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Smokers' Corner: The dubious left

Published Oct 30, 2011 02:00am


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A few days ago I received a couple of emails from some readers asking me why (in this column) am I only concentrating on proving wrong Pakistan's history as written by rightist forces and the 'establishment'. They asked whether the leftists or the progressives have been the only ones conscious about the country's correct line of historical discourse.

Not at all. There is almost as much myth-making involved in certain sections of the so-called Left as there is on the right. The only difference is that it was the rightists' narrative about Pakistan's ideological composition that made it into the textbooks and populist media. Nevertheless, if one was to tackle historical revisionism and myth-building among those on the Left then there is no better place to start than amongst some former luminaries of the country's largest political force, Pakistan People’s Party.

On the day when Z A Bhutto's ailing widow, Nusrat Bhutto passed away (23 October), former PPP ideologue, Dr Mubashir Hasan, was one of the first people to get a call from the electronic media outlets. What followed was a glaring example of the kind of revisionism and myth-making taking place in the populist media about the PPP's 'leftist past.' Hasan, who distanced himself from the PPP after Bhutto's 'judicial murder' by the Ziaul Haq dictatorship, has been a staunch critic of the party under Asif Ali Zardari.

In fact Dr Hasan has become a sage character for all the recent batch of PPP's disgruntled renegades and also-rans, accusing the party's current leadership of hijacking the PPP's original socialist and anti-US spirit and turning it into something that is a lot closer to the establishment's liking. The populist media, so distraught about the PPP's 'lost Left', has been toeing a similar line, in spite of the (rather ironic) fact that the media is largely made up of elements who have clearly right-wing leanings in their understanding of politics and culture.

It is disappointing to note that veteran politicians and intellectuals like Dr Hasan would freely omit facts in their discourse just to score a point or two against the PPP, now under Zardari. For example, while talking to a popular news channel on the day of Begum Bhutto's death, Hasan lamented the fact that the PPP had become a party of feudal lords. First of all, though he now behaves as if he was a Benazir sympathiser, this was exactly what he had said about the PPP under Benazir as well. This goes as far back as the late 1980s when Benazir began purging the party, getting rid of old warhorses.

Secondly, Dr Hassan, who now so touchingly laments his old party's disconnect with socialism, was in fact an opponent of the PPP's radical-Left wing that was headed by Meraj Muhammad Khan. According to a detailed study of the PPP's ideological evolution (in a 1975 paper authored by Khalid B Syed), when the PPP's radical 'Maoist' wing suggested that plans for widespread land and agrarian reforms be added to the party's manifesto (just before the 1970 elections), it was the party's 'centrist wing' led by Dr Hasan and Hanif Ramay who advised party chief, Z A Bhutto, not to do this because he would lose the political clout of Sindh's feudal lords and Punjab's landed elite.

This episode is also mentioned in a February, 1970 edition of the Urdu daily, Imroz.

Also, when Bhutto purged the party's radical wing (between 1973-75), men like Dr Hasan remained in their posts as high profile ministers in Bhutto's cabinet. The way some former PPP members today define the party is at best audacious. It was never a revolutionary socialist party as such. As author Philip Jones rightly mentions (PPP: Rise to Power), the party was conceived (by Bhutto and J A Rahim) as a populist democratic party in the mould of social democratic parties of the Cold War era, or a flexible democratic platform for progressives of all shades.

The party's early anti-Americanism is also exaggerated by the disgruntled. Francis Pike writes (Empires at War), that Bhutto did try to wean Pakistan away from US influence by trying to weave a grand alliance of Muslim countries. But in the process he unwittingly opened the floodgates from which Islamist forces came rushing in to take their place in Pakistan's mainstream political arena. To ward off the sudden challenge these forces now pitched against Bhutto using populist rhetoric of political Islam, Bhutto did not hesitate to push his regime's policies way towards the right, so much so that the party's manifesto for the 1977 election didn't even mention the word socialism!

Pike is also correct to point out that the teargas that the Bhutto regime was using against protesters during the 1977 anti-Bhutto movement was being imported from the US. It was only when the US stopped supplying the regime with teargas that Bhutto began accusing it of ‘funding the protests’.

Benazir too always treated the PPP as a social democratic party. On her return from exile in 1986 when millions arrived to support her bold challenge against the pro-US dictatorship of Ziaul Haq, Dawn reported how during a mammoth rally in Lahore when some PPP radicals began torching a US flag, Benazir asked them to stop. And let's not even get into how those media men who scorn at today's 'establishmentarian PPP' and lament the loss of Benazir were the loudest in their condemnation of her being a 'US stooge' when she returned in 2007 to challenge Musharraf's regime.

The truth is the PPP today is quite like what it has always been, i.e. a roller-coaster political soap opera involving bickering comrades, populist, joyous eruptions and heartbreaks. In other words, it is still very much a party that continues to reflect the emotional and intellectual disposition of its founder, Z A Bhutto: spontaneous, reckless and intriguingly, but at the same time highly pragmatic and somewhat Machiavellian.


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Nadeem F. Paracha is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and He is also the author of two books on the social history of Pakistan, End of the Past and The Pakistan Anti-Hero.

He tweets @NadeemfParacha

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

Comments (18) Closed

Rahim Oct 30, 2011 11:47am
That is why I am a PPP supporter for life :-)
Pakistan Ahmed Oct 30, 2011 12:12pm
Well said, NFP. The myths created by some former PPP people about Bhutto is now being used by both the right-wing media and chucked out former PPP members to attack Zardari. Your last para is right. PPP today is almost exactly like it has always been. And yes, you are also right to say that PPP was a platform for all kinds of progressive forces: Islamic socialists, Maoists, liberals, moderate rightists, nationalists, etc.
Daniyal Ahmad Oct 30, 2011 12:29pm
A very well written article I must admit. I agree with you in many points especially evaluating Mr. Bhutto as a modern day Machiavelli. The slogan of socialism was in fact rhetoric to gain an ideological ground for the party at its inception. Observing the centralization of decision making of the party, you are right to comment “The truth is the PPP today is quite like what it has always been”. Veterans or old warhorses of any political party celebrate an ideal situation of past, especially when they had an important rank in the hierarchy. Although the existence of such a period in past is highly debatable.
dr j tipu Oct 30, 2011 02:44pm
NFP, no wonder many find you deeply confused yourself, as perhaps you find your countrymen. I am a liberal muslim, lead an extremely liberal life and hold my far leftist views very dear to myself, but I refuse to accept your statements that are pro-PPP, the thing is, my education makes me bitter when i see the DISILLUSIONMENT of the entire clan of this banana party, right from its earlier days. Nothing justifies mega corruption, and am very happy to accept Imran Khan over these cartoons of PPP that you hold very dear. I can only take pity on you, what a waste of a mind!
Farideh zivary Oct 30, 2011 02:56pm
You are right mr piracha.the ppp was always a hotch porch of opportunists with zero morality or idealism .it's president asif zardari and it's supporters accurately reflect it.
Irfan Husain Oct 30, 2011 02:59pm
A refreshing reality check. The PPP was always more of a movement than an organised political party.
Alex Oct 30, 2011 03:17pm
How can you justify your support for PPP as a democratic. It is anything but democratic. Well, it can be said about any existing party in Pakistan. All of them have are like kingdoms. It is someone's father who started a party and then his heirs took over. PPP is the biggest example of such. Bhutto succeeded by Benazir, succeeded by Zardari who will be succeeded by Bilawal. Why other people are never at helm? If the parties are not democratic then how do you think the country will be democratic. Idolising is one of the political synonym for ignorance.
Alam K.Wazir Oct 30, 2011 05:27pm
NFP : I marvel at your unshakable loyalty to Bhutto Clan. To call PPP a democratic party is twisting the truth bit too far.Its leadership is a dynastic, ZAB succeeded by Mrs Nusrat Bhutto,followed by Benazir who left a note that her son,Bilawal would be the chairman of PPP.No wonder,genuine socialist and devoted worker, Dr. Mubashir Hasan refused to accept Bhutto-Zardari brand of PPP.
fareed Oct 30, 2011 05:45pm
I think PPP moves with time and look at the best outcome for the country.In this regard they do some time minor policy shift.Thats why they are pakistans most popular party.Its unfortunate evry time ppp takes over power is after dictatorship and my friends expect a majic of democracy.Democracy is a process which become more effective with time.Let this process to continue.
Badar Oct 30, 2011 06:19pm
A well written article in many ways by NFP. Did a good job of explaining how PPP drifted away from its original agenda. He correctly points out that the current jokers running PPP have nothing to do with its very foundations. Infact, many of these at PPP’s top today are agents of Anti-PPP establishment. Let me point out that ZAB was not the founder of PPP. PPP was not ZAB's idea. ZAB was only the founding Chairman. The idea of PPP was conceived by Dr. Hassan, Sheikh Rashid, JA Rahim, Meraj M Khan and about a dozen others who would often brainstorm at Dr. Hassan’s Gulberg residence (also PPP’s founding place later) on social inequality among common masses and other issues facing the country. They came up with the idea of creating a dynamic political platform and invited Bhutto to become its first leader. The invitation was personally delivered by Dr. Hassan during his visit to Larkana. PPP was later hijacked by vederas thanks to ZAB’s follies which triggered both his and PPP’s downfall.
Amjad Cheema Oct 30, 2011 06:59pm
Well said NFP At the end of the day its only Jialas from this party who lay down their lives for high human values.
Sinai Oct 30, 2011 08:26pm
You are not left leaning but a non observant Muslim . Do not Confuse non adherence to your faith to a political ideology. Imran is right wing as per his political ideology and he maybe a non observant like you.
Atta Mateen Oct 30, 2011 09:50pm
It is not the political character of the party that I agree with the writer, continues the legacy of Bhutto's era, it is the volume of corruption which is destroying the party. An example, look at the size of provincial and the central cabinet, a form of bribery to the allies.
Jalebi Oct 31, 2011 12:31am
Because in Pakistan, people are very concerned about whose daughter/son you are.PPP supporters very much want a bhutto. the son of BB.. and the grandson of ZB to head the party politics. Hence Bilawal is known as bhutto zardari. the bhutto name is like a brand?
Sultan Oct 31, 2011 03:23am
You are right again. Marvelous and great insight. Yes, the PPP are clearly the same Party as in 1969. Authoritarian (heroes very other "socialist" dictators from the 1960's), puja of the Bhutto family (chairman for life sort of thing), very much a party of opportunistic landlords (the scions of liberalism). Some lefties who were purged (mainly from Punjab). Now however, the hollowness of the PPP is painfully evident in the shape of PM Gilani and President Zardari. They truly embody the nothingness that is the PPP today.
maco Oct 31, 2011 07:45am
That is why I dislike present PPP and want a true democratic & socialist PPP.
Nasah Oct 31, 2011 08:54am
Whatever PPP's failings real or imagined dynastic or otherwise -- it is Pakistan's only truly national party -- unlike PTI never afraid of fighting elections on a progressive platform.
Abdul Rehman Gilani Oct 31, 2011 12:46pm
Yeah, and Pakistan was meant to be a secular state...... What a joke.