Farahnaz Ispahani is a Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington, DC and the author of the book Purifying The Land of The Pure: The History of Pakistan’s Religious Minorities (Oxford University Press, 2017). In 2015, she was a Reagan-Fascell Scholar at the National Endowment for Democracy, in Washington, DC. Ispahani was a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center from 2013-2014. A Pakistani politician, Ispahani served as a Member of Parliament and Media Advisor to the President of Pakistan from 2008-2012. In Parliament she focused on the issues of terrorism, human rights, gender based violence, minority rights and US-Pakistan relations. She was also a member of the Women’s caucus in the 13th National Assembly. The caucus, which straddled political divides, was instrumental in introducing more legislation on women’s issues than has ever been done before during a single parliamentary term. Ms. Ispahani spent the formative years of her career as a print and television journalist. Her last journalistic position was as Executive Producer and Managing Editor of Voice of America’s Urdu TV. She has also worked at ABC News, CNN and MSNBC.
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.