Forty Years of Pakistan Peoples Party
Quaid-e-Awam Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto founded Pakistan Peoples Party in the winter of 1967 as an answer to the dictatorial and anti-people policies of the military-bureaucratic-feudal nexus of power that ruled the country since its inception in 1947. The Party came into being with four cardinal principles i.e. Islam is our faith, democracy is our polity, socialism is our economy and all power to the people. Its program envisaged provision of basic human needs, i.e. Roti, Kupra aur Makkan (food, clothe and shelter) to every citizen of Pakistan. It advocated a just and fairer distribution of national wealth amongst various strata of the society and stood for democratic traditions, liberal values and welfare-oriented policies.
The party program coupled with dynamic leadership of Quaid-e-Awam captured the imagination of the people within no time and the Party emerged as the single largest party of the country. This was not liked by the powerful vested interests and ruling classes, which had been plundering the national resources with impunity for all those years of Pakistan’s existence. But, an un-flinched popular support and public pressure forced the military rulers to hold the first ever general elections in the history of the country in December 1970, wherein the Party swept the polls in the present day Pakistan. One year later the Party was handed over the power, albeit reluctantly, in the aftermath of Pak-India War of 1971, which resulted in cessation of East Pakistan under military dispensation of General Yahya Khan.
The next five years of the Peoples Government under President and then Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto saw the country moving fast on the road to progress, prosperity and advancement. The greatest achievement of these years was the framing of the Constitution in 1973, which provides the legal and the political foundation to the nation even to this day. Shaheed Bhutto has the credit of negotiating the Simla Accord with India, which brought back more than five thousand square miles of Pakistani territory from Indian occupation and repatriated home more than ninety three thousand Pakistani soldiers, taken by India as Prisoners of War. This is the Accord that has ushered the longest spell of peace between Pakistan and India. Quaid-e-Awam’s government also held the Islamic Summit Conference in Lahore in 1974, which fostered unity amongst Muslim nations on one hand and brought economic and political benefits to the war torn and demoralized people of Pakistan.
Besides these milestone achievements in the realm of Constitutional development and foreign policy, the Quaid-e-Awam’s government also introduced multidimensional reforms in the socio-economic sphere as well. The first target was eradication of feudal system that had enslaved the peasants of the region for centuries. On 1st March 1972, less than three months in office, President Bhutto announced the land reforms, limiting the maximum limit of landholding to 150 irrigated and 300 un-irrigated acres, distributing the excess land amongst landless farmers.
The new labor policy provided for old age pensions, group insurance and other means of social security including free education for the children of the workers. Administrative reforms ensured a better, organized and service oriented bureaucracy. Education, literacy and healthcare were targeted as key focus areas. Heavy industry was brought in for the first time in the country, creating immense employment opportunities as well as transfer of technology from the developed nations. The establishment of the country’s first-ever Steel Mill could be cited as an example in this regard. Quaid-e-Awam also owes credit for establishment of the second seaport Port Qasim, near Karachi, thus laying the foundation of economic self-reliance.
While the Party was at its crest of popularity, a usurper removed the popularly elected government of Quaid-e-Awam Bhutto and imposed martial law. During the dark age of Zia, thousands of his admirers, political workers, laborers, journalists, women and workers were imprisoned, lashed, tortured and maimed. Civil liberties were snatched, press freedom was done away with and every voice of dissent was silenced, all in the name of Islam and on the basis of brute force. Quaid-e-Awam set the greatest example of sacrifice by going to gallows instead of bowing his head before tyranny, dictatorship and oppression.
In those turbulent times, the Party chose Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, a Harvard and Cambridge educated eldest daughter of Shaheed Bhutto, to lead the cadres and the country to the goal of an economically prosperous, socially liberal and politically democratic disposition. The ruling junta increased the persecution and harassment of the Party leader and the cadres to break their will, but to no avail. The Party leader Ms. Benazir Bhutto braved ever-extending imprisonments in the worst kind of jails, so did the Party workers in various parts of the country.
But, the Party rose from strength to strength and when Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto returned to Lahore in April 1986, millions of people received her in the largest public gathering in the history of the nation. It was because of this support for her and the Party that the military dictator dared not holding elections for eleven years till the Nature evenhanded his cruelties and highhandedness by eliminating him without a trace amidst the skies and the earth and saved Pakistan from his further evil. With the death of the dictator, the government policy of persecuting the Party did not come to an end, as dictator’s apparatus was still alive. However, his followers could not resist the demand for holding elections in view of the mounting national and international pressure.
The Party’s manifesto in 1988 under leadership of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto highlighted the aspirations of the vast majority of the people of Pakistan. The Prologue summed up the program: “We believe in freedom, dignity and economic development. We want an end to discrimination, domination and exploitation. An end to poverty, slums, illiteracy and ill health, economic and social injustice. We stand for uniting a nation bitterly divided by ethnic and sectarian differences, creating an identity which gives a sense of pride and glory to all citizens irrespective of the province they belong to.”
The program of the Party with its record of sacrifices and promise of leadership captured the imagination of the people, once again. But, the vested interests in the civil-military bureaucracy aided by black moneyed classes ensured through pre and post rigging of elections that the Party should not be allowed to implement its socio-economic programs. It is a matter of record that ISI, the coveted most intelligence agency of the country, sponsored formation of an anti-Party alliance, IJI, with an objective to curtail the electoral success of the Party.
Through blatant misuse of state resources, the absolute majority of the Party in the National Assembly was converted into a simple majority. In two of the four provinces, i.e. the Punjab and Balochistan, antagonistic governments were help formed. This was in addition to having an unfriendly President and a biased army chief at the helms of affairs, as well as the high echelons of the Senate packed with the dead dictator’s loyalists. All these forces in collusion to each other ensured to undermine the democratically elected government of the Party.
Despite these hindrances and restrictions, the Quaid-e-Awam’s Party under leadership of his daughter and political heir Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto focused on the progress and prosperity of the country. Under her government priority was assigned to the long neglected social sector. The Government increased allocation for the promotion of education and the efforts were made to improve the health-care system. Civil liberties and freedom of press was ensured. The status of women was enhanced and they were inducted for the first time in higher judiciary, top echelons of bureaucracy and other such sectors. In realm of foreign policy, détente with India, improved relations with the United States and restoration of the Commonwealth membership were few outstanding achievements.
Barely one and a half year after its election, while the implementation on the People’s program was going full speed, the President on the basis of a host of self-serving allegations removed the government of the Party. The next three years saw the worst kind of persecution of the Quaid-e-Awam’s Party, the one it had experienced in the initial days of Zia. The excess of cruelties divided the leading players of the junta themselves and the circumstances forced them to hold another electoral exercise in 1993 under a neutral setup.
In 1993, the Party under leadership of its highly educated and dynamic leader Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto came out with its new program in tune with the needs of time, based on the principle of “Public-Private Partnership: An Agenda for Change.” It asked for a ‘new social contract,’ which redefined the relationship between the federal, provincial and local government as well as the relationship between the public and private sectors for the development and prosperity of the country. Again, the people of Pakistan voted in favor of the Party program and the Party was returned to power with greater majority.
During next three years of Peoples Government, the GDP growth rate moved up from 2.4 percent per annum in 1993 to 6.1 percent per annum in 1996. The budget deficit was reduced from 9.5 percent of GDP to 6.0 percent of GDP. The education budget was increased by 300 percent within three years. The health sector got 65 percent boost in allocations. Three hundred thousand low cost residences were built for workers giving shelter to over one million people.
In addition to that, hundreds of thousand employment opportunities were generated in public and private sector, easing the unemployment pressure. An innovative Power Policy promised an end to fifteen years old menace of load shading. Exploration of oil, gas and mineral resources was encouraged, which brought in foreign investment of US$ 581 million in this sector alone. Her government carried out a successful privatization program, which was acknowledged worldwide as being fair and transparent.
The country was well on its road to progress, when the peoples will was once again subverted in the dark of night of 5th November 1996. Since then, the country has been through perpetual crises. All the State resources have been spent to eradicate and eliminate the genuine popular leadership. The Party and its Chairperson has been singled out for worst type of character assassination, blackmail, harassment and persecution.
Today the country is again through an indirect military rule where an army chief is also running the affairs of the state as the President of Pakistan. Barring two brief eras of democratic rule, from 1971-77 and 1988-99, and with exception of three initial years 1947-51, the country has been under dictatorship for whole of her history.
The dictatorial rule for most part of the nation’s life has given birth to sectarianism, religious extremism and intolerance in an otherwise tolerant and pluralistic society of Pakistan. This has also intensified tensions amongst the federating units and the smaller provinces are drifting away from the mainstream politics because of the sense of deprivation.
Pakistan Peoples Party has taken up the task of safeguarding the liberal, tolerant and enlightened values of the country and has been in forefront in arresting the trends of extremism with its power of people. It has rendered several sacrifices, the greatest being in the early hours of 19th October, when about 150 workers of PPP were martyred and more than 500 injured in a bomb blast during welcome procession of the party’s chairperson Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, on her return to the country after eight and a half year.
In addition to that economy and social sector is in shambles, swarmed with millions of jobless persons. The country stands as one of the poorest nation in the world. The society is infested with evils of ignorance, corruption, crime, drug-abuse, dishonesty and intellectual sterility. All these evils are threatening the very fabric of the society and the foundation of the country.
There is only one silver lining in the dark clouds for Pakistan today that the Party founded by Quaid-e-Awam Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and nurtured by the blood of several selfless political workers and leaders still remains the strongest and the largest political party of the country under the able leadership of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, who is poised again to bring a change for betterment in the lives of millions of deprived and under privileged people of Pakistan: a dream Quaid-e-Azam had devoted his life to; and Quaid-e-Awam had dearer than his life.