Can Bilawal put the disarrayed PPP together again? (Daily Times)

Challenged by hectic political activities of Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) and eroding popularity, the 47 years-old Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has woken up from slumber. Though PPP has regularly been holding the anniversary of the 18th October 2007 attack in which it lost 150 workers in two bomb attacks on Benazir Bhutto’s home-coming rally, this year it was a bigger show to launch its 26-year old Chairman and to put new life in the listless party.

Compared to charged rallies of PTI, PPP meeting participants’ traditional Jiyala fervour was missing which was noticed even by the party supporters. In spite of all the efforts by the PPP the numbers of participants was not impressive. Instead of self-praising the leadership should do some soul-searching to analyse what are the causes, that from being the largest party of the country its base is constantly eroding and has made it drop to third position. It would be a pity if the country’s largest left of the center party continues to lose the support of the masses. The responsibility of this erosion is on the leadership.

But the most asked question on last Saturday eve was: Can all of Zardari’s horses and all of Bilawal’s men put the 47-year old PPP together again? It is still an open question unlike the nursery rhyme’s sad ending. Die-hard PPP leaders are optimistic notwithstanding the great fall in the 2013 elections. But much of the hope is pinned on young and inexperienced Bilawal and the dead Bhuttos’ borrowed charisma.

Let’s analyse Bilawal’s 90 minutes speech. First the positive points, though the speech was unnecessarily long: it was well delivered by Bilawal compared to recent speeches in which he read his notes. This time it sounded much rehearsed; like his mother he was brave enough to speak against the terrorists and flag the danger to the country from organisations who are declaring allegiance to Islamic State (IS); he had the courage to speak against Aasia Bibi’s death sentence in a cooked-up blasphemy case and condemn Salman Taseer’s assassination by a bigot; he rightly pointed out that all those who have migrated to Karachi are Sindhis no matter which language they speak implying Urdu speaking is accepted by his party; he hinted on reorganising the party after getting workers feedback in the planned 30th November meeting in Lahore; and he aptly criticised the puppets and the puppeteers for weakening the democratic institutions and taming the lion of Lahore–Nawaz Sharif– to become an ineffective prime minister.

Now the negative points of the speech outlining PPP policy for reclaiming its lost space: while Asif Zardari’s short speech proclaimed that PPP will continue its policy of reconciliation with Altaf Husain in Karachi and with Nawaz on saving the democratic institution, the son’s rhetoric was pointlessly hostile; and Bilawal did not give any programme for reviving the party and improve its tarnished image because of bad governance and corruption. He did not respond to the wise advice by Aitzaz Ahsan and Yousuf Gilani that a new, young and dynamic leadership should be brought forward with seniors taking a back seat as advisors. But will the father whose long shadow lurks on Bilawal take the back seat along with his sister? Most probably they would not.

Another negative stance taken by Bilawal of late, which deserves to be mentioned separately, is on Kashmir. He has repeatedly said that “we will take every inch of Kashmir.” Is this to win the support of the same establishment which he labelled as ‘puppeteers’ and the power that neutralized the prime minister? Or is it the bad advice that raising Kashmir issue vehemently will win back Punjab? On both counts it’s a mistake and doesn’t help the Kashmiris of India. Their demand for the right of self-determination could have got them more international support if it was not made a territorial dispute between the two countries and given a religious colour. And worst if Pakistan had not lent support to Islamic terrorist groups to pollute the Kashmiris’ democratic struggle.

No democratic person can deny the right to secession to any nationality. Bilawal should go back and read the Simla agreement and the behind-the-curtain understanding his grandfather had with Indra Gandhi which was actually in support of maintaining a status quo i.e. keep the Kashmir each side had. Musharraf moved on this to make LOC soft allowing Kashmiris to meet and trade freely.

Today’s Punjab is not the 60s Punjab when ZAB could whip up nationalist anti-India feelings to win the election. He also changed his policy after Pakistan’s defeat in 1971. Today’s Punjab is for peace with India keeping Kashmir on the back-burner. Nawaz Sharif raised the peace slogan and won the elections. Bilawal’s mother also followed the policy of moral support to the Kashmiris and did not make tall revanchist claims.

Coming back to PPP’s resurrection, it would only be possible if it would prove itself in Sindh by improving governance and curbing corruption by bringing young and dynamic leadership. Even if Bilawal could open all the ghost schools in Sindh, bring all the truant teachers and doctors to work, improve cleanliness and infrastructure in major cities, he can prove himself against the two-pronged challenge from PMLN and PTI. Let it be less talk and more deeds. (Recommended reading for Bilawal ‘Remaking India’ October 18th Economist).

The writer is author of “What’s wrong with Pakistan?’ (ayazbabar@gmail.com)

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