The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is Pakistan’s largest political party. It is also perhaps Pakistan’s only party, which can be discussed in a context similar to that of major political parties which have evolved in democratic countries in the 20th century and beyond.
Thus, in spite of democracy still being a flawed and young creature in Pakistan, PPP’s evolution can actually be compared to that of major social democratic parties in Europe and India.
Adding a bit of red
The party was formed on November 30, 1967. Headed by a young, energetic and highly-educated former foreign minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (a Sindhi), the party was conceived to bring about a socialist-democratic revolution in Pakistan after the military dictatorship of Field Martial Ayub Khan was overthrown.
Bhutto had been Khan’s foreign minister but had a falling out with the dictator after the latter agreed to a ceasefire with India during the 1965 Indo-Pak war.
Galvanised by the rise of the student-left in Pakistan and the popular sentiment across West Pakistan against the ceasefire (especially in the Punjab), Bhutto, after being eased out of the Ayub regime, showed an interest in joining the National Awami Party (NAP).
At the time, NAP was Pakistan’s largest leftist party. It was a consensual collection of communists, socialists, socialist-democrats, and, more so, Sindhi, Baloch, Pashtun and Bengali nationalists.
With his self-worth boosted by the enthusiastic response his stand against Ayub received from the students in West Pakistan, Bhutto decided not to join the NAP after it failed to give him the kind of a position he thought he now deserved.
Facing isolation and a possible ouster from the political process, Bhutto was too much of a political animal to miss out on the forthcoming commotion against the Ayub dictatorship.
While on a trip to Europe, Bhutto held a number of meetings with a former bureaucrat and an accomplished Marxist theoretician J A. Rahim.
Both decided to form a left-wing democratic party.
The party was launched at a convention in Lahore. It was a vibrant affair attended by a number of progressive intellectuals, leftist student leaders, labour and trade union activists and journalists. It also benefited from the split in NAP between pro-China and pro-Moscow factions.
The PPP convention in Lahore November, 1967, which officially launched the party and laid out the party’s manifesto.
At the convention, Z. A. Bhutto read out the party’s manifesto (that he had written with J A. Rahim) and put it up for debate in front of the participants. Socialism and Pakistani nationalism were at the centre of the manifesto.
Almost immediately, three tendencies of the party’s overall ideology emerged.
Intellectuals like Dr Mubashir Hassan, Shaikh M. Rashid, Tufail Abbas and student leader Miraj Muhammad Khan expressed a more radical understanding of the manifesto.
They also brought with them certain radical Maoist tendencies into the party’s character because as communists, they had sided with China during the ideological Sino-Soviet conflict of the 1960s.
The left-wing National Student Federation’s Miraj Muhammad Khan (left) with Z A. Bhutto (centre) and NSF’s Rasheed Hassan Khan at a NSF event in Karachi, 1967. Miraj joined the PPP as a founding member. – Photo courtesy Apna Kal
Intellectuals like Hanif Ramay traded a middle-ground. They insisted that the party’s leftism needed to be fused with ‘progressive aspects of Islam’ so that the PPP doesn’t come out looking like an atheistic/communist party.
Ramay was part of the Islamic Socialism Group, a literary organisation formed by intellectuals inspired by the ‘Arab Socialism’ of Egyptian leader, Gammal Nasser, Algeria’s National Liberation Front, and Indonesian leader Sukarno’s attempts to express populist socialist theory and Indonesian nationalism through Islamic symbolism.
Ramay’s group prevailed in convincing Rahim and Bhutto to explain the party’s central ideology as a democratic expression of ‘Islamic Socialism’ which, in Urdu, was translated as ‘Musawat-e-Muhammadi’ (the political and economic system of equality and justice introduced by Islam’s prophet).