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Editorial | PPP Foundation Day: Time For Some Introspection

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The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) marks its 52nd founding anniversary today. It is a good time to examine the past and present of a party that has played such a vital role in shaping Pakistan – for better or worse, depending on one’s political perspective.

The PPP was somersaulted into political relevance by the charisma and acumen of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto – a unique and towering personality in world history. In the late 1960s, one of the factors that helped the party establish itself was its successful co-option of widespread dissent against Ayub Khan’s military regime. Much of this dissent had a left-wing tinge to it – something which stayed with Bhutto’s new party.

It led Pakistan down a path of heavy state intervention in the economy, a foreign policy that was less aligned with the Western camp in the Cold War and eventually the birth of Pakistan’s nuclear programme. In the 1980s, overthrown by General Zia’s military regime, the PPP bore the brunt of the fierce repression and spearheaded the movement for restoration of democracy. In the 1990s, it was caught up in a vicious game of musical chairs between political forces, orchestrated from elsewhere. In 2007, Benazir Bhutto laid down her life standing against General Musharraf’s military regime.

In short, the PPP has been a force for transformation in Pakistani society. Yet today it finds itself an increasingly marginal force outside Sindh. We cannot go into the details of this process in this space.

But it is obvious that if the party is to revive its flagging fortunes in a country whose political destiny it contributed so much to, some introspection is necessary. A founding anniversary is as good a time as any to begin such introspection.

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Z. A. Bhutto’s stance after the 1970 elections was anything but fair to the Awami League which had a clear majority. It would be extraordinarily disingenuous to suggest that the main political force in West Pakistan, the PPP, had no role in enabling the then dictator General Yahya Khan in his ill-fated wave of repression in former East Pakistan. After 1972, Bhutto’s autocratic style of rule did little to burnish the democratic credentials of the party. The 1974 legislation against Ahmedis is known as a milestone in Pakistan’s slide into religious intolerance and state-backed fundamentalism.

The party’s story after the heroic 1980s is that of one compromise after another. Benazir Bhutto’s courageous martyrdom secured her place in the pantheon of Pakistan’s greatest leaders, but the subsequent administration led by the PPP from 2008 to 2013 remains a study in debilitating compromises, ending in ignominy despite achievements like the 18th constitutional amendment. The party’s role in the 2018 Senate elections also raised many questions about its commitment to its own principles when faced with possibilities for opportunistic behaviour.

This would be a good time for the party’s leadership and iconic supporter, the jiyala, to reflect on the more questionable aspects of the party’s role in Pakistani history. For nothing could be a more firm basis for a revival of the party’s leading role in Pakistani politics. There is much that the party still can do to revive progressive politics and bring back the poor at the centre of political discourse.

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