Pakistan People's Party?
                 By Abbas Zaidi

"These aggregates are born and die. Intellectual associations are mere sums in the mathematical sense, varying by addition and subtraction, unless and until (as sometimes happens) a mere coincidence of opinion strikes so impressively as to reach the blood and so, suddenly, to create out of the sum a Being. In any political turning-point words become fates and opinions passions. A chance crowd is herded together in the street and has one consciousness, one sensation, one language----until the short-lived soul flickers out and everyone goes his way again." (Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West)

The recent indictment of Benazir Bhutto and her politician husband for money laundering by a Swiss court must have provided a sharp reminder to millions of Pakistanis of the day when in 1972 her father Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto announced, as the country's ruler, to the nation that he had ordered a crackdown on the 22 industrialist families who, for years, had bagged "Masses' money" which they were planning to transfer outside Pakistan. Benazir's perpetually unconditional  support and justification of every American action plus her complicity in some of those acts----even kidnapping Pakistani nationals without observing minimal legal and ethical formalities in the name of combating terrorism----would also have reminded them of the days when in 1977, just before the imposition of martial law, her father openly denounced the US for its hegemonistic policies calling it "the White Elephant." This becomes all the more ironic for the fact that it was the US government that had a hand in her father's hanging.

I personally more than recalled: I re-experienced something. I re-experienced the pain that my calves suffered for a few days because being short----because being in early teens----I had to stand on my toes about three hours to listen and see Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto when he delivered his most memorable speech in Lahore. That was in 1977, perhaps February. Bhutto had called general elections to be held in March 1977. The major electoral attack that his opponents mounted on him was that he was a drinker. The main leaders of Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP), almost all of them feudal lords, were very apologetic on that allegation and could never satisfactorily tackle it while campaigning for people's votes. But that day in Lahore somewhere in the middle of the speech Bhutto referred to that always-leveled allegation,

"They say I drink."

There was a half- or one-second pause. Then he said,

"Yes I drink!"

Again there was a pause of the same duration. I would like to guess that the hearts of the PPP feudal leaders must have crashed into their guts after Bhutto's yes-I-drink locution during that second pause. But then all of a sudden there was such a tumultuous applause from the people that for minutes nothing but clapping, thumps of dancing and slogans were audible. Bhutto tried repeatedly to silence the people, but they kept on rocking, dancing and chanting "Long Live Bhutto!" "Bhutto is Our Lion, the Rest Never Mind!" When the applause subsided, Bhutto referred to his opponents,

"I do drink alcohol, but I do not drink people's blood."

Again the deafening encore echoed for minutes.

 After Bhutto's public admission of his drinking his opponents, "the guardians of Islam" by their own definition, stopped accentuating his alcoholic sin.
A few days later Bhutto was in Lahore again. When his slow-moving motorcade passed by the Bhati Gate area I happened to be standing on a footpath like so many people. I saw him in front of me sitting in the back seat, his left arm out of the car window, his two fingers making a V sign to the people. From a sudden impulse, I just ran towards his car with my hand stretched out. He smiled at me and directed his hand towards me. I shook his hand, and returned. It happened in a moment, but for a long time I retained the feel of his hand. It was very soft. The feel was like the feel of a mother that offers every comfort and assurance to a child. I felt extremely bold, protected and strong. I also felt very surprised for days: I wondered that how could such a soft, frail man beat a formidable pack of generals, feudal lords, and mullahs. "He must be a great man", I thought. I was not very mature at that time, but slowly I was able to reason out, though rather vaguely, the source of his strength: the people ("masses" in Bhutto's most favorite word) were with him. In his absence or presence whenever the name "Bhutto" was mentioned or chanted, "Long Live" would sound somewhere nearby. But why would the people be with him so thoroughly and sincerely?

With slogans like "Bread, Clothing, and Housing for Everyone," "The Masses are the Source of Power," and "Democracy is Our Way, Socialism Our Destiny," the PPP took off in November 1967 with the promise to redeem the poor and the downtrodden. With the socialist ideologues like Dr Mubashar Hassan, Khurshid Hasan Meer and J.A. Rahim in the forefront, the original manifesto of the PPP had very explicit socialist claims and ambitions, and had no room for Islam as an ideology or a possible polity for the people of Pakistan: Islam was laconically mentioned as a "faith" and a "way of life". Justifying the establishment of the PPP Bhutto elaborated the PPP "ultimate object" in terms of "the attainment of a classless society that is possible only through socialism," meaning "true equality of the citizens, fraternity under the rule of democracy based on economic and social justice." Bhutto said that his only strength were the "Masses",

"….You cannot fool the people….I believe in socialism; that is why I have left my class and joined the laborers, peasants and poor students. I love them. And what can I get from them except affection and respect? No power on earth can stop socialism----the symbol of justice, equality and the supremacy of man----from being introduced in Pakistan. It is the demand of time and history. And you can see me raising this revolutionary banner among the masses. I am a socialist, and an honest socialist, who will continue to fight for the poor till the last moment of his life. Some ridicule me for being a socialist. I don't care."

The leadership of the PPP consisted mainly of middle class people who had seen enough of martial law in their country. With "The Masses Will Rule" Bhutto unleashed his campaign against President Field Marshal Ayub Khan. The people of East and West Pakistan----the present Pakistan was West Pakistan then (it must be clarified here that the PPP represented West Pakistan only; East Pakistan was represented by the nationalist Bengali Awami League which created Bangladesh)---- had been living under martial law for a long time. In Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto they (i.e., overwhelming majority of West Pakistan) found the person who they believed would rid them of the military-feudal tyranny. Bhutto promised them the same in lieu of putting their faith in him. Bhutto's opponents in West Pakistan kept on saying that Socialism was atheistic, and hence he was an atheist. During Friday sermons the mullahs regularly claimed, inter alia, that Bhutto's socialism would mean total destruction of Islam, that women would become uncontrollable and stalk the streets in bikinis making "haraam" propositions. They also claimed that socialism meant a ban on the Koran. But the people kept on chanting, "Let Socialism Come and Win." Himself a feudal lord, Bhutto promised to efface feudalism and poverty from Pakistan. What else the people wanted? They took him for what he said, and turned a deaf ear to the pleas of the feudal-religious and feudal and religious parties. The result: his party won the 1970 elections in West Pakistan with more than one-third majority. The powerful feudal lords and their Islamist lackeys were flattened through the ballot in a way not even the most optimistic of the PPP leaders had dreamt of.

In the 1970 General Elections the PPP won big majority in West Pakistan and the Awami League won almost all the seats in East Pakistan, which meant that the two wings of Pakistan were by all intents and means two different socio-political entities and their paths were separate. The Awami League should have been invited to form the government on account of its majority in the parliament but the martial law government was exclusively made up of the West Pakistanis. The Army and West Pakistani feudal politicians were not willing to accept the rule of the nationalist, secular Bengalis whom they considered beneath them. Bhutto, whose party had clinched most seats after the Awami League, was the rightful representative of West Pakistan. He threatened to boycott the convening of national assembly where Awami League was supposed to form government. The ruling generals had no way to stop the Awami League from forming government, but they started playing delaying tactics for months. In this non-democratic anti-Bengali game the overwhelming majority of the people and the elite of West Pakistan subscribed to the course taken by Bhutto, the Army and the feudal lords, which inevitably led to a civil war and then a war with India. The martial law government of Pakistan and the religious parties branded the East Pakistanis traitors and Indian agents. However within a few days the Pakistan Army was completely defeated and in East Pakistan they had to formally surrender to their foes. As a result of Pakistan's defeat by India in 1971 East Pakistan became Bangladesh, and West Pakistan became Pakistan.

Pakistan's defeat in 1971 demoralized the nation to an extent never known before. The myth of the Army's invincibility was smashed in a most bizarre and humiliating way. Even then the generals were not willing to give up power, but they had no way to retain it. So they had to surrender it to Bhutto, the only man who commanded a comprehensive majority in Pakistan at that time.

Early morning on 21 December 1971, people found a new power let loose when they were woken up not by the morning azzan, but by "Long Live Bhutto, Long Live Socialism." Bhutto was now the leader of "New Pakistan" and he said he would rebuild Pakistan,

"I have been summoned by the nation as the authentic voice of the people of Pakistan…. I want the flowering of our society…. I want suffocation to end…. This is not the way civilized countries are run. Civilization means Civil Rule…. We have to build democratic institutions. We have to rebuild hope in the future. We have to rebuild a situation in which the common man, the poor man in the street, can tell me to go to hell. We have to make our government accountable."

The new dawn infused a new life into the nation. The people knew that the much-desired time of political freedom and social equality was not far away, the time they had waited for since Pakistan's creation, the time about which a poet had written years ago:

Only a few days, dear one, a few days more.
Here in oppression's shadows condemned to breathe,
Still for a while we must suffer, and weep, and endure
What our forefathers, not our own faults, bequeath----
Fettered limbs, our feelings held on a chain,
Minds in bondage, and words each watched and set down;
Courage stills nerves us, or how should we still love on,
Now when existence is only a beggar's gown
Tattered and patched every hour with new rags of pain?

Yes, but to tyranny not many hours are left now;
Patience, few hours of complaint are left to bear.

With the Army down and out of the political arena, the feudal lords and the religious fanatics put down through the ballot, Bhutto was all-powerful and had every opportunity to actualize the dreams he had seen for the people. He pledged that the socialist promises he had made would be fulfilled shortly. "Everyone will be given Bread, Clothing, and Housing," his Finance Minister, Dr Mubashar Hassan, declared adding to the popular euphoria. Bhutto began by nationalizing industry, educational institutions, banks and whatever he could lay his hand on. Education was made free for everyone. Socialist student movements like the National Students' Federation (NSF) got momentum. Cafes and street corners became favorite haunts of the leftist intellectuals where dialectical materialism would be freely employed to analyze Pakistani society and politics. Moscow-published Marxist books were freely and inexpensively available, and cultural exchanges with socialist countries became a daily occurrence. Chou en-Lai, Kim Ill Sung and Nicolae Ceausescu, Bhutto's socialist comrades and "personal" friends, became household names. Not long after assuming power he visited China, "the Socialist friend". After returning from China he started wearing a cap that Mao Tse-tung had given him. Like Mao, Bhutto was "Chairman" now. His Bhutto Says: A Pocket-Book of Thoughtful Quotations from Selected Speeches and Writings of Chairman Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was published and widely distributed in the tradition of Chairman Mao's Red Book.

The high water mark of Bhutto's governance came in 1973 when he gave a new constitution to the country. It was the first democratic constitution of the country to which every member of the Parliament had put his signature. He added two more feathers to his crown by announcing land reforms, according to which the landless peasants would own the land that they had been tilling, and arranging the famous conference of the Islamic countries in Lahore. He was the Chairman of the Islamic Conference. He was the first Pakistani leader who proudly declared that Pakistan was the castle of Islam. He had very close personal ties with people like King Faisal, Colonel Qazzafi, Yassir Arafat and President Hafiz ul Asad. He took full advantage of his friendship with the Middle Eastern rulers, which opened door to hundreds of thousands of Pakistani workers. Till now the majority of expatriate workers in the rich Gulf kingdoms and Saudi Arabia are Pakistanis. The rich Sheiks gave millions of dollars to Pakistan as aid and loan. All because of Bhutto's dealings with them.

Bhutto's rule spanned about six years  (December 1971-July 1977). Within that period everything was on his side, and he could have taken advantage of that fact. But he did not. He kept on chanting power-to-people slogans in every public speech that he made; but no more than that. His six-year rule is noteworthy for self-projection, high-sounding claims and humiliation of his opponents. Ironically within a couple of years he infused life in the vanishing ghost of feudalism by inducting big feudal lords in the PPP on key party posts though Bhutto kept on insisting that "You must not forget that the Party belongs to the working classes, students and the down-trodden." In Pakistan's history the religious fanatics had never enjoyed public respect and confidence. Even before the creation of Pakistan they had never won even a handful of seats in any election. The religious politics had been no more than agitational politics and the mullahs were never more than a pressure group. But Bhutto made them a part of national politics by, needlessly, sucking up to them and acquiesced to their ridiculous and inhuman demands. The leftist students had been instrumental in his ascendancy. But they became one of his first casualties. Bhutto actively promoted the ultra-right wing students to counter the progressive student organizations, like the NSF, and then used government machinery to crush them. Many were physically eliminated. Having done that he gleefully announced that he had constructed a permanent dyke against communism.

Bhutto's another unique step was that he restored the image of the Army amongst the people. After what the army had done to the Bengalis till the 1971 war, the people of West Pakistan had only hatred and derision for "the men in khaki." They Army officers were so much hated that they stopped wearing uniforms when visiting outside cantonment areas because people would shout satirical remarks at them. But Bhutto started a wholesale media camping on their behalf and repeatedly claimed that they were the best soldiers of the world who would smash all the enemies of Islam and Pakistan. "We are determined to have a new vigorous institution of the Armed Forces. We are absolutely determined to have invincible Armed Forces…. This is a sacred task," he said. Their salaries were increased in disproportion to other service groups of Pakistan. The generals were the real beneficiaries of one privilege after another on the generals. After retiring they were given highest diplomatic assignments abroad, or they were given highly paid headships of big corporations. The junior officers were given "plots" of land almost free so that they could build houses for themselves for "their continued services to the country". During Ayub Khan's martial law regime (1958) a number of civil and army officers were given vast tracts of land on throwaway prices. When Bhutto assumed power he confiscated all those tracts from the civil officers in the name of social justice but happily allowed the army officers to hold onto their possessions. When India in 1974 exploded an atomic device, Bhutto announced that Pakistan would do the same. For that purpose he had to increase the defense budget enormously, which only increased perks enjoyed by the armed forces, and not their capability. The increase in the defense budget undermined the economy of Pakistan. The trend set by Bhutto is still going on and has crippled the country's economy.

 After believing that he had that he had got the Army, the feudal class and the fundamentalists on his side, Bhutto started booting out his time-tested comrades, and if someone dared protest, they, along with their innocent relatives, were kidnapped, jailed, and subjected to humiliation. For that purpose he created a personal army----called Federal Security Force (FSF)----whose very function was to harass those perceived to be turncoats. The way Bhutto had J.A. Rahim brutally beaten up by the FSF cops is one of many examples. Moreover he turned a blind eye to the fascist deeds of his ministers, governors and Party officials, who had their dissidents jailed, kidnapped and beaten up. Most of the dissidents were the same people who had been the backbone of the PPP when in its infancy it was confronted by a formidable martial law regime.

In politics both fair and foul operate. But there is limit to everything. Bhutto, however, went beyond every limit on at least two counts: (i) the 1973 constitution; and (ii) his surrender to the mullahs on the Ahmedi question. The 1973 constitution of Pakistan that he created was a great disservice to the secular/socialist cause for which he had been elected: the very first sentence of the 1973 constitution read that Pakistan was an Islamic state. From day one Pakistan has been a multi-ethnic, and multi-sectarian country. Sunnis, Wahabis, Shias, Ahmedis, Zikris, Christians, Hindus, inter alia, make up the religious landscape of Pakistan. The creator of Pakistan, M.A. Jinnah, was aware of that and he warned immediately after its creation that Pakistan would never be a religious-ideological state. Jinnah was a Shia and a number of Sunni and Wahabi religious leaders had declared him a kafir (an infidel) on that account. Hence he was aware that "Pakistan is an Islamic state" would beg the question: Who is a Muslim? Because every Islamic sect regards the other as non-Muslim. Even within the Sunni sect there are many sub-sects which call one another heretical. But Bhutto, the self-claimed student and lover of history, failed to understand such a simple thing. Rather, he was proud that his constitution started with "Pakistan is an Islamic State."

Secondly, in order to become the leader of the Islamic bigots he practiced Machiavellianism at his foulest by doing what they had not been able to do for decades: he declared Ahmedis non-Muslims. Like Jinnah, Bhutto was a Shia. Some time before assuming Pakistan's leadership he had accused the mullahs of planning to have the Ahmedis declared non-Muslims and segregating Shias, and consequently, "bring chaos to Pakistan". But despite that he failed to understand that by declaring Ahmedis non-Muslims he would be opening Pandora's box of sectarian persecution. He could not understand that history is full of instances that nothing but the total destruction of their foes satisfies the religious bigots. His progressive comrades tried their best to dissuade him from declaring the Ahmedis non-Muslims, but he was coveting the religious leadership of the country. In his blindness he did not realize that his own minority Shia sect would be in the line of fire after the Ahmedis. (That is happening in Pakistan now.)

The 1974 Lahore Islamic Conference was also his great political stunt and an ideological transition: from "Chairman Bhutto" he became leader of "Muslim World" guarding "the castle of Islam." In order to give credence to his leadership of the Islamic world, he declared Pakistan would provide an Islamic bomb to the Muslim world. His land reforms also proved to be no more than paper work. No tiller was given ownership of an inch of land. The PPP governments in the provinces passed new laws so that the feudal lords could continue to hold on to their lands

When Bhutto declared 1977 an election year, the PPP was a completely transformed party. Most of the PPP runners for national and provincial assemblies were the very feudal lords, or their scions, who were routed in 1970. Obviously he thought that with the Army and the feudal lords on his side, and the mullahs gratified, he would win the elections. But he forgot that the very trinity of ghosts that he had revived wanted their power back. It was not Bhutto but they who were using him to bounce back to power. Now they wanted power and believed that Bhutto was the hurdle. An anti-Bhutto, and not anti-PPP, alliance, Pakistan National Alliance (PNA), was formed whose only objective was to get rid of him using Islam as a slogan against his "un-Islamic" government and calling Bhutto an "infidel." During the election campaign the mullahs openly issued fatwas in favor of the PNA, one of them being that voting for the PNA was worth praying to Allah for one hundred thousand years. The PPP won the elections against the religious coalition of the PNA. But the latter refused to accept the results, started an agitation and openly urged the Army to overthrow him. Bhutto tried to outsmart them by imposing "Islam": prohibition on alcohol, gambling and declaring Friday a holiday in place of Sunday. But his "Islam" fell through, as his opponents wanted power, and not Islam. On 5 July 1977 he was overthrown and an "Islamic" martial law was imposed.

Two years after his dismissal Bhutto was hanged through a kangaroo court on the charge of masterminding a murder. After he had been sentenced to death, a number of people started burning themselves to protest his innocence. The martial government started losing courage, but Bhutto's feudal comrades came to their rescue by misleading Bhutto's devotees. They told people that Bhutto would never be hanged, that a secret deal had been reached between General Zia and their leader. Even after his hanging they did not allow people to carry out an anti-martial law agitation: this time they assured the PPP workers that Bhutto had not been hanged; he had been allowed to escape to Libya and would address the people in due course of time. This misleading was greatly enforced and propagated by the martial law-controlled media. Within months of his hanging the PPP leaders were enjoying perks of their friendship with the generals, whereas the ordinary workers were rotting in jails.  

After Bhutto's hanging, Benazir was given the PPP leadership. It would not have been possible for her to withstand the might of General Zia, but for the sacrifices of the masses during the 1983 and the 1986 anti-martial law movements. During these movements scores of people were killed by the army, but not a single feudal lord or ex-army officer belonging to the PPP lost his life. Most of them were living outside Pakistan "in exile."

After Zia's air-crash death in 1988 democracy was restored in Pakistan and Benazir swept to power in elections. People voted her in because of her father, the man she had invoked again and again during her campaign. After she became Prime Minister it was expected that she would learn a lesson from the past. But every day of her government was a botched execution. She did not honor the people who had struggled for democracy. She was surrounded by a bunch of sycophants and the tales of her and her husband's corruption started surfacing not long after she had assumed power. She did not show any maturity as a politician. Most of her was spent appeasing the generals. One of the greatest ironies of the modern history is that she gave a Medal of Democracy to the Pakistan army for its services to democracy; the army that has imposed martial law on the country whenever it found an opportunity, the army that hanged her own farther, an elected prime minister. Like her father, Benazir's immature efforts to please the religious bigots became a matter of jokes and ridicule: as prime mister she would repeatedly be shown on the TV silently reciting prayers while working on rosary held high in one hand! As prime minister she also got the reputation that if an educated Pakistani wanted to meet her, it was an impossibility, but she was too quick to respond if her visitor was even an American janitor, or a petty soldier of Pakistan army. She has never criticized the US despite the proven fact that the US government was involved in the overthrow and hanging of her father. It is taken as a truism in Pakistan that whereas Pakistani Muslims go to Mukkah to perform haj, Benazir goes to Washington. She is not known to be tolerant as a leader, and she has kicked out everyone who has tried to reason with her on the issues on which she had made her decisions. The casualties of her dictatorial mindset include her own mother; as co-Chairperson of the PPP, Benazir had her mother sacked as Chairperson of the party. During her first term as prime minister her husband was known to "Mr. 10 percent," and during her second term he was known to be "Mr. 50 percent," meaning thereby his share in any deals done by anyone with the Government of Pakistan. Her both terms as prime mister ended in her sacking by the President on the basis of her corruption. Benazir always denied that she or her husband was corrupt. She challenged the authorities to prove her wrongdoing, but every Pakistani knows that in Pakistan no one can prove anything given the extent of corruption in every walk of life in the country. Her and her husband's corruption in Pakistan will remain a nonstarter even if all the proofs are available. Because those who are supposed to charge her are having as many, if not more, skeletons in their cupboards as Benazir and her husband. The verdict of a Swiss court that she and her husband be tried because there was ample evidence that she and her husband have been involved in money laundering is supposed to be only the tip of the iceberg. But that will not change Benazir's stance. Whenever a story of her corruption comes to the fore, she goes on counteroffensive and diverts popular attention to non-issues, or very sensitive national issues.

Whereas no one credits Benazir for anything substantial, a great number of people believe that Bhutto was the greatest leader in the history of Pakistan. That is way he has become a kind of saint for millions in Pakistan. His grave has become a revered shrine. He is loved for many reason, two of them of prime importance: he was the one who started Pakistan's nuclear program, recruited nuclear scientist wherever he could get and oversaw transfer/smuggling of nuclear materials into Pakistan. Even his foes concede that Pakistan's present nuclear position is entirely for his efforts. Secondly, he is revered for giving political consciousness to the masses. Before him Pakistan was a martial law-ridden country and the people in general could not even think of participation in the national decision-making process. Bhutto was the one who told people that all political power belonged to them, that laborers and landless farmers were to be respected as any other human beings. Had it not been for his leadership, the masses would not be able to walk on the street with their heads erect, and Pakistan would forever be a martial law state.

In Pakistan's history no political party has been as much singular, crucial, adored and maligned as Pakistan People's Party, better known in Pakistan as the PPP. It goes to its exclusive credit for starting a movement in the late 1960s that lead to the establishment of democracy in Pakistan. Also, it is the PPP that has undermined democracy in Pakistan more than any other party. No other political party or movement in Pakistan's history can claim to be spearheaded by the leaders of as great national and international standing as the PPP. Not surprisingly, the memory and postmemory of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto rests on two strands: he is either revered as a demigod or derided as a devil. The standing of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's successor and the current party leader, Benazir Bhutto, is not very different from her father, though on a far smaller scale. Bhutto's status remains----and surely will remain----as an archetypal folk hero amongst the masses. Hence writing about the past and the present of the PPP is not exactly documenting the ups and downs of a political outfit but about blindness and insight of its supreme leader(s ). Carlyle's dictum that history is the biography of the hero finds its validation in the history of the PPP.

This brings us to an inevitable question: What future does the PPP have? The answer is that it will survive as a political party despite being ridden by problems at present. Even if it does not clinch majority in future elections, it will remain a political power because the dream given by Bhutto to the masses is hard to die. Benazir might disappoint them again and again, but the dream will live on as it exclusively belongs to millions of people. So the votes.

[Note: Some of the quotations in this article have been taken from Stanley Walpert's Zulfi Bhutto of Pakistan. For the involvement of the US government in the overthrow and the hanging of Bhutto, Syed I.A. Tirmizi's Profiles of Intelligence, Lahore, is worth reading.]

(Abbas Zaidi <manoo@brunet.bn> was editor of The Ravi (1985), Pakistan's premier and oldest academic magazine published by Government College, Lahore. He also edited Interface (1990-91) for the Program in Literary Linguistics, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. Zaidi has taught English Literature in Bahauddin Zakariya University, Multan, and worked as assistant editor for The Nation, Lahore.)