A Critical View: Understanding the Politics of PPP‏ – By Ahmad Nadeem Gehla

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Pakistan People’s Party is a party of masses. Majority of its supporters belong to under-privileged classes and their commitment with ideology of Bhutto has turned it in to a cult than a democratic party. Unlike small regional groups with strict control over their support base, a party of such size always has loose organizational structure. While facing continuous oppression from dictators and pro-right international and local establishment, party workers made unprecedented sacrifices. These workers consider it as their right to criticize the leadership and question everyone; certainly they have earned that right with their commitment and struggle. Those who have attended the party meetings know very well the manner in which apparently powerful leaders and top politicians are treated by ‘Jiala’s. There is one exception – ‘The Bhutto’s’, as the party worker knows well that family has sacrificed more than anyone else can claim.

The internal divide within party is not only visible but also unique. Perhaps no other party in world is mix of such groups with divergent ideological and social background. Since times of ZA Bhutto, this unique mix has held together people like Maulana Kausar Niazi from right wing and Miraj Muhammad Khan from extreme communist ideology. Each of these works as pressure group to influence the party policies in favour of their ideological and social and economic goals. At the same time each of these groups claims to be party itself, but in reality there is great diversity. This diversity not only makes the party represent all segments of society but also works as a uniting bond between federating units of state. The internal struggle remains confined within, as the Bhutto family plays the role of final arbitrator. Those who tried to resolve outside party became instantly irrelevant. Even in future although the conflict of interests within various groups of party may intense, possibility of a divide in party remains out of question.

Apart from ideological and special interest groups, there is a continuous struggle amongst various groups and personalities for party slots and election tickets. In the process, each group and person tries their best to cut short the rivals. A phenomenon which is less intense in smaller parties.  This competition sometimes turns ugly when under the belt tactics are used to undermine the rivals. Recent incident outside Sherry Rehman’s house is an example of these dirty tricks of local grouping. This struggle is found at every level from local to national, which if within the norms of democratic process, is rather healthy. However, in order to get noticed, some candidates for these slots use clan, ethnicity, and even money to manage supporters who could hold banners, placards and party flags bearing their names.

In order to understand the politics of PPP and its future course, it is necessary to understand its internal divides. The internal grouping in party can be divided in to five major groups:

1. Socialists

2. Moderates/Democrates

3. Bhuttoist’s

4. Oppertunists

5. Feudal and Business Elite

6. Religious minority groups


This group originally belonged to small leftist parties which had very well trained political workers and believed in class based revolution like Russia and China. Although very well organised and ideologically motivated, these parties has little following in masses. Trade Unions, Peasant Councils and student organisations remained their primary support base. When ZA Bhutto resigned from Ayub Khan’s cabinet to launch his Pakistan Peoples Party, most of these left groups joined him and played a key role in attracting masses because of their attractive slogans and political training. Soon after the victory in elections, being an organised force, they played important role in implementing the party policies.

Soon after the nationalisation, the bureaucracy and feudal could not get along with the group and started side lining the ideological groups to isolate ZA Bhutto. In 1977, when right wing US, Saudi and Military backed alliance of PNA was assembled, the major organised force to defend party was missing. However, with imposition of Martial Law, these workers became the major force challenging Zia ul Haq’s military regime. Thousands of them were sentenced by military courts  and imprisoned, many got public lashing and some went to exile. A small groups joined Mir Murtaza Bhutto and started an armed resistance against Zia dictatorship. A seizable number associated themselves with media, NGO’s, and rights groups to resist military regime.

Majority of the socialist supporters of PPP belonged to educated lower or middle classes. Military cracked down not only tortured them but also destroyed whatever little business or properties they possessed. After the death of Ziaul Haq and return of Benazir Bhutto, Zia’s oppression had weaken them to the extent that they were unable to play the same role as in 1970’s. Benazir Bhutto tried to accommodate a large number of these workers in party and government ranks in order to repair the damage to their social family lives and economic standing. However given the huge number and limited government resources, majority of them remained in miserable condition. Surprisingly though, many of them who lost families, careers and their future for party refused to accept offers of high profile posts during 1990’s but have become less significant in present political scenario.

Those who joined rights groups and NGO’s and media, still influence party policies from outside. Those who were able to withstand economic and personal losses because of imprisonments, illegal occupation of properties with military backing, still remain a vocal pressure group inside party with ideals of a secular, just and liberal society.

Moderates and Democrats:

Although performance of first PPP government was not ideal, but it set new standards of politics in a feudal society. Millions of hardcore poor benefited from nationalisation of farming lands. Countless homeless got free piece of land for a shelter. Education, first time in history got in to access of underprivileged. The bureaucracy became answerable to people and first time traditional power centre shifted from feudal to masses.  As, people got voices and realisation of their right, the democracy became a platform where they can share power.

This support base is purely an outcome of party performance and pro-poor policies which still makes its major vote-bank.This group does not has any direct conflict with Socialists, rather it acts in their support for secular, liberal and more equatable society.


Charisma of personality of Z A Bhuttoand and Benazir Bhutto and their heroic deaths has turned them in to a folk hero’s. The ordinary supporter felt betrayed by powerful military establishment and judiciary when their elected representative were assassinated by Mullah, Judges and generals alliance. At the same time, nationalists from smaller provinces developed a feeling that establishment would not allow them to participate in political process. Military crack down, state oppression and ruthless use of force against political workers resulted in to giving birth to a rather stronger ideological support for Bhutto’s policies.

This group has same characteristics as of Socialists and Democrats but it is more diverse on socio-economic and ethnic grounds. For their commitment with party, this group gives a colour of cult to a rather democratic party.


This is perhaps most interesting group inside party because of its diversity role and and influence. The group mainly focuses to be visible during party functions and around party leadership. During tough times, which has been a quite long period, the group goes in to hibernation and instead focuses on their business. Switching loyalties over night is not an issue for them, as soon as party comes in power, they start defending its policies so loudly that every other voice fades. They target the key office of profit and remain loyal to their gains. They have nothing to do with highlighting party program, its ideals or achievement but hungry for quick nutritiousness by mudslinging on ideological supporters within party and both its sympathisers and rivals outside party ranks.

Although this group is small in number but with their ability to penetrate party leadership and resources to invest, they make high returns. They pop-up and disappear quickly, most vocal in times when party is in power, no body remembers their names unless they decide to switch loyalties to new rulers.  When party is in power, they would run vicious propaganda campaign against real support base of party. Although repeated cyclical periods show us that in tough times, it was only ideological workers who stayed with party and sacrificed. When party gets out of power, they pack their bags leaving baggage of their corruption and misuse of powers for ordinary workers to handle.

This group is always at war against above three segments in party and most vocal against rivals to stay in good books of leadership. However it would gives interesting twists to party policy as to have good relations with establishment to stay away from trouble.

Feudals and Business Elite:

Since 1970’s as bureaucracy and establishment has used every tactic to sidelined the ideological supporters of party to create space for feudal and business elite. After death of Ziaul Haq, the non-party election politics become too expensive for an ordinary worker, majority of whom has been badly damaged economically. The doctrine of ‘Electable Candidate” was introduced in these times where every party tried to pick a candidate who can spare enough resources and has personal influence in his constituency.

The party workers who faced wrath of establishment during Zia dictatorship were unable to compete in resource intensive power politics. Unlike establishment backed alliances where right wing parties received financial support through agencies, PPP could not fund its workers. The situation proved to be a good opportunity for resourceful feudal and businessmen.  Many powerful families from Ziaul Haq’s camp joined party. Those who won or lost their respective seats made sure that they install their relatives in local party offices. The exercise took away the luxury of holding local party offices from workers and instead ticket holder or their relatives became office bearers.  Unfortunately, when these feudal switch parties, the artificially installed party office bearers switch with them, leaving workers wondering in uncertainty. The most recent episode was assembling of PPP (Patriots) which consisted of opportunists intellectuals, some most vocal fake ‘loyalists’ and feudal holding party positions as well parliamentary slots.

The group is dominant in parliamentary politics and greatly influences party policies in favour of land holders and businesses like Sugar, Textile and construction industries. Despite their their influence, the group faces lots of criticism from party workers and has little recognition inside party. They are commonly considered as ‘infiltrator’ and widely disliked by party supporters.

Religious Minority Groups:

Secular and liberal credentials of party are attractive for religious minorities of country. Since Zia’s dictatorship, state policies were molded to favor certain religious groups in order to buy support for military regime. Soviet war resulted in to trained religious fighters returning back home with guns and narrow interpretation of religion. These violent jihadi’s targeted the religious minorities, both Muslim and Non-Muslim. The anti-PPP parties were assembled from right wing pro fanatics and urban middle class religious traders and enjoy support of establishment. In this situation PPP becomes an attractive refuge for religious minorities. Furthermore the party culture being liberal is not discriminatory towards minorities in a radicalized society.

This groups struggles to influence the party policies to abolish discriminatory laws and makes a major support base against violence. At the same time it also struggles that its own versions of religious ideologies become part of party policy.

The Struggle Within:

Each of these pressure groups is constantly struggling to influence party policies to suit their interests. This provides party with a diverse nature of support and also creates complex policy issues for leadership. Party leadership, which still stays in hands of Bhutto family enjoys unanimous support from all these diverse groups. However, it remains secular, liberal and leaning to a concept of a more equitable pro-poor state.

With mass de-politicization of society, the struggle for influence amongst various groups within party became less intense during past decades. With revival of democratic process and media revolution, each group seems to be trying to asset itself. For those who has less understanding of party’s structure, this seems to be confusing, although this is part of political process and maturity of political institutions.

The party can return to its old ideals and manifesto of ZA Bhutto by once again including educated youth through Student Unions, Workers through Trade bodies and new leadership through Local Bodies elections. However, the feudal and Opportunist groups within party will strongly resist such moves. Similarly, the opportunist will try to block the first three groups from getting influence and replacing them with genuine leadership.

Future Politics:

In practice, the future political divide would be based on struggle between conservatives and liberal segments of society The large number of educated youth with little sympathy towards extremism will ultimately joining the political process. The combination of a vibrant media, educated youth and widening ideological divided in society will impact the internal politics of party. The Socialist, Democrats and Liberal groups inside party would be the beneficiary of this evolution. Although the ‘feudal’ and ‘opportunists groups’ will remain in one form or other, the ideological groups seems getting more influence on party policies in future.  If the political process continues, we might witness party getting closer to secular, liberal and socialist ideals.



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