Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) celebrated its Golden Jubilee last week. The party has seen all sorts of highs and lows in the last 50 years. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the founding chairman of the party was without a shred of doubt most popular political leader of the country— at least in its erstwhile western wing — after Jinnah. He had an unmatched gift of the gab, political oratory and intellectual articulation, which were no doubt results of his aristocratic lineage, western education and early exposure to have worked in the federal cabinet at the age of 29.
Besides, he was also seen as the saviour of the leftover country following the cessation of East Pakistan into Bangladesh. The party under his leadership, gave Pakistan the current constitution of the country, which happens to be the first one in the country’s history. He also presided over the most favourable diplomatic feat when he got over 90,000 Pakistani soldiers stuck as prisoners of war in India during the 1971 war. Not just that, it was him who convened a summit conference of Islamic world in Lahore in order to lift up the demoralised nation.
While Bhutto’s deftness in delivering and pursuing high flying goals in the areas of international diplomacy, constitutional development was extraordinary, similar dexterity was however so terribly missing in the areas of local governance as he ruled Pakistan more as imperial prime minister. Even if one wants to forget the mess created as a result of his scheme of nationalising the economy or the self-aggrandising and dictatorial undertakings such as the creation of Federal Security Force (FSF), consisting mostly of those who were blinded by Bhutto’s cult or those belonged to darker sections of the society, which was unleashed not only on the political rivals such as Khan Abdul Wali Khan, Ghaus Bux Bizenjo but also on his own party men.
To get an idea of the dismal state of governance in 1970s, one only needs to recall that between 1973-77, the country saw 17 governors and 13 CMs in and out of the office
One may have ample idea on what kind of governance must be going on when we come to know that during 1973-77 Punjab saw four CMs and governors each. Sindh also saw four governors and two CMs. In total, the four provinces of Pakistan collectively saw as many as 17 governors and 13 chief ministers. But of course, not many of them could see their first anniversary in office.
What we saw in the first regime of the party’s rule under ZA Bhutto was analogous to a how a feudal lord runs his estate: so keen to look concerned with big things, eager to engage in anything politically glittering, well connected with echelons of power above him, yet dealing his subjects ruthlessly without much care for their rights. That’s what has ailed PPP in rest of its innings in the government, where crass inefficiency, corruption and lust for plundering national wealth on the part of party leaders hardly left any motivation in them to showcase feats in good governance.
The PPP has ruled Sindh since 2008, but the party can hardly come up with one sector of governance where it can claim superiority over or being role model for other provincial governments, especially those of Punjab and KP. The party continues to seek votes from people, that too mainly in rural Sindh, in the name of Bhutto. While PTI-led province of KP may lay claim on reforming the police or the Billion Tree campaign among other things, and Punjab can take pride in delivering on infrastructure, energy, and primary healthcare fronts, the PPP doesn’t seem have any such achievements. One thing that PPP could perhaps have easily reformed was police in the province, but this did not happen either.
A police free of political influence could have collaterally helped the provincial government in relieving Rangers, the para-military force, from cities such as Karachi where PPP has had so frequent grievances at the hand of the force. But just because the party MNAs and MPAs are more interested in using police in their respective districts as their subservient body, there exists hardly any visible motivation to raise an independent police.
Young Bilawal will have to break away from the damage done by the party leadership in the last five decades as a result of flawed policies whenever in government. With the passage of 18th amendment to the constitution, for which the party can rightly take credit and pride in, provincial governments have gotten unprecedentedly vast expanse to experiment and model-setting that any party that may transform an area or two of the governance in their respective province can easily help it win the next general elections across the country. On this Golden Jubilee of the party, perhaps overdone sloganeering may be spared in favour of some work and good governance.
The writer is a sociologist with interest in history and politics. He tweets @ZulfiRao and can be reached at Zulfirao@yahoo.com
Published in Daily Times, December 7th 2017.