to Pakistan’s most formidable political force — People’s Party (PPP) led by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto 51 years ago on November 30, 1967.
For him, they were challenging times. He had parted ways with Ayub Khan and had decided to genre like-minded, liberal, secular and socialistic people who could collectively put in shape a political party that could be a vehicle of change for the good of the people replacing fossilised, inordinate and fractured Muslim League.
Being a follower of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah from his school days, his advent into politics and formation of PPP had only one aim to translate MAJ’s dream into an action plan for establishing a society based on egalitarianism as manifested by MAJ and him as Islamic socialism. He too would not have a Pakistan in which rich were to become richer, poor to become poorer, women treated like chattels, minorities subjugated, less privileged exploited as voiceless slaves.
He was just 30 years old, highly educated and privileged to have an easy access to the corridors of power through family connections, to become a federal minister at that age. Was it just an act of opportunism or a young man’s urge to learn statecraft from within the system-was a question that I sought an answer as his ardent admirer later in sixties before he formed PPP.
Apparently there were contradictions. He became a minister in a military regime, his class was feudal and yet here was in him a soul that had great feelings inside for the poor, who believed in democracy, rule of law, free expression — all to be a means for the greatest good of the largest number.
Bhutto had a rare penchant for international politics. He was the best Foreign Minister that Pakistan ever had. His parting of ways with Ayub Khan came on the surface when he had differences with him over the Tashkent Agreement with India brokered by the Soviet Union. As foreign minister he refused to take American diktats and later he wrote in his treatise on foreign affairs — “Myth of Independence” — how much strongly tied Pakistan was to the American apron strings, that they would tell which section officer was to be appointed to a particular post.
As the first leader who appeared on Pakistan’s much clouded political horizon as a harbinger of change, Bhutto’s initial manifesto: “Islam is our faith, democracy is our polity, socialism is our creed—all power to the people—” continue to this day as the gospel of rules for PPP. It got tempered by crossing rivers of blood, walk to the gallows, long periods of incarceration, intimidations, persecution and prosecution—with no parallel in the history of the sub-continent. Without its leaders — Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Begum Nusrat Bhutto and their daughter Benazir Bhutto — Pakistan’s claim to be a democracy would have been mentioned in the foot notes of history.
Pakistan came into being through vote, PPP sought its survival and consolidation through the ballot after the fall of Dhaka when there was nothing left but deluge. During the 51 years since its inception PPP has weathered one storm after the other much severe than the previous and yet credit goes to its resilience that starting as a romantic dream of ZAB, it now braces itself under the leadership of Bilawal Bhutto to pragmatically move forward to achieving the socialistic goals as earmarked by the founding father and later PPP’s founding Chairman, martyred Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
No doubt too many extra-constitutional interventions by Praetorian forces over the years and also born-again democrats — though resisted tooth and nail by democratic forces spearheaded by the Bhuttos and PPP, have stymied progress towards a dynamic and truly representative government. Notwithstanding what has been happening currently in Pakistan, emergence of Dharna politics under PTI and religious blackmail by the Labaikis, engineering in politics by the establishment — all are recriminatory manifestations of the forces of status quo in their last bid to way lay democracy from moving forward.
PPP’s leadership and its workers must look retrospectively into what they need to do to dispel growing perception of it drawing too much on its past laurels without doing enough to move forward. It needs to revive its left-of-the-centre ideological moorings, its populist politics over and above the delectable, PPP slogan of seventies roti, kapra aur makkan is as good now as it was then. It would forever remain a bind stronger than religion. It should not only revive its socialistic programme but should be seen to be pursuing it.
Anti-democratic engineering of political parties by the powers that be since the advent of Pakistan is now seem to going in top gear. We have seen how Bhutto Sahib was eliminated by General Zia, we have seen how he implanted his prototypes in politics in the eighties, how the military establishment denied martyred Benazir Bhutto landslide victories in successive party-based election since 1988, and how the judiciary played balls with them to keep PPP out of power.
The game played by the powers that be has been not to let any single political party have its federal roots and nationalistic tentacle in the four corners of the country. Zia ethnically and religiously fractured the Pakistani polity to eliminate PPP as the unifier of the nation. And his legatees continue to pursue that goal. Remember, establishment propped Nawaz Sharif was the one who raised the slogan of Jaag Punjab Jaag in the 1988 election. And when he became the chief minister of Punjab, he almost declared Punjab his fiefdom by not accepting federal government appointed officers, established Punjab Bank and would have moved forward had not President Ghulam Ishaq Khan dismissed Benazir Bhutto’s first government.
Since Punjab represents 60 percent of the population, it has monopoly representation in the armed forces and bureaucracy and the powers that be would not let PPP win election to form government in the province. This is the trend since 1988 until now. I remember President General Pervez Musharraf had told Bibi in his first face-to-face meeting in Abdu Dhabi in 2007 that PPP shall never be allowed to form a government in Punjab.
Whatever the machinations of the “political engineers” one must remember that electoral dynamics are different. PPP by strengthening its links with the left-of-the centre forces in Punjab and working in the rural peasantry — especially in South Punjab — can change the political complexion. 2013 and 2018 elections were different. PPP was singled to be left out. However, ongoing triangular struggle among the power centres have definitely provided space to PPP with its federalist credentials. Bilawal Bhutto must lead the PPP hard core from the front.
(The writer is the former high commissioner of Pakistan to the UK and a veteran journalist.)