LUBP is currently conducting a series of interviews with Pakistan Peoples Party’s long-time supporters (Jiyalas) and independent political analysts to have their views on the party’s electoral debacle in 2013. The aim of this series is to provide constructive criticism and sincere reflections to the party’s leadership in order to improve the party’s performance as well as perceptions in the future.
LUBP: What is your association with the PPP? Brief history or/and views please?
Although this last PPP government failed in many ways to live up to expectations, and I have criticisms, I will remain PPP jiyala and probably always will. It is a state of mind, having followed Pakistan’s tortured past and the PPP fighting against true evil in Zia ul-Huq. So, my criticisms here are difficult to make but true.
My view of the PPP is that it had much promise, but did not deliver. I found myself making excuses for a while, but ultimately was disappointed. Given the history of dynamic actions of Zulfikar Bhutto, and the appeal and charisma of Benazir Bhutto, President Asif Zardari had no such charisma. Bilawal Bhutto became invisible. The PPP failed to reach out to its constituency of the uneducated, poor and working class. We can blame foreign policy on the Pakistan Army, but share this blame with PPP, as there was no attempt to elevate the elected administration over the military. As for the domestic welfare of the people, this falls on the President and Prime Minister as an abject failure.
My history with PPP is merely an American observation from the U.S. and during travels. I visited Lahore and Karachi in 1972 during what seemed like serious unrest in Karachi with Z. Bhutto and Bangladesh in the news. The PPP at that time seemed in favor in Sindh, and disfavor elsewhere, over dictatorial nature of the charismatic, but the well-intentioned and brilliant, Zulfikar Bhutto. However the PPP, despite its promise to elevate business, rumors of nationalization of businesses drove my mother’s friends from the country. Still, it is the only reliable party based on its principles.
The PPP, like Z. Bhutto is a study in opposites. The PPP ran originally on “Food, Clothes, and House;” This could still be a platform, as it has never been delivered in the poor regions of Pakistan, with the exception of speeches. In its favor, the Zardari administration never aligned with the radical Religious Right. With the exception of PTI, no party is without corruption, but corruption accusations plagued both Bhuttos and Zardari. This should have been addressed face-on, if innocent of the charges.
The PPP energy seems to change depending on the leader of the party. The party in good faith, stands for Pluralism, Secular, Democratic party translating into freedom, liberty, protection of minorities, and education of the poor and woman’s rights, elevating the worker and poor through reform. This was never truly delivered in five years. Were Benazir Bhutto to have survived, I still maintain that her passion and energy would have followed through when she returned from exile, as a more mature individual. There are no current leaders of her caliber.
LUBP: How do you compare PPP with other leading political parties of Pakistan?
Despite disappointments, I still believe that the PPP remains the best hope for Pakistan. A strong leader needs to come forward; perhaps new blood. Of Bilawal, my optimistic writings proved incorrect. I am hoping that with maturity, he will gain confidence. The party needs a lion, not a lamb.
The PPP believes in basic human rights, guided by a strong constitution, but, the constitution is flawed while Blasphemy Laws were tabled after related-assassinations. To its credit, PPP was the only party which spoke against the blasphemy-accused Christian, Asia Bibi. Sherry Rehman also spoke out against Blasphemy Laws, but then was silenced. If the party was successful a case can be made that the Ahmedis would not still be Constitutionally non-Muslims. With the exception of the religious precedent made by Z. Bhutto’s appeasement insertions into the constitution in the 70s, the PPP since then has been the one party never to align with the religious right, believing in separation of religion and state. All other parties have at sometime aligned with religious radical elements in order to again favor, and aside from PPP, all parties, including present PML-N align with dark elements of the security forces, Taliban, and marginalizes women, Ahmedis, Shias, Christians, Sufis and Hindus. Still, the PPP’s failure to reverse the Zia religious laws, remain a testament to five years of accepting the status quo, despite an atmosphere of assassination and fear.
PPP promised better education, but, there was not the funding one might expect given the promises and the need. Also, the radical Madrassas still remain open, and Malala is a poster child for the lack of addressing the forgotten FATA and Waziristan regions where Taliban rule, not the central government.
The PPP is favorable towards worker’s rights, union strength to protect blue collar workers, and the encouragement of free enterprise. So it is still the best hope if it would have only carried a fanatic’s zeal towards such a mission (“Fan” comes from the word “fanatic.”). One needs to be a fan of the underclass and workers. In theory, the PPP recognizes that small businesses are the backbone of democracies. But, in history, Z. Bhutto ruined the economy by nationalization of private industry; and Zardari did little to facilitate small businesses. This encouraged votes towards Sharif’s platform as he promised privatization and industry-strength of PLM-N ideals. This old re-cycled political-opportunist has not yet shown us how things will be different. Imran Khan was a cult personality, with an appeal to the youth who value looks over substance, and was not a viable candidate in my opinion.
The PPP support of the farming community is still evident in Punjab and rural areas, but the perception of the party is largely as a landlord mentality of the rich over feudal workers. Nothing was done by the PPP to reverse this image by subsidizing and reforming the agricultural infrastructure of Pakistan. The overtures to India were well received, but in practice the trade agreements favor India, not Pakistan.
LUBP: Both its supporters and critics are unanimous that the PPP leadership has become disconnected from the masses. Kindly elaborate on this and identify the specific reasons for this distancing.
The PPP distancing was a lack of follow-through of promises. You cannot connect with the people if you are sequestered in offices, instead of out on regular visits to Balochistan and FATA, but, even the major cities, where complaints of power failures and landlord abuses, corruption of police, poor roads, lack of potable water, lack of basic health care, need of more educational facilities, and hospitals are evident. The on-going genocide of Shias were never truly seen by the top officials of the country, the PPP, President, PM, nor were they interested enough to be there to exchange ideas, solutions with the local authorities, politicians, governors, tribal leaders, and not just heard about from afar, or press reports. In the PPP election manifesto entitled ‘Towards Peace and Prosperity in Pakistan’ in 2008,” PPP cited it would improve economic growth. It stated it would eliminate energy shortages. A world class irrigation system would be established. Pakistan violence, bigotry and terror would be addressed. All these problems remain. The promise of employment for youth has been met with rising unemployment. The promise of lowering inflation has been met with runaway double-digit inflation. The necessary elements of a modern society require quality education and healthcare. The needs went unfulfilled. Was it lack of government funds?
Government funds come from taxes. Much needed tax reform was not implemented, perhaps because of fear of angering the wealthy and top earners in the country. Very few middle income and upper middle class households pay income tax. The lack of political will of the PPP and past politicians who legislate, failed to reform taxes due to this dilemma. The president and PM both millionaires themselves, will not go against their wealthy cronies who are allowed to exempt themselves through extravagant and legal loop holes. If even 30% more of corporations, and middle and upper class Pakistani’s paid taxes, there would be have been funds available for the PPP’s stated objectives. Without those taxes, Sharif will be in the same position, a millionaire who cannot provide for the poor.
Pakistan is among the largest recipients of American aid, but the payments of billions of dollars are diverted to the military. Using a victim mentality, this is often blamed on the U.S.. Pakstan is responsible for incoming funds, not the U.S.. Though the PPP attempted to expand taxation, taxing profits from the stock market and real estate, agriculture and many industries that are major windfalls for the elite, remain untaxed. As businessman, Zardari knows this. Current elected millionaire Nawaz Sharif has bragged for years that he pays no taxes.
The problem of clean potable water remains in the big cities as well as in the forgotten KP, FATA, and Balochistan poor areas. Making Pakistan business-friendly, in a society that empowers women was promised, and yet remains the same or worse than five years ago. The literacy rate (by definition is age 15 and over can read and write) in Pakistan by population: 54.9% (male: 68.6%; female: 40.3%). This is a dismal failure for the Pakistan, the PPP, and a global embarrassment that impacts the success of other factors: employment, radicalization, lack of active participation in the government, unstable voting and failure to qualify for quality jobs. There seemed to be no PPP plan, certainly no passionate strategy for improving these numbers.
President Zardari and the administration did show commitment to economic free enterprise and global opportunities by trade related pacts with India and good relations with the United States. The attempts to deal with China, in my estimation were dangerous, if you look at the Sino-African relations, China is a fair-weather friend (Although, in fairness, the same can be said of the U.S.).
The party campaign seemed to be conducted under restraints, as nothing pointed to reigning in the ISI or the civil government as civilian supervisor over the rich/landed/commercially-active/ powerful Pakistan military. No party dared suggest a change of top generals in leadership positions; granted, this is a dangerous precedent to attempt.
LUBP: Since 2011, the party outsourced a significant section of its foreign policy to a pro-establishment think tank, the Jinnah Institute, founded by PPP’s ex-media advisor Sherry Rehman. To what extent has this move compromised the PPP’s ideological stance in foreign relations?
Outsourcing is passing the buck. The JI report was a disaster of suggested meddling in Afghanistan, appeasement of TTP and the Haqqani Network, and Army-driven policies. Under the PPP watch this illustrates a lack of political will, if not a low self-image.
LUBP: During Benazir Bhutto’s exile from1998 to 2007, there emerged a buffer between the PPP leadership and the masses in the shape of a certain group of select elites whose loyalties to the PPP were always suspect. To what extent did it affect the popular roots of the PPP especially amongst the youth?
New blood is needed in the PPP. The PPP had never sufficiently appealed to the youth, except under Z. Bhutto and Benizar Bhutto. Her exile and premature death due to lack of security measures taken by General Musharraf is instructive. There were elements in the ISI, military and within her own government, including the relentless campaigning against her by Sharif, that BB never had clear support, except from the masses of people that supported her. Her compromises, born of necessity for political survival ended up working against her and her image with youthful voters.
Youthful Fatima is a disappointment, and Bilawal ended up an embarrassment.
As for the youth vote, Imran Khan’s demagogic, and suave demeanor romanced the youth vote on TV and speeches. And PML-N competed within the social media and , TV
LUBP: PPP’s inside circles confirm that two former ambassadors to the US played a key role in the party’s media policy. To what extent do you think the PPP was able to (a) manage perceptions in the masses, and (b) communicate its point of view and achievements effectively in the media?
I don’t subscribe to the U.S. having any impact on the party’s media policy in PPP politics. The buck stops with Pakistan’s own government. Victimization, always allegedly from the U.S., is becoming a pathetic narrative. Look at Z. Bhutto’s tenure and you see a leader who followed his own path and still played the U.S. and the opposition. The PPP party did not manage perceptions well. It needed an outlet that could reach the people around the mainstream press, even if it meant establishing, or subsidizing a public broadcasting system that could be an information gathering of facts directly to the people. The Internet could have been used. Propaganda can work both ways.
The PPP had its chance to focus on literacy issues, economic stability, and terrorism, and failed to use its five years effectively. So, it can be argued there were not enough “achievements” to communicate.
LUBP: While other parties (PTI, MQM, PMLN) developed their media and strategic policy wings in house, the PPP appears to have outsourced these functions to certain development consultants who remain simultaneously aligned with the establishment and PML-N. How effective was this strategy?
While the establishment media successfully diminished the image of the PPP government, there is no excuse of outsourcing something so important as image and platform. The PPP did not run a clear agenda from a position of strength, commitment and passion. The PPP cannot point the finger at others. We must take responsibility for failings, or be doomed to repeat.
LUBP: The Shias, Christians and Hindus amongst other numerical minority groups were considered most loyal PPP voting bank. It’s now established that PPP has lost trust and support of these communities due to its apathy, inaction and insensitivity on Shia genocide, and persecution/murder of Christians, Hindus, Ahmadis etc by Jihadist-sectarian groups. To what extent are party’s media and policy advisors responsible for this callous mismanagement?
The question, “apathy, inaction and insensitivity on Shia genocide, and persecution/murder of Christians, Hindus, Ahmadis etc by Jihadist-sectarian groups” embodies the answer. The majority of Shia are successful, liberal, and secular. The lower middle class, and under class, many of whom are Hindu and Christian were never appealed to or given the priority necessary to keep them as a voting base. Shia Muslim had a right to lose confidence in the PPP who were for years apathetic and silent to genocide from Deobandi Wahhabi terrorists. It was only late in the game, that Zardari finally late last year mentioned Shia genocide, but nothing was done in the killing fields of Quetta, Gilgit, FATA or even in the blood-stained city of Karachi.
Apparently voters were undisturbed about the Sharif PML-N which governs Punjab province, of patronizing radical Sunni groups, including banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi/ Sipah-e-Sahabah Pakistan (their new operational name, Ahle Sunnat wal Jamaat.ASWJ). In Parliament, the Punjab parliamentarians retort charged the Pakistani federal government with inaction and ineptness for failing to establish a coordinated, nationwide anti-terrorist campaign during its five years in term. It is an easy charge to make. We will see if PML-N does any better.
LUBP: One of the major causes of PPP’s recent electoral debacle was its perceived inability to manage the energy crisis. Why was the PPP unable to communicate its tangible achievements in this regard?
When one pours oil on a turbulent stream, it calms only the surface the underlying surge remains. So, speeches can suggest action is at hand, but under the surface, the terrorists, poor literacy rates, economic slump remains. The inescapable truth is that no competent leadership was in power for five years, nor was there any available this year for whom to vote and rescue Pakistan. Prior to Zardari it should be pointed out that military dictatorships are worse by definition. The lack of democratic freedoms and liberties, the imposition of Martial Law is only one aspect of a failure of basic human rights; General Parvez Musharraf’s eight years cannot be compared to Zardari’s five.
LUBP: To what extent has the policy PPP policy of appeasement damaged the party?
The policy of appeasement is a default on the PPP’s electoral mandate. Elected leaders should never appease. They appeased the MQM taking criticism from Sindhi nationalists and the elite of Sindh, as well as the general civil society. Appeasement of the military for half a decade, allowed Zardari to stay in power, but was subject to the caprices of superiors, the military; a pathetic state for a president or Prime Minister, but inescapable in Pakistan, without assassination or coup.
The PPP was facing obstacles as ominous as did Benazir Bhutto. Zardari took the appeasement road more often. Faced with accusations from all sectors of the society- the opposition ANL and MQM, themselves with Karachi blood on their hands, never failed to blame the PPP for any violence there. The biased apex court struck down constitutional amendments passed by the parliament, the CJ let murderer’s go free, the press inflated uncorroborated rumors of corruption within the government, and perpetuated the jingoistic 10% Zardari; TTP and associated terrorist organizations threatened the PPP in election processes, driving a wedge between the people and the party. Fear dominated the 2013 PPP elections, as no voice or face of the PPP was there to advertise the platform or galvanize the people around new ideas, or positive change for the neglected poor, unemployment in private enterprise, strategies for a failing economy, much needed tax reforms, and so no passion engaged the people.
The PPP government followed the policy of reconciliation so as to avoid the wrath of the ISI, influential Mullahs, terrorists, the Supreme Court, Chief Justice, Pakistan military and with opposition parties. After election 2008, a policy of tolerance and compromise did little to endear the PPP with its party base. What many celebrate as a monumental achievement of a peaceful, democratic transfer of power to PML-N, if you ruffle no military feathers you can avoid a military coup. The PML-N will have no different result, if it does not challenge all these deficiencies.
LUBP: Why has peoples party failed to engage or attract Young Jiyalas?
The anti-Zia days, Musharraf and the Sharif brothers gave the Jiyalas their passion for the PPP democratic, secular progressive party and anger against political intrigue; in Zia’s case, pure evil. The progressive intelligentsia were motivated more when the PPP is out of office. The Jiyalas of the early PPP have faded away, as the populist politics changed over time. Now that the PPP had been in power for five years, the PPP rested on its laurels, giving no real dynamic initiatives. Typically, the rural peasants, small farmers and urban working classes could be relied upon. The PPP has not changed with the times to engage the youthful potential Jiyalas. Perhaps the PPP has developed an elitist mentality it does not attempt to shed. It never overcame the image of feudal overlord, wealth before servants. The PPP persona needs a new image.
The opening of a new university in each province and agency would have engaged the young Jiyalas. Subsidizing small businesses would have given a chance to the new graduates with innovative ideas. The government allowed authorities to recklessly tamper with free speech by censoring parts of the Internet. In a free society young people know having traveled to places like the U.S., Australia, and Canada, the Internet is open and free ideas are debated. The PPP could have joined the 21st century mentality, by proselytizing its valuable messages through social media; instead, the modern approaches through Facebook and the open Internet have not been utilized. Youtube has often been blocked in Pakistan. Pakistan resembles the oppression of China, more than the openness of free Western societies, to which young people, religious or secular, relate. PPP was part of that government perception- it had its chance, and will again.
This, though highly critical, is an honest assessment. If I am wrong, then, forgive me. If I am right, it needed to be stated so that the PPP can reframe its image, and produce a fearless, charimatic leader like Z. Bhutto was; an empassioned visionary with a plan for the dispossessed, like Benzir Bhutto was; an enraged, selfless, self-sacrificing Lion that serves to galvanize the people to action, lead the PPP in the next elections, for a new, invigorated Pakistan, the Land of the Pure!