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Sinking the PPP


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THERE could not have been anything as distressing a sight as watching the Titanic, its hull ruptured by an iceberg, sink slowly into the Atlantic Ocean. Until now, that is.

This month, another multi-tiered vessel — the Pakistan Peoples Party — has gradually begun its descent into deeper waters. Nature is not to blame; the iceberg upon which the PPP has foundered is of its own making. Like the Muslim League, it is no longer the party envisioned by its leader.

The Pakistan Peoples Party was launched on Nov 30, 1967 in the drawing room of Dr Mubashir Hasan, a professor in Lahore’s University of Engineering & Technology. Its manifesto was drafted by Mr J. Rahim, a former bureaucrat. In that small room, Mr Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (once Gen Ayub Khan’s foreign minister) was elected as its chairman by a coterie of founder members. Since then, the PPP has emerged as the only party with a national following. Even the PML-N — its closest rival — could find no retort to the condescending congratulations of the MQM leader Altaf Hussain in which he referred to the PML-N as a Punjab-based party.

Over the years, the PPP has suffered damage as much from its enemies as from its own leadership. In 1977, Mr Bhutto (then prime minister) over-engineered his election campaign, convinced that his performance from 1972 to 1977 would compensate for his waning popularity.

But during the five years that he was in charge, Mr Bhutto had sidelined or humiliated those who had propelled him into power, most noticeably and unconscionably his senior minister J. Rahim. Wantonly he neglected the arterial network of the PPP, allowing it to atrophy. When in 1977, he needed it, it was incapable of conveying the plasma of his expectations.

Mr Bhutto was not the Bhutto of 1970. I heard him mesmerise a crowd in Karachi’s Liaquat Bagh during the run-up to the 1970 elections. I gleaned his speeches avidly as if they were assignments in a course on oratory. But after he came to power, I caught myself snoozing during his interminable harangues on state television.

On the morning of April 4, 1979, I boarded a Fokker aircraft for Rawalpindi/Islamabad airport. Two officers in army uniform sat in adjacent seats. One was holding a single pager, a news-sheet carrying the headline: “BHUTTO HANGED”, and below it his official photograph as prime minister. The road to Islamabad in those days went through Rawalpindi, past the jail where Mr Bhutto had been hanged at dawn that morning. There was not one person on the road outside the jail. No PPP workers, no mourners, not even a policeman to keep the curious at bay.

Benazir’s death on Dec 27, 2007 left the PPP effectively leaderless. Under a will, she nominated her husband as regent until their son Bilawal could attain political maturity. What Ms Bhutto could not prevent was pruning by her widower of all those whom she trusted, and he clearly did not. Their elimination has been gradual, one by one. No dramatic Night of the Long Knives, as in 1932 when Adolf Hitler acted with brutal swiftness against his colleagues and therefore potential rivals.

Mr Zardari has followed no particular order. Initially, Mr Amin Fahim, Naheed Khan (BB’s confidant) and later Sherry Rehman. Interestingly, the first two had been seated on either side of Benazir in the car after they left the Liaquat Bagh ground and Sherry had transported the fatally injured leader to the hospital in her own car.

In time, others also fell from grace: Husain Haqqani (a casualty to memogate), Khwaja Tariq Rahim (a former Punjab governor reduced to occasional advisor), Shah Mehmood Qureshi (the foreign minister forced to defect to the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf), Jahangir Badar (replaced as secretary general by Mian Manzoor Wattoo), and two prime ministers Yousuf Raza Gilani and Raja Pervez Ashraf who fell foul of the courts.

The most recent blow to the party has been from Aitzaz Ahsan. He was considered by many to be the only person who could have staged a coup (when Benazir was in exile and Zardari in jail) to the leadership of the PPP.

Chosen and groomed by Mr Bhutto himself, a trusted favourite of Benazir Bhutto, the lawyer who defended Asif Zardari throughout his eight-year incarceration, Aitzaz possessed all the appropriate credentials: a minister in government, a leader of the opposition when not, and always a staunch loyalist. If there was anything he lacked, it was the courage to move the alphabetical scale a notch, from AA to BB.

In the wake of the PPP’s electoral rout in Punjab in the 2013 elections, Aitzaz has offered to resign his Senate seat. Other PPP high rankers, for less altruistic reasons, have also proffered their resignations. Those resignations have not been accepted. They are expected to remain on the bridge of the damaged Titanic.

There must be millions of PPP stalwarts today across the country entitled to a plausible explanation for their party’s debacle in the recent elections. They will not receive it from their current leadership, Mr Zardari’s explanations after a party post-mortem notwithstanding. They might though find the answer in Mr Bhutto’s first speech as president to a demoralised nation on Dec 20, 1971: “We have not failed,” he said, “we have been failed.”

The writer is an internationally recognised art historian and author.

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Comments (32) Closed

Umar Mukhtar
May 23, 2013 11:33am

PPP has not BEEN failed, instead PPP HAS failed ! This is crystal clear, and putting the blame on others or a few individuals is a lame excuse.

May 23, 2013 09:38pm

Since decades truely we are priasing PPP's great rise, but a critique is required. The problem starts with just mersmersing masses with mere charaismatic skills of oratory which overwhelms the real skills required to lead and direct a nation. ZAB along with intelligence was also an excellent orator, and very conveniently exploited the week points of the regime turning simple people on his side. He enovoked response through "Robin Hood Approach", emptying heavy pockets and spreading it out, that never happened. Instead that never happened and the resources reponsible for filling pockets were lost..............

Ashok Prabhu
May 24, 2013 02:56am

The PPP ceased to be a Democratic Party and entered into the arena of Dynastic Rule.From Zulfiquar Sahab to Benazir and then to Zardari and so forth.As if no other capable person outside this family can Rule.In India,we have the same problem.From Jawaharlal Nehru to Indira and from Indira to Rajiv,then to Sonia Gandhi,and now it could be the turn of Rahul.And if Rahul withdraws,it could be the Son-in-lawRobert Vadra or even Priyanka Vadra.Can this game of dynastic succession go on forever?

I. Ahmed
May 23, 2013 05:00pm
I think the author is forgetting the resounding defeat of PPP in 1997 and resounding win in 2008. Yes the party is rudderless but in a country where two major political parties alternate into power thanks to their incompetency as well as feudals rule in rural area, don't write the obituary now!
Akil Akhtar
May 23, 2013 05:00am
The party is dying because like all other parties it is also absed on individual family and thee is no institution.
May 23, 2013 05:23am
At this moment PPP does not have the guts to know the truth.
May 23, 2013 05:37am
I tend to disagree that Zulfiqar Bhutto lost popularity during his prime ministership. Actually he won elections in 1977. His party won local elections conducted by Zia ul haque after Bhutto's death (under banner of awam dost candidates) provding ample proof that PPP was popular.
May 23, 2013 07:18am
Indeed " We have not failed , We have been failed " these words must be resonating in his grave and her grave too . But my question as a loylist Jiyala and unstinting supporter of ZAB/PPP from Nov 1967 ( its announcement ) to the March 1971 ( when ZAB proclaimed to break every body's legs if any of the elected members of parliment from West Pakistan , dared to attend the NA session called by Yahya to be held in Dacca , the capital of East Pakistan ) , BY WHOM ??? My fingers pointedly goes to Himself i.e ZAB and then to his power hungry (at any cost ) daughter I.e BB later on . What AAZ did , was to carry on with the process , not for the sake of Power BUT to have it to save his own skin . Better said in his own declared words I Quote " I have only two residences within Pakistan , The Prison or the Presidency " so as long as he wanted to stay within Pakistan , he would do every thing in his reach to stay away the First one , so he did what before him ZAB and then BB did , Sink the PPP as much as possible not to have the hands on the levers of power ( The motto of ZAB & BB) but to have it to save his own skin . The Titanic PPP , had the hole in its hull , with that dictatorial slogan of ZAB , BB widened it with her lust for power even greater than her Father , AAZ made up the final act only . SO WHO FAIL PPP then , for me it was ZAB , BB , CRONIES , AAZ & Sister .. Bilawal will be clever to save his own skin and stay away from the sinking ship , NO Zardari will come out to re float it again . I rest my case
May 23, 2013 07:50am
Worst thing that could happen to the PPP is if most of its politicians defect to other parties and never come back. It *could* end up as a tiny minority party. Maybe even MQM could have more party members than the PPP.
May 23, 2013 08:15am
I fail to understand how articles such as these get published. They do nothing but state the obvious, without any analysis and insight and with no information not available publicly and discussed in every roadside cafe and domestic dining rooms. Please, if you have nothing important to say, please keep quiet.
Riaz Ahmad
May 23, 2013 08:38am
They know the truth, but they are behaving like an ostrich, burying head in the sand, pretending truth does not exist. Now there is a third force PTI, they will be the force in Punjab along with PML-N. If PTI performs well in KP, it can emerge as the only trance provincial party. MQM and PPP will remain with in the borders of Sind, the Bhutto factor is dead, the new generation have moved on. Zirdari's politics of sleaze and invoking emotions through Bhutto factor might work in rural backwardness of Sind, but rural Punjab wont fall for this chicken shit.
Rahmat Ali
May 23, 2013 08:43am
you should know that when ppp govt comes in power ,there group of people tried to topple the govt from day 1. Look ppp had to satisfy the coalition , war against taliban ,media and judges and generals , punjab govt and no support in bearucarcy are always problem for ppp.How this election was staged . No big public meeting(Imran has 60 public meeting in 5 days).Look at role of judges.But any way if somebody mind is already sit my points are no means to them. PPP only mistake is the loadsheding . Let see what happen.
May 23, 2013 08:43am
@ Parrot - PPP has the guts to know the truth. I t does not have the guts to ACCEPT that truth.
May 23, 2013 11:52am
The current PPP should name to something else, anything but PPP. It is a disgrace to the legacy of the likes of ZAB abd BB.
Masood hussain
May 24, 2013 02:27pm
Perhaps worthy critics of PPP are forgetting how Winston Churchill was defeated after winning the world war 2 for the Allies?Was his performance bad during the war?
May 23, 2013 03:17pm
Very nice written articel : Not too deep but gives a complete picture of the current situation of the once biggest party in the country.
Agha Ata (USA)
May 23, 2013 07:35pm
True. PPP is a sinking ship.
Agha Ata (USA)
May 23, 2013 07:51pm
PPP is headed by a man (Zardari) for whom PPP means nothing, if it doesn't accept Bilawal as its head. You can not run a democratic political party with this feudal attitude!
May 23, 2013 10:42pm
May 23, 2013 10:45pm
mohammad shafique
May 24, 2013 12:08am
ZAB's engineering of elections is overblown and was used as an excuse to topple him with the full support and connivance of the national press. If there was massive rigging it was in urban centres of karachi and hyderabad by the IJI
May 24, 2013 12:30am
Mr. Aijazuddin has written a good article. But to find the root of the problem, one does not have stray too far to determine the reason for the debacle. The simple answer is, regardless of the performance of the PPP within the last five years, Corrupt Zardari the president was never voted into office, He was tolerated by the people because of BB. The public at large did not take any action for two basic reasons. 1) After a decade of dictatorship the people wanted democracy to take hold and 2) Give Zardari a chance to change after BB demise. Democracy came in as it was successful but, Zardari did not change. When the time to vote arrived the people informed him very clearly, get on your boat and leave. The days of PPP are over.
May 24, 2013 01:02am
The article does not mention that the election of 1970 under Gen Yahya Khan was as clean as it could have been. The election gave Shaikh Mujib's Awami League a solid majority in the Parliament and even Gen Yahya referred to him as future Prime Minister of Pakistan. Does any one remember who refused to accept the results -- yes, it was ZAB who could not see himself sitting in opposition in the parliament. The result was humiliating defeat of Pakistan and separation of East Pakistan, I leave up to Pakistanis to decide who was the cause of this disaster.
Mustafa Razavi
May 24, 2013 02:45am
If he won the elections why did he have to cheat? and if he did not cheat why did he agree to reelections on a number of seats?
Mustafa Razavi
May 24, 2013 02:54am
PPP and PML-(N) always take turns, it is good for their own survival, Zardari has successfully passed the ball to his Mukmuka partner, Nawaz Sharif. Jiyalas need a few years to digest the $100 billion they stole. In five years the grieving widower will come back with "hum ney khoon dia hai". the memory of poor people would be wiped clean by then and most people will not tell them "tum ney khoon pia hai"
Mustafa Razavi
May 24, 2013 02:59am
None of this compelled the jiyalas to steal money.
Ifti Malik
May 24, 2013 03:26am
You have got to hand it to the party after 46 years of inception it's still the most talked about Party Interestingly most who volunteer their advice rather readily how it should run its affairs are all it's detractors
May 24, 2013 07:25am
How about you write a better one - just saying!!
May 24, 2013 04:00pm
The ending quote should have been: "We had been failed by Bhutto".
May 24, 2013 04:08pm
PPP is now Zardari's personal party with his friends and family members. Bhutto gave the illusion that PPP will bring better future for poor people, which proved to be false. But since Bhutto's death it has became an instrument of looting the the poor people of Pakistan.
Mustafa Razavi
May 24, 2013 04:27pm
Wrong!!, it is a submarine. It runs on illiteracy of the people. Just like you idolize ZAB today, your children would idolize Zardari.
May 24, 2013 06:49pm
The PPP has been linked to the Bhutto name and this has earned much political success. But a time had come when the name should have been gracefully de-linked and the party as an institution should have been projected. Sadly there was / is no person capable of doing this.