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AN old Native American saying gives this sage advice: “If you are unfortunate enough to find yourself on a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount immediately.”

Sadly, I did not follow this wise counsel and found myself on the carcass of a PPP steed that had passed on five years ago. The truth is that the party died the moment Benazir Bhutto was cruelly assassinated on Dec 27, 2007.

Since then, the only thing holding the PPP up was the embalming fluid of power. Once this prop was removed, the party promptly imploded. With the perks and privileges of high office, it was possible to give the semblance that all was well, and there was still life in the party founded by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1969.

After he was killed by Zia, first his widow Nusrat, and then his daughter Benazir, took over the reins. But that’s the problem with any family enterprise: after the early generations die, the organisation soon loses its sense of direction. Paid employees grab what they can in a final free-for-all.

Had elections not followed on the heels of BB’s murder, the party would have been over for the PPP long ago. There’s no way Asif Zardari could have held it together without the carrot of power. Even loyalists who hated him went along, partly because they had no choice, but mainly because he offered them jobs that enabled them to enrich themselves.

The few idealists still remaining in the ranks thought they might use this stint in power to do some good. And to be fair to them, they were able to push through some progressive legislation. But it is pragmatists like Raja Rental and his ilk who appeared to really thrive. It almost seemed that they knew they would never get another shot at power, so they might as well make hay for as long as they could.

The reality is that BB never groomed a successor, wanting to elevate one of her children, just as her father had done with her. For her, the PPP was a family heirloom to pass on to the next generation, not a meritocracy where the succession would be on the basis of party elections.

This is the model in much of South Asia as well as in other Third World countries. Across the subcontinent, a similar dynamic is at work: the Rajapaksas in Sri Lanka, Sheikh Hasina in Bangladesh, Sonia Gandhi in India, and Asif Zardari in Pakistan all represent familiar ambitions to further family interests.

My support for the PPP was largely based on its appeal to the marginalised. It was always seen as the party of the poor, the minorities and women. Whatever the reality, the party’s rhetoric placed it on the left, and so I stood by it for years, even when I could see the corruption eating away at its core.

I will never forget the sight of my late mother’s two Christian carers weeping, saying they had been orphaned after BB’s murder. The point is that despite her flaws, she genuinely cared for the poor: although it wasn’t in the news at the time, after the near-fatal suicide bombing of her joyous homecoming in October 2007, she went to several hospitals to visit those wounded in the attack on her truck.

Neither her widower nor her children have demonstrated this kind of empathy. It’s true that her son and two daughters hardly know Pakistan or its poverty at first hand.

To this extent, I can sympathise with young Bilawal for his reluctance to play a more active role. And I’m sure Zardari’s refusal to part with control over the PPP must have helped dissuade the inexperienced party chairman from plunging into the electoral battle.

To expect Bilawal to lead the PPP to victory was always an illusion. But the figure who was finally handed the party banner turned out to be Rehman Malik, one of the least impressive ministers we have had in a long and undistinguished rogues’ gallery. He and his boss were part of the PPP’s problem, so they could hardly provide a solution.

We had all expected the PPP to get hammered for its incompetence and its corruption. But the scale of its defeat stunned even its worst enemies. From 97 seats to 31 is a very steep fall in our electoral calculus. Today, it stands reduced to being a provincial entity when it was once the only truly national political party.

But before we write the PPP off, we should not forget that the poor need a party to represent them. Although its leadership lost contact with its base five years ago, this has generally been the case when it has been in power.

The truth is that the PPP has always been more of a movement than a party, and it is in opposition that it has shone. We should never forget the role it has always played against military dictatorship.

The question now is whether there is anybody who can revive it, or will the next five years in power in Sindh completely destroy whatever little credibility it has left? I’m sure Zardari is packing his bags; but even if he stays on (and out of jail), I doubt his ability to inspire demoralised party members.

Another harsh judgment is that while Pakistan has moved on, the PPP’s message has remained stuck in its old groove. As its defeat in Punjab shows, Pakistan is now more urban, and its young population is more aspirational. It’s no longer about roti, kapra aur makan, but about jobs, education and security.

Sadly, I see no PPP leader who even understands the problem his party faces, leave alone bringing about the changes so badly needed.

DAWN_VIDEO - /1029551/DAWN-RM-1x1

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (34) Closed

Baber Khan May 18, 2013 05:43am
Forget about the revival of PPP, now. Let it Rust in Peace! I only wish somebody could revive "Mazdoor Kisaan Party" and attract true ideologues of the Left into its folds.
S.S.A May 19, 2013 03:17am
Please wake up and stop living in fool's paradise..thats all I can say...
Samir Dutt May 19, 2013 02:47am
A real Bhutto, like Fatima, can surely revive the PPP. She's intelligent, progressive, and not hungry for power. I find her very impressive. South Asians look for continuity and stability when they elect the descendents of revered leaders like ZAB or Pandit Nehru. Sure it's dynastic, but so what? It's not easy to find somebody around whom millions of people can coalesce, specially in a time of crisis, and if the dynasty discredits itself over time, that's fine too.
Saeed May 19, 2013 03:26am
May be PPP era is over , but I gave them full credit and respect to fulfill there main agenda bring democracy and democratic sytem in the country . I know our people specially educated one still not ready of democracy. they dream some individual on white horse bring change to the country. So PPP run the great fight against the democratic hater.
Ali S May 18, 2013 07:06pm
You forgot an important factor that provides the PPP unconditional support despite their abysmal performance. You see, the PPP is unique in that it has managed to foster a jiyala culture to an extent that no other party can even dream of. So the PPP's leadership can spit and slap on these jiyalas and treat them worse than dirt, but they can still be sure that these jiyalas will keep them in power. It's a remnant of the feudal mindset that needs to be eliminated if PPP and its vote bank want to move on from its tarnished legacy and become a truly progressive party.
Agha Ata (USA) May 18, 2013 01:06pm
I admired Bhutto's party because I thought it was secular in its approach. But when he joined the fundamentalists, declared Ahmadies kafirs, closed down race courses,and liqueur bars, I knew that everything about him was based on maslehut (Urdu word) That was the end of my faith in PPP.
Parvez May 18, 2013 08:16am
Great summary on the state of the PPP. Agree with you all the way except that you feel the party has been laid to rest almost permanently and I feel this is a strategy for a transition from PPP-Bhutto ( now dead) to PPP-Zardari, with a completely changed idealogy. For this he needs a breathing space which he has acquired.
Ash May 18, 2013 07:28am
As an Indian, what I see as PPP's biggest contribution to Pakistan is that the Sindhis enjoyed a vicarious sense of empowerment due to the PPP's status as Pakistan's only truly national political party. This prevented the Sindhis from becoming totally disillusioned with Pakistan (unlike the Balochis - look at the violence and the voter turnout) a prime example being the reported incident where Asif Zardari prevented the emotional Sindhi crowd from chanting "Naa Khapey Pakistan" after BB's funeral. It is for this reason that it is very important for Pakistan that the PPP's fortunes are revived not just in Sindh but across Pakistan.
naseem May 18, 2013 04:19pm
I hope this does not happen, PPP jialas joining PTI. That will ruin PTI.
Qamar May 18, 2013 04:49pm
Why R.I.P (rest in peace)? They must be held accountable for all the financial crimes and the most likely place for them (after fair and swift judicial trial) would be prison.
Ahmed May 18, 2013 04:43pm
Ideologues are individuals who blindly push a "party line". They ultimately do nothing but harm to society. What Pakistan needs is people with a commitment and ability to provide public service. And the people of Pakistan (at least in the Panjab) decided that PMLN is the best bet for that. And, given the track record past 5 years as provincial government in the Panjab and as a responsible opposition that foiled Zardari's ambitions of reducing the judiciary to a rubber stamp, I think the electorate voted wisely.
Nazir K Ali May 18, 2013 07:34am
Pragmatist? 'Pragmatist' is not a term one will choose to use. 'Opportunist' will not only be appropriate but the right term to apply. Quote: "One who takes advantage of any opportunity to achieve an end, often with no regard for principles or consequences." (The Free Dictionary). It will certainly take a long time for the PPP to recover. Nevertheless, if accountability is shelved, then the PPP can expect to survive in the checkered history of the country. Thanx and Salams
Sattar Rind May 19, 2013 07:25pm
well written and closely observed the situation the party is facing ....but my intuition says that party would survive... though i have no valid argue..
Rizwan Wasi May 18, 2013 04:13pm
Dear Irfan Sahib, I have been a great fan of yours for a long time. It is a great article and analyis but would like to point out that Pakistan Peoples Party died ideologically when they moved to the right in their first term under Mr. Bhutto. The chief aritects of the party like Mr. J.A. Rahim, Dr. Mubashir Raza and Mr. Miraj Mohammed Khan went in to oblivion and centrists took control of the party. It led to legislations like declaring Ahmadis
G.A. May 18, 2013 03:35pm
Under Zardari, all one can say about PPP is Good Riddance!
Masood hussain May 18, 2013 03:06pm
Agreeing to whatever you say don't forget nothing succeeds success. There are certain factors like Punjabi chauvinist noises raised by Sharif brothers. .
Sadiq Ghulam May 18, 2013 12:38pm
PPP is a feudal family enterprise with corrupt darbaries who want to get rich quick. I wonder what would be their next slogan!!!
farhan May 18, 2013 12:26pm
Ifran Hussain also jumping from the sinking ship!
W. Malik May 18, 2013 12:30pm
Family business gone bust!
Khanm May 18, 2013 11:34am
let us not forget.....The best minds are not in government. If any were, business would steal them away.
Rosilva One May 18, 2013 11:38am
PPP will return strong if Bilawal will be a natural Bilawal of OXFORD. Not ape the accent and antics of his Nana (ZB) and his mother (BB). If Bilawal will come with a new strong team of economists that are modern in thought and cut taxes (not impose taxes).
concerned May 18, 2013 10:32am
rubbish ! even the PPP party workers are corrupt..dont you dare mention this again.
G.Nabi May 18, 2013 10:04am
While heirloom of Bhutto-Zardari is done with, heirloom of Sharifs resurfaces . Politics, Pakistani style.
SA Arshad May 18, 2013 09:49am
In the last election, I believe that the left was represented by the Awami Workers Party, which was a coalition of 3 parties. It is time for them to fill the vacuum.
Riaz Ahmad May 18, 2013 06:52am
It is much better for the workers of PPP to join PTI, they will be with inspired young and honest and progressive people, above ethnicity, class, family and religion. PPP brand was all empty words for the poor and all wealth and power for its feudal family enterprise. PPP has committed political suicide, for all intent and purposes, it is dead and buried, there is no leader worth the salt to put life back in to the carcass.
Samir Dutt May 18, 2013 07:03am
"Since then, the only thing holding the PPP up was the embalming fluid of power." Brilliant!
Dilawer May 18, 2013 07:08am
NO R.I.P. There needs to a an accountability to recover the loot
Prakash Rao May 18, 2013 05:11am
Good riddance to a corrupt party with lackluster performance.
Cosmix May 18, 2013 03:55am
lol, the good old author seems like justifying flip in his political inclinations which could be conveyed without an OpEd.....
Bakhtawer BIlal May 18, 2013 03:25am
Very well said. This is pretty much the dilemma so many of us faced. Was there any party remotely progressive, truly standing, or at least claiming to stand for the poor AND not a sympathizer of Taliban, would have attracted many of us. The slightly progressive ones are already tainted either by corruption or by mafia style.
malole May 18, 2013 02:48am
Rightly said. The present PPP is not the PPP of ZA bhutto. It is more like party of opportunists. RIP I guess.
NASAH (USA) May 18, 2013 03:16am
Irfan Hussain - besides what you mentioned the causes of PPP defeat please do not discount the selectiove terror brought upon the electoral head of the PPP and ANP by the Talibans in support of PML(N) and PTI on their madefeat . The two parties could not hold an open air campaign meeting because of the fear of the suicide bombing. This honeymoon between the Taliban and the PML(N) PTI is not going to last for long. Because PML(N) or PTI cannot accede to the outrageous demands of a traitor terrorist organization without themselves being accused of treason -- and kicked out.
Yawar May 18, 2013 03:17am
It is clear that most Pakistanis voted based on ethnicity. It is also clear that a significant portion rejected those parties, including PPP, that have perceived or known millitant wings. This should be a lesson for the future. If it can, over the next five years, PPP will need to do in interior Sind what Shahbaz Shariff did in Lahore in the last five years. Good luck Bilawal.
Emm May 18, 2013 01:45pm
Gutsy article, but It took Mr. Irfan Husain an election to understand what we all know from before ----- that this is no longer an ideological party and it is mired in deep corruption and with deep rooted vested interests. Irfan Saheb has done a 180 degree turn from his last week's article. These words from Irfan Saheb should have come much before. Good journalism dictates that. But then calling a spade a spade also takes some guts. For valued readers please have a look at Aryn Baker's short article on Pakistan in this week's Time magazine.