Lately there has been a well-orchestrated media blitzkrieg against Pakistan People’s Party and its leader Senator Asif Ali Zardari. Even some senior journalists have started painting doomsday scenarios regarding the PPP’s future casting doubts on its present. The overall picture has doubly confounded the confusion.
As a detached observer sitting over 3,000 miles away from Pakistan I have reasons to assume that besides everything that is being churned out is overly linked to divert the attention from the profound ramifications of the murder of martyred Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and the larger conspiracy behind the dastardly deed to obliterate PPP from the body politic of Pakistan – a long-standing objective of the establishment and vested interests.
The other day a PPP minister in the NWFP government had expressed his concern over the activities of some of the old Trojan horses (and mares) in the party trying to de-stabilize it or undermine it, perhaps to promote their own selfish interests after having been sidelined in the larger interest of the party in the post-BB period. Other may be doing this to complete the mission assigned to them by the invisible hands that had planted them in the PPP, precisely to use them in such a situation. Former president Farooq Leghari’s recent statement has definitely become relevant in this regard and has acquired significance in view of recent moves by Makhdoom Amin Fahim, Naheed Khan, Safdar Abbasi and a host of others.
They virtually took over the party in the period that Ms Bhutto was in exile and while Senator Zardari was in prison, and ran it as their personal fief disenchanting the loyal workers and many senior leaders. While Ms Bhutto burnt the midnight oil and did this even at the expense of looking after her own children – to keep the party and its popularity intact – those who styled themselves as her trusted lieutenants did things that did not strengthen the party. And they did this while successfully pretending to be opposition leaders.
Attempts at destroying the PPP and undermining its strength are not new. Under the leadership of its founder Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and later under Ms Bhutto, it has remained the sole challenger to the establishment’s power and as the only political force gnawing at the establishment’s roots. It can be fairly said that it has successfully braved all storms, machinations and internal conspiracies by those who tried to take it over or break it.
When General Zia staged a coup against Mr Bhutto the majority of the PPP leaders and workers remained loyal and stood steadfast by him, while a few quislings did try to break or hijack the party. While in prison Mr Bhutto successfully saw through this and chose his wife, Begum Nusrat Bhutto, to lead the party along with their daughter, Benazir.
And when Mrs Bhutto’s health deteriorated following an unhealed head injury inflicted on her by Zia’s storm troopers in Lahore, Ms Bhutto was passed on the mantle of leadership through a party consensus. Ms Bhutto’s rise to the post of party leader was not aimed at continuing the Bhutto family’s hold on the PPP but to protect and preserve Mr Bhutto’s political legacy.
Some ‘uncles’ who had ambitions of their own (encouraged and assisted by Zia) after having been thwarted by Ms Bhutto’s defence of her father’s political legacy, sought to establish their own brands of the party (such as Progressive People’s Party, National People’s Party and later on even a Shaheed group) – however, they got short shrift from the masses. Expelled by the party many of these ‘uncles’ remain political orphans to this day more or less like Farooq Leghari.
I can claim with least fear of contradiction (having remained close to her during her 30-year-long political career) that preservation of the party’s Bhutto-iite identity – through service to the people of Pakistan, preservation of the federation, empowerment of the less privileged especially women, minorities and children – were more dear to Ms Bhutto than her own life.
What shook her confidence in some people in her party who owed their political careers to her was the betrayal by Farooq Leghari. I am privy to a handwritten letter from him to Ms Bhutto soon after her father’s execution assuring her that as a Baloch he was honour bound to stand by her through thick and thin, like a brother would, and even to give his life for her. Once discussing why he did it I reminded her that in the intelligence business considerable long-term investment is made for using the agent only once but at the right time – and this can even take as long as 20 years.
When the 2002 elections were called we used to sit for hours discussing the pros and cons. She knew that she would not be allowed to contest and her assessment was absolutely spot on. Laws specifically targeting her were introduced to keep her out of the election. Not only that, a mechanism was contrived so that she could not be in a position to lead the party and if PPP had to contest it had to get itself registered with a new chairman.
Ms Bhutto had an excellent network of eyes and ears that kept feeding her what was being conspired in the corridors of power in Islamabad. I was summoned early in the morning to her flat to discuss the situation. She asked me what to do, saying that she thought that since her party was not being registered with her as its chairperson, a conspiracy was afoot to take it away from her. After many cups of coffee something struck my mind. I told her that she could have a “PPPP”. She didn’t get at first what I was saying but did then I explained to her that a new party titled Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarian could be registered with Makhdoom Amin Fahim as its president. And that was it – the PPPP was born.
As a journalist who had written millions of words in a career spread over decades, I confess I have never seen the likes of Ms Bhutto. In an hour’s time that day, while sitting on the computer, and I next to her with instructions not to interrupt her, she had written a whole constitution for the PPPP. It did not require too many changes and copies were made after which she suggested that we both reward ourselves – which is what we did by going off to a nearby Gloucester Road coffee shop where we had tea, coffee and muffins.
Later in the day she called all the PPP leaders and surprised them with the PPPP package. It was opposed by every one. They had different reasons for rejecting the suggestion of setting up another PPP. Some said that it would do badly in the forthcoming election. However, they all became somber when they were given a point-blank option – ‘take it or leave it’. She said to them: “I will not hand over Bhutto sahib’s PPP to any one – whether one likes it or not”. She also told them that this was a way out to prevent any vested interest from taking over the original party. The move paid off and the PPPP got the largest numbers of votes, and Makhdoom Amin Fahim began to think that he would eventually become prime minister.
Throughout the period of her long exile she continuously knocked one door after the other with a hope that some day there would be an opening and that overseas supporters of dictatorship in Pakistan would realize that there is no alternate to democracy. Eventually elections were held – thanks to a decade of global networking by her – and she had to return – which she did but at the cost of her life. Though she had all the evidence that she had been consigned to death by her enemies, she took upon them with steeled courage and determination to save her country.
The writer is Pakistan’s high commissioner to the United Kingdom and a former journalist.
The News, 19/7/2008