Pakistan People’s Party, the largest political party of the country with a sustained and significant support base in all parts of the country, has turned 42 and the journey continues. People’s Party is undeniably the most effective political outfit with a decidedly anti-establishment hue to emerge from the indigenous political discourse in the history of this country. The roller coaster politics of Pakistan has been through many upheavals since that chilly last day of November in 1967 when the party was founded. People’s Party too, has inevitably turned many colours to readjust to the changing ground realities and has earned thumping accolades as well as biting criticism for its policies and practices. The foundation day of the People’s Party offers a propitious opportunity to take stock of the past, present and the future of the party currently in power.
People’s Party emerged from the political void created by our first encounter with the military adventurism of the Ayub regime. Equipped with the dual promise of democracy (the Westminster model) and socialism (the opaque and populist Afro-Asian brand of the 1960s), Mr. Bhutto rode the crest of unprecedented popularity in the then West Pakistan. The 1971 debacle tolled the bell for the Yahya regime and People’s Party was entrusted with power in the remaining Pakistan. The formidable task of “picking up the pieces” of a country battered in military, political and economic terms was undertaken in earnest and with a fair amount of success. The Simla Accord restored a semblance of peace with India. The passage of a largely consensual constitution furnished a rudder to the ship of the nation. The bid for nationalisation initiated a process that dovetailed with the economic aspirations of the have-nots. However, the federation module made shipwreck on the rock of provincial autonomy. Similarly, the half-baked nationalisation was stymied partly by the powerful stakeholders and partly by the inept stewardship of the enterprise. People’s Party’s first stint in power is stamped by the transformation of a territorial conflict with a neighbouring state into the raison d’etre of the nation itself, the initiation of the nuclear programme, the accommodation of the religious diction in political discourse, precipitating the flight of capital and the beginning of our Afghan imbroglio. The whole inventory reads like a roster of continued political debate. However, the defining feature of the party, right up to the “judicial murder” of Z.A. Bhutto, was its incremental departure from its original economic and political ideals. The forced removal of Mr. Bhutto from the political scene marked the end of the first phase of the PPP as a political party and the beginning of a political cult that may appear to revolve around the Bhutto family but in fact is rooted deeply in the dreams and aspirations of the people. Under Benazir Bhutto, PPP may have undergone a metamorphosis from a left leaning to a liberal democratic centre-left outfit, but it has successfully engendered a pattern of political dynamics interweaving two distinct strands, i.e. unwavering commitment to the people and a series of courageous sacrifices by the leadership. While conceding the chequered record of successes and failures, People’s Party continues to signify the basic contradiction in the body politic of this country, the democratic dispensation embodying the economic and political aspirations of the people as against the national security narrative supported by the retrogressive forces of all hues and colours. Reassuringly, given the present political spectrum, the party seems wedded to carrying on in the spirit of national reconciliation and a pluralist polity.