The PPP — hope for a new Pakistan

As the Pakistan Peoples Party celebrated its 44th founding day, it is important to remember and retrace the party’s history and principles so that one can get a clearer picture of its commitment to democracy.

The PPP, which was launched at its founding convention on November 30, 1967, is the only party with demonstrated strength in all four provinces of Pakistan. It is, and always has been, democratic and egalitarian, committed to equal opportunity for people regardless of class, region, religion or gender. From its founding statement to the party manifesto, under which it contested and won the 2008 elections, the PPP is committed to a society based on the rule of law and human dignity. It has demonstrated an unshakeable commitment to parliamentary democracy, transparent government and democratic civilian oversight of all ministries under the constitution. Some people have talked about change, some have talked about democracy and how it should be supported and strengthened. The leaders of the PPP, however, have lived and died for it.

The party’s 2008 manifesto, written under Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto’s direction, explains that the first principle of the PPP, ‘Islam is our Faith’, says that Islam teaches brotherhood, love and peace. The message of Islam is found in the words and verses of great Sufi saints Data Sahib, Shah Abdul Latif of Bhittai, Baba Farid Ganj Shakar and Lal Shahbaz Qalandar. The PPP commits itself to religious tolerance. Religious beliefs of individual citizens have little to do with the business of the state, as the founder of the nation declared in his inaugural address to the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947.

The second principle of the PPP is belief in democracy and emphasises the party’s commitment to freedom and fundamental rights. Its sacrifices are many, the greatest being those given by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto, who gave their lives so Pakistan could be truly free.

The party’s third principle is that social democracy should guide the economy so that a just and equitable society with equal opportunity for all citizens is created. The growing gap between the rich and the poor must be bridged by supporting the underprivileged, the downtrodden and the discriminated. The PPP is proud of being the voice of the poor and the working and middle classes. The fourth principle is that power should lie with the people and that the liberal, tolerant and enlightened values of the country be promoted through the strengthening of democracy.

Perhaps the party’s greatest achievement occurred this year, when the Eighteenth Amendment was adopted, purifying our beloved 1973 Constitution from the usurpations of dictators. That struggle was led by President Asif Ali Zardari, through an unprecedented, selfless and principled fight to restore true democracy to Pakistan, though in the process his own powers were diluted.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 1st, 2010.

Written by Farahnaz Ispahani

Farahnaz Ispahani is a Global Fellow, at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington DC. She is the author of the recently published book "Purifying the Land of the Pure: The History of Pakistan's Religious Minorities. Oxford University Press, 2017. Ms. Farahnaz Ispahani has been a leading voice for women and religious minorities in Pakistan for the past twenty five years, first as a journalist, then as a member of Pakistan’s National Assembly, and most recently as a scholar based in the United States. An advocate of Pakistan’s return to democracy during the military regime of Pervez Musharraf, she served as a spokesperson and international media coordinator for the Pakistan People’s Party, working alongside the late Benazir Bhutto. During her tenure in parliament (2008–2012), she was a member of the Human Rights Committee and the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus. In 2013–2014, she served as a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, where she completed a book on the persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan. In 2012, she was listed among Foreign Policy magazine’s Top 100 Global Thinkers, as well as Newsweek Pakistan’s Top 100 Women Who Matter. During her fellowship, Ms. Ispahani is exploring women’s political participation in the Muslim world, both in terms of their progress toward gender equality under democratic systems and the converse rise of women as agents of extremist propaganda within the world of the Islamic State. FARAHNAZ ISPAHANI is Senior Fellow, South and South East Asia Action Team at Religious Freedom Institute also.

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