PPP’s third reincarnation?

PPP’s manifesto identified the party’s ultimate goal as being the achievement of an egalitarian and ‘classless society’

Ten years is a long time. But it is still not possible to accept Benazir Bhutto is no more. She is missed, she is mourned but she continues to live in nation’s memory like a living legend.

Like most high profile assassinations in this country hers too seems likely to join the list of Pakistan’s blind murders like that of Liaquat and Murtaza.

A decade is too long a period for leads, both hard and circumstantial, to have remained alive. Still, the hunt for her assassins must continue.

Meanwhile, where does the PPP go from here? Most PPP supporters seem to be looking at Bilawal. Nothing wrong with it as long as you don’t disapprove inheritance in politics.

But Bilawal is Bilawal, not Benazir. Nor is he Zullfikhar Ali Bhutto. Even the circumstances obtaining today are totally different from those that existed during the times of BB and ZAB.

Comparisons are always very difficult. More so when one tries to compare Bilawal, 29 with his mother or with his maternal grandfather.

By the time she had reached 29, Benazir was locked in an acrimonious confrontation with a military dictator who had just had a rubber-stamp Supreme Court send her father to gallows on trumped up murder charges; suffered a couple of years of solitary incarceration and a five-year long exile. ZAB at 29 was already a government insider.

Bhutto’s programme directly targeted the country’s poverty-stricken masses. The left oriented slogan, ‘Land to the Landless’, proved irresistible to the peasants and labour-force. The working class quickly flocked to the party. Many other members of society who had felt stifled and repressed by the authoritarian regime of Ayub also joined the new party. PPP’s manifesto also attracted the country’s numerous minority sects

Benazir’s so-called ‘will’ does not say so but Bilawal was made to inherit the mantle of Pakistan Peoples’ Party at the impressionable age of 19—an age young boys normally find themselves in so many minds about what career to adopt.

It was perhaps the ruthless persecution of PPP by Zia that had sucked BB into Pakistan’s political cauldron. Still, she was 26 when she shared the Party Chairpersonship with her mother. And by the time she eased Begum Nusrat Bhutto out of the Party office Benazir was a mature lady of 34.

And when ZAB launched the PPP he was even more mature and more experienced at 34 as he had for a couple of years held the office of Secretary General of the ruling Convention Muslim League besides having served as the country’s foreign minister.

When ZAB returned home after having attended Berkley, Oxford and Lincoln’s Inn he was perhaps at 27 one of the most highly educated young barristers in the country. BB also went to Harvard and Oxford studying governance, philosophy, politics and economicsby the time she returned home.

Bilawal spent a short three years for his Masters at Oxford which perhaps has rendered him academically sound but not as qualified for the job awaiting him as his mother and ZAB were.

ZAB launched the PPP as the Vietnam War was winding down in the late 1960s and the world was being swept by left-of-centre winds. Western Europe and the US had become social welfare states with public sector taking care of education, health, transport, communication, housing, energy and water.

PPP’s manifesto said, “Islam is our Religion; Democracy is our Politics; Socialism is our Economy; Power lies with the People”.

The manifesto identified the party’s ultimate goal as being the achievement of an egalitarian and “classless society”.

Bhutto’s program directly targeted the country’s poverty-stricken masses. The left-wing oriented slogan, “Land to the Landless”, proved irresistible to the peasants and labour-force. The working class quickly flocked to the party. Many other members of society who had felt stifled and repressed by the authoritarian regime of Ayub also joined the new party. PPP’s manifesto also attracted the country’s numerous sectarian minorities.

Eventually, the socialist-oriented catchphrase Roti, Kapra aur Makan became a nationwide rallying-call for the Party.

However, by the time BB returned home in 1986 to a memorable welcome the world had undergone a qualitative change. The Soviet Communism was breathing its last. The UK and the US were on their way to the era of less government. Prime Minister Thatcher of the Conservatives had forced the Labour Party to morph into New Labour which ideologically had become similar to the Conservatives if not identical. In Regan’s US social infrastructure carried a price tag.

In Pakistan nobody knew what had happened to the nearly $50 billion or so unencumbered cash that had come in by way of rent for our assistance to the US in its war of attrition against the Soviets in Afghanistan. And by the time Zia died in an air crash our kitty had bottomed off forcing the then finance minister, late Mehbubul Haq to run to the IMF for a paltry standby loan which the Fund agreed to provide but only to the winner of the 1988 elections. So, the winner, the BB- led PPP walked straight into the Washington Consensus (WC) that was opposed to the social welfare agenda of ZAB’s PPP.

BB had no option but to embrace the WC. And she had also needed to, in view of the fact that it was a unipolar world with the US at the helm, to amend PPP’s anti-American stance as well as establish normal relations with the country’s establishment which had bitterly persecuted the PPP all through Zia’s 11-yer rule. So the lady did not inherit ZAB’s PPP but had to remodel a new one.

Biblical is also not likely to inherit BB’s PPP which has passed into history with her assassination. It is Zardari’s PPP that Bilawal is heading.

Like BB her son too appears to have been sucked into politics without having any natural inclination for the profession. And like her he too would have to remodel the PPP to suit the circumstances of his day whenever the father finally choses to abdicate in his favour.

If and when he becomes the real decision maker Bilawal would need to start looking at national issues once again with a pronounced sense of social and distributive justice.

He would need to promote inclusive growth and social spending and oppose dole-dependence and policies that increased inequality between people and regions.

The rise of China has belied the view that a state-led strategy will always fail; and the global financial crisis of 2008-09 has exposed the perils of inadequately regulated markets and crass capitalism

The writer is a senior journalist based in Islamabad. He served as the Executive Editor of Express Tribune until 2014

Published in Daily Times, December 30th 2017.