May Issue 2013
The Wayward Arrow
The Pakistan People’s Party could once rightfully claim that it was a national party that enjoyed the support of all four provinces of the country. But after a widely-criticised tenure in government, during which they failed to curb terrorism, sectarianism and inflation, the party seems to be standing on shaky ground.
The PPP was the brainchild of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a politician from an affluent Sindhi land-owning family, who became a close aide to Field Marshal Ayub Khan in the 1950s. But the two had a falling out after the 1965 war and Bhutto went on to found the Pakistan People’s Party in 1967. The party’s ideology was rooted in socialism and their first manifesto was titled: “Islam is our Religion; Democracy is our Politics; Socialism is our Economy; Power Lies with the People.”
For the 1970 elections, the PPP toured West Pakistan, raising the slogan of “Roti, Kapra aur Makan” and secured 81 of the 138 seats allocated to the western wing of the country. The East Pakistan-based Awami League, led by Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, won 160 seats but Bhutto could not accept Rehman becoming prime minister over him. He joined hands with General Yahya Khan to prevent Rehman from assuming the country’s premiership and Bhutto went on to stay in power until 1977.
During his tenure, he introduced nationalisation, but putting commerce and heavy industries in the hands of the bureaucracy proved to be a mistake as corruption and mismanagement became rampant. Bhutto professed that his party was secular, but in 1974 he introduced a law which declared Ahmadis as non-Muslims. In 1977, to curry favour with the religious right, he also banned alcohol in the country. His army chief, General Zia-ul-Haq, with the support of the religious right, went on to overthrow Bhutto and introduce Islamisation in the country. In 1979, Bhutto was hanged on murder charges.
It wasn’t until 1988, when Zia-ul-Haq was killed in a mysterious plane explosion that the PPP, now with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s daughter, Benazir, at the helm, came to power once again. Benazir served as prime minister for two years, during which time she introduced privatisation and deregulation policies, until her government was sacked in 1990 on corruption charges.
Benazir Bhutto returned to power after the 1993 elections but her second tenure saw many strikes from the opposition, mainly PML-N, and the party itself was also deeply splintered, with many within criticising her shift to centre right politics. In 1996, Benazir’s brother Murtaza Bhutto was assassinated and this deeply damaged her political career. Her tenure was cut short by President Farooq Leghari and in the 1997 elections, the PPP only secured 18 seats in the National Assembly.
Benazir Bhutto was exiled from the country and it was only in 2007, after having struck a deal with President Musharraf, that she returned to contest the elections. She was tragically assassinated on December 27, and her eldest son Bilawal Zardari and husband, Asif Ali Zardari became co-chairpersons of the party. While Bilawal continued with his studies in England, Zardari went on to become president. His tenure was dogged with allegations of corruption against him and his party members. Prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, and then Raja Pervez Ashraf, even found themselves in the dock for not writing a letter to the Swiss authorities regarding past corruption charges against Zardari. The judiciary kept the party on its toes by unearthing one case after another, drawing remarks of “selective justice” against the PPP from the party. But the PPP’s own performance did not help either. From the devastating 2010 floods to the power shortages, to the rising costs of living due to terrorism, Zardari and his government seemed to turn a blind eye to the tragedies confronting the nation. When their own governor Punjab, Salman Taseer, and minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, were killed by extremists for speaking out against the blasphemy law, the rest of the PPP leadership chose to remain silent and the country became a battlefield for sectarian attacks. And now the PPP truly is under threat from the TTP, forcing the party to conduct its campaign through video conferencing and ads in the print and electronic media.
The PPP’s popularity across the country has waned drastically thanks to the corruption and negligence in their recent years in power, but it is likely sweep the polls in its strongholds such as interior Sindh, where the Bhutto name still resonates, and Lyari, where the People’s Aman Committee is once again endorsing the party after having turned against it last year.
Zehra Nabi is a graduate student in The Writing Seminars at the Johns Hopkins University. She previously worked at Newsline and The Express Tribune.