Pakistan People’s Party: Is its leadership its own nemesis?

The crisis in the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has now reached its very peak, with a feud erupting between long-time friends and close allies, former minister Zulfiqar Mirza and the party’s Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari. This struggle marks a bitter fight for the leadership involving Zardari’s and Benazir Bhutto’s own son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who has recently entered the political scene as PPP chairman. The party’s mass roots and support among the working class have been severely undermined by the extreme corruption of the leadership and many years spent in office carrying out pro-imperialist and neo-liberal policies. Here is Lal Khan’s take on these events.

In a hard-hitting interview, Zulfiqar Mirza, the former home minister of Sindh and Zardari’s “close friend for forty-two years”, has lambasted Zardari and the incumbent leadership for the party’s floundering, corruption and other crimes against the party and Bhutto’s legacy.

According to a news report, “Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader Zulfiqar Mirza on Wednesday claimed that his party has become a ‘one man show’ and that man is the party’s Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari who is ‘running the Sindh government as a business’. Mirza claimed that some ‘sycophants’ in the party do not want to see Bilawal Bhutto Zardari in Pakistan. I regret that tragic day when Rehman Malik [interior minister in Zardari’s government] was born”.

Mirza further claimed in the report that, “Benazir Bhutto had nominated [deputy prime minister in Zardari’s government] Chaudhry Pervez Elahi among others as suspect in the wake of the Karsaz tragedy and he [Mirza] went ahead and lodged an FIR [First Information Document, the first step in a criminal justice enquiry] against them. ‘On this, Zaradari telephoned me, saying you are damaging my politics of reconciliation.’ Zulfiqar Mirza said the ‘daily wages leaders’ were not allowing party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to serve the PPP, adding that his party’s young chief had reservations over the way Sindh province is being governed. ‘Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is my only leader after Benazir Bhutto’, he said. The PPP leader added that ‘Bibi’s [Benazir Bhutto] blood and jobs were being sold in the province’, saying he would try to meet Bilawal Bhutto in London.”

This has been so far the most severe diatribe against his long-time friend and benefactor. Mirza was once the party’s stalwart, co-accused with Zardari for crimes from murder to extortion. His wife Fehmida Mirza was elected several times from Mirza’s home constituency for the National Assembly, in Badin, Sindh. In this wide-ranging interview, Mirza also accused Zardari of abusing the party, friends, and loyalists for financial gain and business interests. He claimed that the party abandoned its ideological positions and entered a spiral of corruption after the assassination of his leader Benazir Bhutto Zardari.

pppHowever, that is where Zulfiqar Mirza is wrong. The party’s ideological degeneration and conciliation with the state and imperialism began long before, when Benazir took charge of the PPP after the judicial murder of the Party’s founding chairman, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, by the vicious Islamic dictator Zia ul Haq. After assuming power in 1988, it was Benazir who supported US imperialism outrightly and called Pakistan the frontline in the war against “communism” during her state visit to the US during the reign of George W. Bush (Senior). Her most cherished political idol was Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s reactionary Tory prime minister, and Benazir adopted Thatcher’s pro-privatisation and neoliberal economic doctrine. She ditched the founding socialist principles and revolutionary programme of the PPP, which had been the real cause of the party’s meteoric rise and of Zulfiqar Bhutto’s popularity and legacy.

The leadership under Zardari, who replaced Benazir as party boss after her assassination in 2007, was mostly the same, with some exceptions of Benazir’s close personal associates. The policies Zardari adopted were also the continuance of Benazir’s ‘doctrine of Reconciliation’ and “neoliberal” capitalism. The two previous governments of Benazir were dismissed on charges of corruption and other crimes. Zardari and Zulfiqar Mirza were arrested and kept in prison for years for these very criminal charges. The purge of the party’s left during her reign went to extremes. Benazir herself catapulted most of the cronies of Zia ul Haq, including Yousaf Raza Gillani and Rehman Malik, into the Party’s hierarchy. Zardari at least was loyal to Benazir’s political and organisational policies if not on other issues, which are hardly of any real concern for the toiling masses. In reality, the main support base of the PPP knows this and party activists dismiss the claims that Zardari deviated from Benazir’s policies such as “reconciliation and privatisation”.

This gave Zardari a certain advantage. But the problem with Zardari has been that he inherited Benazir’s party and fortune, but not her authority. During the previous PPP-led regime, an avalanche of attacks was carried out against the masses: from excruciating price hikes to severe power and gas shortages. Hardly any infrastructural advances were made. Corruption and mismanagement reached unprecedented proportions even by Pakistani standards. The most criminal Thatcherite policy instituted by the PPP regime was the giving out of shares of public enterprises to the “workers”, instilling in them the false notion of becoming owners. Those who opted for this deception ended up in ruin. This led to the demise of the PPP and the all-out rout in the elections of 2013.

However, Zardari and his protégés at the helm of the party have no regrets about this terrible rule of five years. All this filth has been brushed under the notorious carpet of democracy, reconciliation, and peaceful democratic transition.

The new PML (N) regime is the proclaimed government and party of the capitalists, businessmen, and traders. Large sections of the grafted landed aristocracy have also switched sides and are now some of the leading lights of the PML (N). But this weak regime of the dominant sections of the bourgeois has been in crisis from its start. They needed parliamentary support from Zardari, while Zardari and his coterie needed them to protect them from prosecution due to the massive corruption they had indulged in during their stint in power. All this black satirical drama is being staged in the name of Benazir’s “philosophy of reconciliation”. This “philosophy” is nothing new but a crude and deceptive name given to the reactionary policy of class collaboration that has been practiced by the Social Democracy in the west for more than a hundred years.

The engineered ascent of Benazir’s son Bilawal to the party’s helm has gone awfully wrong. Due the pressures of a party in severe crisis and massively losing support, its “Chairperson” floundered miserably. The rumours of Bilawal’s conflicts with Zardari have been making the rounds for quite some time now. There have even been reports of a physical row between them in London. But Bilawal is no revolutionary. He has not even dared to utter the word socialism, a slogan that gave the party its strength and support for generations. His statements do have anti-reconciliation overtones, but these are for some particular parties or individuals.

The perspective of the PPP being revived just by the personality and supposed “charisma” of Bilawal is remote. The future of the PPP as a traditional party of the oppressed is now being questioned by all and sundry. The first reason is the objective situation — a mild reaction with a relative lull in the movements of the workers and the youth. Secondly, in spite of Bilawal being the so-called chairperson, it is still Zardari who calls the shots. His Mafioso-like control over the party is so intense that the most opportunist elements at different levels of the party’s hierarchy are playing a wait-and-see game, probing any chance of getting power to amass money.

This means that the party not only need a complete overhaul of the capitalist policies it espouses, but also a purge requiring a drastic surgical operation in the party’s already debilitated structures. This is perhaps too much to ask of Bilawal. If the revolutionary socialist origins of the party are not restored ideologically, politically and organisationally, the chances of the PPP’s survival are bleak. It might end up like the PASOK in Greece. But whereas a more radical left-reformist party such as Syriza has for now replaced PASOK in Greece, in Pakistan there is no such political grouping that can replace the PPP. In this country of extremes, with its stifling catastrophic socio-economic maelstrom, the only force that can replace the PPP as the party of the working class can only be a Bolshevik-Leninist party based on revolutionary Marxism.