Wednesday, February 25, 2009

What's with the PPP?

In all the angst that is turning up in the chattering and protesting classes in Pakistan, one question is coming up pretty often: whatever happened to the PPP? Others express a complete disdain for it. And I don't want to sound naive; the PPP and its founders and others since have done much to deserve all the reactions they get: both positive and negative.

But too often today, too many people talk only of Zardari. Or, if they want to discuss politics just a wee bit more, of the group that was close to BB herself as the counterpoint. But the PPP today remains the largest grouping in the country and, as such, consists of, and has always consisted of, a coalition of groups. It was set up as a left-of-center vehicle that, if you believe some of the very first die-hards, very rapidly was dominated (taken over, if you believe some folks) by the personality of the charismatic (evil genius, if you believe others) of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. There were the left-of-center (and some outright "Left") activists. There were the urbane, well-read, (and, in some cases, most nobtably and visibly nowadays Aitzaz Ahsan) Leftist lawyers and intellectuals. There were the gritty, "awami" activits, not least those from Karachi's Lyari section and it's Afro-Pakistani/Baloch community, but others as well. There are the Sindhi nationalists, both inside and, on-and-off, supporting from the outside. And, of course, there were those who were just taken by the charisma of the man--either because he convinced them that he would carry their causes to victory or because of the sheer electric power of his personality. And there were other such components--not least the professional politicians, the feudal lords, the industry-walas, and the military folks that hitched their stars with a rising star. The opportunists, if you will.

The amazing thing is how long the coalition that Zulfi built has lasted. I often tell the story of a colleague of my father's (they were both college professors) who, in the late 80's still had a larger-than-life picture of the man in his "drawing room", even as he shook his head with disappointment written all over his face and said "He had such a dynamic start; but power went to his head. For a man who had risen on street power to get to where he said 'I can crush street power with state power'..."

The morning after Benazir was assasinated, I was on KQED San Francisco's Public Radio Station and halfway into the discussion, after everyone had discussed the personality of the heir not-quite-apparent, Makhdoom Amin Fahim, and the modalities of how a successor will be picked, I had to pull everyone back and say, "Wait a minute; y'all are forgetting one person. The husband. He's paid his dues; spent a decade in jail (whatever the conditions of his incarceration)--and he has always been a smarter person--and speaks much better English--than caricatures of his have given him credit for."

Of course, we all know what happened next. To cut a long story short, Zardari took over the party at the head of the opportunist wing, and that wing is now dominant.

Personally, in terms of discussing the internal dynamics of the PPP, I think what is interesting to follow is whether the Uncles (Mirani and that generation that worked directly with ZAB), or the Young Turks (the above-mentioned Amin F & Co., which, as in the case of Amin Faheem himself quite literally, are either children of that first generation, or younger people who joined later) or the Leftist Lawyers (the aforesaid Aitzaz, et al), or anyone else can throw up a leader that can bring together and hold a coalition...

Otherwise, as I also often say, it might be time to build a new political movement, a new coalition in Pakistan; something that has only been done twice since indepence--once by Mr. Bhutto himself, and once, on a regional level, by Altaf Hussain and the MQM...but more on that another time.

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