Late last year, veteran figurehead of the PPP, Aitzaz Ahsan, in a public speech in Larkana, urged his party to revive its socialist tradition to effectively address the economic and social challenges being faced by Pakistan today.
Interestingly, this part of his speech was hardly given any attention in the media. It was as if Ahsan’s plea had not been taken seriously at all. And yet, a little over 40 years ago, when the founder of the PPP, Z.A. Bhutto, and his ideologues, had begun to speak about socialism, religious parties had kicked up a storm, describing the PPP as a party of ‘atheists’ out to destroy the religious fabric of Pakistan’s polity.
Though at the time the PPP was a rapidly rising force, its founders and ideologues still found the need to counterattack the party’s most vehement conservative detractors. They dug out the past of their critics, in which they were ‘anti-Jinnah’ (before the creation of Pakistan), and had now become ‘allies of monopolist capitalists … .’
Are we proud citizens of our country, or animals being tested in a lab?
Then in 1970, the PPP began to describe itself as a party which stood for ‘Islamic Socialism’, suggesting that its economic programme was according to the egalitarian dictates of Islam and had nothing to do with communism.
The party’s founding documents, and its first manifesto (1970), clearly spoke about a program which (it claimed) was inspired by the social democratic model of welfare states in western Europe. The ‘Islamic Socialism’ bit, however, was only nominally touched upon. It was simply a rhetorical gesture, to counter accusations by the religious parties.
Although there were some ideologues within the PPP at the time who defined ‘Islamic Socialism’ as a localised fusion of social democracy, socialist economics, the ‘Quranic concept of egalitarianism’ and Muslim nationalism (of the likes of Jinnah and Iqbal), there was hardly any talk of just how this fusion would be converted into a holistic economic programme.
The reason why the socialist aspect of Ahsan’s speech last year did not enjoy much attention was simply due to the fact that today, Pakistan’s economic, political and social dynamics are far more complex than they were 40 years ago.
Also, ever since the late 1990s, the populist rhetoric which Z.A. Bhutto had used, is(rather ironically), now being mouthed by religious parties such as the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), and populist centre-right entities such as Imran Khan’s PTI.
However, the rhetoric of JI and PTI, in this context is not quite the kind which Bhutto unleashed in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Rather, the rhetoric of these two parties today is similar to that which Bhutto had begun to weave during the tail-end of his rule (1977), or when his regime was being cornered by a relentless movement by a right-wing grouping of parties, the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA).
Also, ever since the late 1990s, the populist rhetoric which Z.A. Bhutto had used, is, rather ironically, now being mouthed by religious parties such as the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), and populist centre-right entities such as Imran Khan’s PTI.
When Bhutto was facing a movement by the PNA (which was increasingly using the so-called ‘Islamic card’), Bhutto pulled out his own card. The tussle between the two became a race to capture a trend of religious revival and ‘political Islam’ that had begun to emerge in the Muslim world at the time.
Words between the two flew thick and fast: Nizam-i-Mustafa; Khulfa-i-Rashideen; Pakistan being “a lab to conduct Islamic experiments in”, etc.
Iqbal, Jinnah, and even some divine figures of the faith, were regularly quoted. And in the frenzy of it all, no one bothered to check whether the quotes were even authentic or not! Most of them weren’t.
In the end both sides were outmaneuvered and upstaged by a Machiavellian general who imposed military rule. He then adopted all the nice bits from the reactionary-populist rhetoric which had emerged from the PPP and PNA leaders.
For example, during the Zia regime, in school text books, Jinnah was quoted as saying that, “Pakistan was created as a laboratory where Islamic experiments would be conducted”. Both PPP and PNA had claimed the same.
But during the Zia regime, the quote became ‘official’. In text books, Jinnah was claimed to have said this at a rally in Peshawar on Jan 13, 1948.
Jinnah said no such thing. The fact is, records suggest he wasn’t even in Peshawar on Jan 13, 1948. He was in Karachi. Instead, he spoke in Peshawar on April 14, 1948, and the speech that he made there has no reference at all to a “lab”.
Such false quotes attributed to various respectable Muslim figures were frantically aired during the PPP-PNA tussle. Then, throughout the Zia era (1977-89), many such quotes actually became part of official rhetoric and school texts, apparently placed there to justify the imposition of various draconian laws which were erected in the 1980s.
And such rhetoric is still in the air. But in this day and age, which experiments in arrogant social engineering in the names of nationalism and faith have left a polity ravaged by terror, corruption, and a serious identity crisis, the people of Pakistan are yearning for something far simpler and less dramatic, ie an economic system which actually works (for those willing to fully participate in it) and an identity that makes everyone an equal citizen of Pakistan and not ‘better’ due to one’s ethnicity, religion, sect, or sub-sect.
In all this, Pakistan nationalism has also suffered. It was clearly defined by Jinnah. Pakistan was to be a modern Muslim-majority state where the state was to facilitate the making of an enlightened society and polity.
But Jinnah’s demise just a year after Pakistan’s creation meant that instead of evolving into a robust compass for a new nation, this nationalism became a project for opposing demagogues of all shapes and sizes. They wanted to treat the country as their personal labs to form versions of nationalism and faith, many of which were quite alien to the societal and spiritual DNA of the people of this region.
There is no room left for such demagoguery. It should be discouraged and rejected by the polity. Pakistan cannot afford it anymore. People should be proud citizens of a country, not animals in a lab.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, April 17th, 2016