The way forward

Shaheed Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan on October 18, 2007. Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Karachi to welcome their beloved leader who was returning to her homeland after eight years of exile. Two explosions hit the rally, killing nearly 200 people and injuring hundreds more. Shaheed BB was assassinated on December 27 the same year, only two months after her return.

On the seventh anniversary of the Karsaz tragedy, Ms Bhutto’s son Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari held a huge rally in Karachi. It was a mammoth show of strength by the PPP — the largest since 2007. By choosing the day of BB’s arrival, the jalsa (rally) was not just aimed at launching Bilawal but to revive the memory of the charismatic Bhuttos. The 26-year-old Bilawal definitely invokes memories of both Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Shaheed Benazir in the hearts of the jiyalas (PPP loyalists). His looks, mannerisms, speech delivery are reminiscent of both his late grandfather and his mother.

The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) came to power in 2008. Despite completing five years in power and a smooth transition after the 2013 elections, there was no smooth-sailing for the PPP government. From the courts to the media, from the military establishment to the opposition parties, the PPP faced a number of challenges during those five years. Due to its bad governance record and alleged corruption, the PPP was routed in Punjab in the 2013 elections. Its critics call it a regional party now, as the PPP was only able to form a government in Sindh, but its supporters feel the party still has a lot to offer and would be able to revive itself before the next general elections.

Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari’s primary objective should be the revival of the PPP’s popular constituency amongst the rural and urban poor besides creating a centre-Left pole of liberal and secular politics as opposed to the current Right vs Right contest in Pakistan’s political arena. In his recent speech, Mr Bhutto-Zardari touched upon issues that are closer to the hearts of the liberal and progressive intelligentsia. By talking about terrorism, religious extremism, sectarianism, Aasia Bibi, and other such issues that no other political leader would dare raise, Bilawal reminded one of ZAB and BB’s courage. However, the young Bhutto should not forget that he has a huge challenge facing him. Reviving past memory is not enough, though necessary.

The PPP is going through a metamorphosis and generational change. It is time for Bilawal to come up with a concrete social democratic programme, which will address the issue of poverty, face the challenge of extremism, develop a new narrative of an enlightened political party in the current situation. The PPP has to find new slogans that have an appeal for the new generation. As opposed to the extreme social stratification of the late 60s when the PPP was formed by ZAB, there is now a huge youth bulge in Pakistan whose aspirations and needs can only be addressed by improving our education system and its relationship with the market requirements of human resource. The PPP’s focus should be on greater social services and ensuring that the Sindh government delivers.

(Originally published in Mid-Day)


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