Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Today the Pakistan Peoples Party marks its fortieth year in mainstream politics. Why does this party hold a unique place inPakistan’s history, politics and social transformations? What animates its diehard support-base, and why do people seek its banner? Firstly, it is the one federal party in this country that has not arisen out of a backroom deal. Two, it has never strayed from its core vision of seeking sovereignty through empowering the people. Three, as a party that sees the poorest, the vulnerable and the oppressed as its first priority, the PPP is the one party that has remained consistent to its agenda of change through progressive politics. At the same time, it has evolved to spur the private sector as an engine of growth. Four, in international affairs, the party has charted an iconicÂ leadership course through intensely troubled waters. Five, on fighting for fundamental freedoms, the PPP has stood firm in raising its banner for the rule of law, representative civilian democracy and provincial autonomy. Six, it defines national security through development indices, not military adventurism. And seven, it offers hope for a better future through the power of human agency.
Â Â Â Â Â Â In 60 years ofPakistan’s chequered life, from 1947 to 2007, the nation has seen thirteen presidents or governor generals, fifteen prime ministers and twelve National Assemblies. In this whole period, four army generals ruled for 34 years openly, while after 1988, the military ruled as a powerful player in truncated civilian governments. In these sixty years, only one elected government completed its term, and that first PPP government is remembered with widespread nostalgia for empowering people and setting the country on a path to stability. Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto gavePakistanthe strongest institutional foundations by drawing up the 1973 Constitution. By building the national consensus so vital to democratic processes in its signing, the PPP laid the foundation stone for so many social and economic changes that it literally revolutionised the relationship of the state to the citizen. The second-generation PPP, under the leadership of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, has paid in personal freedoms, sacrifices and political witch-hunts to stand tall for asserting the right of people to elect their own leaders. Mohtarma has steered the party through its darkest hours, from one era into another, without compromising on its core values, and by delivering on promises.
Â Â Â Â Â Â In defining its public agenda, the PPP has evolved through different epochs as the only party that seeks, before everything, to liberate the oppressed, to provide for equal opportunity and empower the most disadvantaged through specific policy interventions. The un-addressed labour and peasant classes, the largest populations at risk in a developing country, have always been targeted by successive PPP governments for public policy relief. That is why they come out in droves to show support for the PPP at public rallies like Ms Bhutto’s welcome on the 18th October, and are tagged for disenfranchisement often through rigged polls.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Women, minorities and other socially vulnerable groups have been the focus of actual empowerment through party advocacy and policy articulation by empowerment programmes. Â In Ms Bhutto’s two governments, for instance, key human rights issues were not used as donor magnets and government spin. They were the object of party policy and state action. Women judges were appointed and gender mainstreaming took place on a large scale through the public and private sectors. Remember the Women’s Bank? And the Lady Health Workers Programme? No judges were sacked and no women’s marathons baton-charged, nor any attempts made to impose man-made Shariat Laws. The media was given unprecedented freedoms and wage board awards for journalists implemented.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â An elite-consensus of anti-democratic forces that fears the vast mobilizing power of the PPP has spent an entire generation devoting time and resources to vilifying the PPP as an anti-business party. The facts tell another story. While providing protection for the weak, Ms Bhutto’s PPP deregulated the economy to empower a new middle class, introduced communication technology, and ended electricity shut downs. In fact, Ms Bhutto’s PPP was the first government in the history ofPakistanto retire the country’s principal debt through privatization proceeds. That is why among those who believe in change through the political process, today the PPP is seen as a modern, democratic party which introduced both energy infrastructure and information technology toPakistanand empowered, educated and motivated an entire generation to value the power of hard work in a merit-based society. Instead of being labelled a terrorist sanctuary,Pakistanstarted ranking as one of the ten top emerging markets in the world.
Â Â Â Â Â On foreign relations, too the PPP has always led with a defining vision. History is testament to the fact that after the seminal Simla Treaty, Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s vision of steeringPakistanout of the narrow alley of India-centrism bore fruit in larger bilateral initiatives that altered the limits ofIslamabad’s horizons, both in the developing and Muslim worlds. His Islamic Summit stands out as a true leadership initiative forPakistanin the comity of nations. Ms Bhutto’s governments, short as they were, laid down an entire architecture of peace to replace the infrastructure of war with bothIndiaandAfghanistan.Pakistannever went to war in eitherKabulor Kargil, but in fact began investing in a vision forSouth Asiawhereby founding SAFTA, the ground-work for a regional common market was laid. The blowback from Ziaul Haq’s jihadist forward policy inAfghanistanwas staunched by containing the Taliban toKandahar, and in the third PPP government despite pressures, the PPP government refused recognition to the Taliban as the government ofAfghanistan.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â It was not a military dictator that secularizedPakistan’s politics, it has always been the PPP. In fact, dictatorship inPakistanhas always emboldened extremists and fuelled terrorism. The dangerous idea that politics is the source of evil in this country has been sown by dictators as early as 1958, when the first martial law was slapped on. The propaganda machine deployed against a genuine political class, fighting a motley crew of military proxies, has diverted state resources and slush monies in such large quantities that it has acquired a life of its own. This has led to swathes of honest people brainwashed and depoliticized. Their retreat from democratic politics is a challenge only the PPP can take on for the future. The anti-democratic establishment inPakistanbelieves that the PPP’s legitimacy amongst voters is a danger to their formula for fixing politics, manipulating elections and shuffling surrogates.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Today, whenPakistanstands at its most dangerous crossroads after the fall ofDhakain 1971, there really is only one party that will squarely address the threats to the country as extremism, hunger, and dictatorship. Ms Bhutto has clearly identified terrorism as a national crisis, not another country’s problem. To her and the PPP, religion is about peace, about knowledge and about civilizing society, not polarizing it. But if grassroots politics is once again thwarted as a vehicle for democratic expression and social change, the millions of Pakistanis who want a stake in their governance will lose their voice in another closed system.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Yet in good times, and in bad, the PPP will still stand out as a beacon of hope in the darkness that threatens. For forty years it has held out that hope, and when given a chance turned some dreams into reality.Â One day the hope ofÂ a government, elected by the people andÂ accountable to the people, will surely become a reality. As Faiz Ahmed Faiz said in his prophetic anthem to the enemies of the marginalized: Â Â “Hum dekhain gai, laazim hai kai hum bhee dekhain gai“
Sherry Rehman is a former MNA, and the Central Information Secretary of the PPP.