The Rebel Road…

I know you’ve come to kill me. Shoot, coward, you’re only going to kill a man. – Ernesto Che Guevara

The future face of PPP.

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When the judicially controversial death of Mr. Zulfiqar Bhutto occurred under the watchful eye of the General Zia regime, it was seen that a powerful vacuum developed within the party since Zulfiqar Bhutto had left behind him a legacy of his charisma. This legacy had its roots in the fact that it was through sheer force of will that Bhutto managed to sway and unite such a great mass of people in his favour. Benazir Bhutto, even in her youth, had a deep understanding of the inner dynamics of the PPP and it was for this reason that she strived to secure for herself the position of joint chairperson of the party in spite of the presence of several older and mature politicians (the so-called ‘uncles’).

Later when Murtaza Bhutto returned to Pakistan he was viewed as a political rival by Benazir because dynastic politics in a patriarchal society gave Murtaza far more political legitimacy. Benazir responded by establishing herself as the lifetime chairperson of the PPP, against even the wishes of her mother who supported Murtaza. Adding to the divide was Murtaza’s insistence on waging an armed struggle against General Zia while Benazir opted for a less radical solution. The result was a lot of bad blood and several years of estrangement between the two Bhuttos. However all this was changing in 1996 when both Benazir and Murtaza had shown an interest in healing some of the wounds that their relationship had suffered. Murtaza’s meeting with Benazir at the Prime Minister’s House and a two-way exchange of gifts on some occasions in 1996 promised a new beginning, but the possibility of a more radical element returning to the PPP was distasteful to several interested parties. Murtaza was gunned down by the police in September 1996, ironically, during the reign of the People’s Party. Naturally Benazir was the first target of rebuke and finger-pointing, with Murtaza’s widow and daughter claiming that Benazir, and later Asif Zardari, were either the killers or, at the very least, complicit. Arguably Murtaza’s death led to the dismissal of Benazir’s government and Asif’s eight-year imprisonment.

With the death of Benazir Bhutto, a similar vacuum has emerged within the PPP. The only logical choice, given the élan of the PPP, was Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. It must be acknowledged that he is the only Bhutto who can be put into the position of leadership, considering that Sanam Bhutto declined and that dynastic politics is by now firmly entrenched as part of the PPP’s political culture. Though he is young, Bilawal will have the support of a seven-member advisory council of senior PPP leaders.

Dynastic politics, though seen to be relatively unstable, is not without precedent in the subcontinent. The Nehru-Gandhi dynasty of India, Zia and Mujeeb families of Bangladesh and the Bandaranaike family of Sri Lanka have all been extremely popular. It is also worth mentioning that Asif Zardari has displayed rare maturity and wisdom by not just understanding this dynastic undercurrent of the party, but by giving up his own position as the appointed party chairman, according to Benazir’s will, for the greater good of the party. Furthermore, in the face of mass rioting and the targetting of Punjabis in Sindh, Asif’s statement that, “Benazir’s Punjabi brothers died with her in the blast” strengthens the federation, as is expected of the PPP’s democratic heritage.


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