To his credit Mian Nawaz Sharif opened up the economy during his first stint as prime minister, he has exceptional ability as an entrepreneur to do much more for the country. Many, including myself for a number of years, had vested very high hopes in him. Unfortunately instead of opposing Zardari tooth and nail for his blatant corruption, he seems to have made a “Faustian” bargain with him this time around.
Our horrendous electoral system is a readymade opportunity for exploitation. The 2013 elections were for the most part fair as fair can be in any country with such glaring electoral anomalies, including the farce of indirect Senate elections. What really happened on Election Day 2013 is still not clear, suffice to say that former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and former Justice Ramdey embroiled themselves into the realm of controversy by directly engaging with the Returning Officers (ROs) in Punjab. Like in 1977 when (Zulfikar Ali) Bhutto’s aides went for overkill for PPP (Pakistan People’s Party), the manipulation of the votes in a couple of dozen seats or so mostly favored (Nawaz Sharif’s) PML (N) this time.
Contrary to its “democratic socialist” credentials, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) founded at Dr Mubashar Hassan’s house in Lahore on Nov 30, 1967 brought together totally diverse ideologies in one melting pot among its original members. To the left were communist leaning luminaries like Dr Mubashar Hassan, J. A. Rahim, Mairaj Mohammad Khan, Shaikh Rasheed etc, balancing them on the right were die-hard feudal heavyweights like Ghulam Mustafa Khar, Makhdoom Muhammad Zaman Talib -ul- Maula, talented cousin Mumtaz Bhutto, Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, etc. PPP’s first Secretary General, former Foreign Secretary J A Rahim, an Urdu-speaking Bengali from Midnapore near Kolkata, issued the party’s first manifesto on 9 December 1967, “Islam is our religion; Democracy is our Politics, Socialism is our economy; Power lies with the people.”
PPP’s catchy populist slogan “Roti, Kapra aur Makan” caught the imagination of the masses. With able people around him, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s charisma, coupled with his intellect and drive, could translate his ambition for power into reality within 4 years, albeit helped by the disintegration of the country in 1971. There is evidence to suggest that Ms Benazir, having learnt her lessons from the drubbing PPP got at the 1997 elections, and not only because of Zardari’s “Mr ten percent” tag, was intent on reactivating the party’s original roots and agenda thereof in 2007. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s wildest imagination could never have coped with son-in-law Asif Ali Zardari, with no socialist tendencies whatsoever, would one day becoming the democratic socialist party’s head by default of being the widower of his illustrious daughter Ms Benazir.
The founding members must have turned over in their graves at those in Lahore, except for Aitzaz Ahsan and a handful of others, recently celebrating the party’s founding 47 years ago, light years away from the party formed at its birth, or for that matter its manifesto. Socialism in PPP is given lip-service only, it is now totally feudal and capitalist. The 1970s momentum and Bhutto, father and daughter, has kept the party a major player in Pakistani politics despite Asif Ali Zardari’s “Terminator” role. Moral compunctions aside, using Bhutto’s grandson and Ms Benazir’s son, Bilawal Bhutto, as the façade of (first) as co-Chairman and (than) the “Chairman”, to protect himself Zardari has invented a new PPP, managing to keep whatever is left of the party in line, particularly in interior Sindh.
Zardari is no ordinary politician, in fact he is an extraordinary politician, ruling with impunity for over five years by keeping the major opposition PML (N) and other opposition partners satisfied and off balance in one way or the other, turning the Army into a “silent” (pun intended) spectator to the loot and plunder in the name of “democracy and the Constitution.” Institutionalizing corruption in the process of enriching himself, Zardari beggared Pakistan by focussing on one aim, compromising the Army Chief. When the khakis turn a blind eye to wholesale corruption and nepotism of the most blatant kind, the country has very little hope. Nobody asked (or wanted) Kayani to take over, he could have been more assertive in stopping the plunder. He let the Army down and he let Pakistan down, history will record that in the final analysis he let himself down. And for what?
The change in the public mood and aspirations across the broad spectrum in Pakistan is startling. Imran Khan has adopted the Bhuttos’ (father and daughter) mantle in the eyes of the masses. True that Imran’s fiery rhetoric may have turned off a lot of people in the drawing rooms of the country, however for every man (or woman) that the PTI Chief has lost, he has gained thousands more that have never seen a drawing room in their lives. Coincidently, Bhutto faced similar skepticism in the run-up to the 1970 elections when nobody in the drawing rooms gave him a hope in hell of getting more than a few seats in the National and Provincial Assemblies.
The women vote from 1970 on went solidly Bhutto till 2008, anyone count the percentage of women at PTI rallies recently? PPP previously had somewhat of a gridlock over the youth vote, now solidly pro-PTI. As the greatest beneficiary of the youth voter registration, Imran stands to gain further as time goes on, demography is on his side. Couple the charisma and the populist rhetoric and he emerges as the true political heir of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Ms Benazir Bhutto. On Nov 30, 2014, those partying in Lahore represented the same feudal and corrupt status quo that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and his close aides vowed to change in 1967. The PTI rally in Islamabad was the real celebration of the original PPP.
Earlier in Aug 2014 I had suggested to Imran and his close aides to read up on Clausewitz and concentrate on one demand only. To quote my subsequent article “Games people play” of Sep 18, 2014, “adopt the KISS (Keep it simple, stupid) formula, concentrate simply on reforming the electoral system.” Imran Khan has changed tack by not insisting on “the resignation of the PM”, a constitutional non-starter that the PML (N) successfully employed within Parliament to sidetrack the genuine demands for electoral reform. With his prolonged Dharna (sit-in) a stalemate, the crowds in numbers may not brave the winter cold as it sets in, therefore the escalation to Plan C – and the threat of Plan D. The Mian Nawaz Sharif government must be commended for responding to countrywide calls for talks to end the agitation.
Instead of seeking power for power’s sake, Imran must be the catalyst for electoral reform so that only the best, and not the worst, get into Parliament by a correct exercise of the vote to reflect the public aspirations. The people of Pakistan must have genuine democracy, starting at the grassroots level. With apologies to Rudolf Georg Binding recounting memories, commanding a squadron of German Dragoons for four years on the western front during the First World War (1914-1918) in his 1927 novel, “A Fatalist at War”, one can label Imran Khan as “a catalyst at war”!
The writer is a Pakistan-based defense and political analyst. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org