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The guarantee of equal economic opportunity and an end to exploitation has long attracted the masses of underdeveloped countries - victims of poverty, inequality and despair. Pakistan’s case is no different. The wave of communism began when USSR adopted the Marxist-Leninist model and this lead to the creation of a new sphere of influence. Socialism began to be viewed by many countries as a respite from the unjust and exploitative capitalist system created by the West and the sway of modernity. It was Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in Pakistan who raised the slogan of socialism and founded the Pakistan Peoples Party in 1968 (PPP). In his words:
            “Socialism is of direct interest to Pakistan, an underdeveloped country, marked by internal and external exploitation” (Grover, 237).

The party’s manifesto, that won them 81 seats in Parliament in the 1970 general elections, stated “Islam is our faith, democracy is our policy, socialism is our economy. All power to the People!” Clearly the beginnings of Pakistan Peoples Party had socialist and communist leanings (Chaudhry, 128). For them equality and justice could only be upheld if there was economic egalitarianism which was not possible if the capitalist system, in its existing form, continued. However, the 2008 manifesto which has brought PPP to power today, claims that “ social democracy is our economy” (PPP). It also mentions that the party will try to blend economic liberalism with state responsibility. Even if we consider the actual political situation today, we find no traces of the policies that PPP initiated under Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. It is pertinent that even later governments of the PPP in the 1990s became allied to the United States and its capitalist policies to win support and to come to power. This paper will attempt to examine why socialism failed to achieve its intended goals in Pakistan causing an ideological shift of the PPP from being overtly in favor of socialism, to an acceptance of the capitalist system and ultimately joining the US block.

In its 1970 manifesto, the PPP identifies two major causes that have plagued Pakistan. Firstly the exploitative capitalist system and secondly, the fact that Pakistan is an underdeveloped country in the global world. In order to fulfill the claims to bring an end to the unjust economic system, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s government took a number of steps. As per their manifesto the PPP government began the nationalization of basic industries. The government would now control the affairs of 20 private firms worth $200 million (Kaushik, 226). The aim was to prevent the big entrepreneurs from accumulating surplus earnings in their own pockets and not compensating the laborer adequately. However, Bhutto left out the cotton textile manufacturing industry from his nationalization program which was incomprehensible, considering the fact that cotton crop is the backbone of Pakistan’s economy. Surendra Nath Kaushik contends that in reality major industrial tycoons and powers were excluded from this policy and so it appears that Bhutto did not want to challenge or upset their established financial control and took this measure as mere window dressing. 

In order to live up to its status of being the voice of the working classes of Pakistan, the PPP introduced new labor laws. These included the effective participation of the workers in the management and the system of collective bargaining (Kaushik, 227).  Bhutto’s education policies lead to the nationalization of private schools as he aimed to provide quality education for all. However, his most revolutionary step to hit the country was the Land Reform Measure. This reduced the ceilings on land from 500 to 150 acres of land on irrigated land and from 1000 to 300 acres on unirrigated land. (Kaushik, 228).

On the whole, the economic measures taken by Bhutto’s regime bear a lot of semblance to the ten point agenda of The Communist Manifesto, especially in case of his education policy and the nationalization of key industries. These measures, however, failed to achieve much. The major reason was that Bhutto failed to curtail the power of the big businesses. Rather than a completely socialist economy, he opted for a mixed economy which favored more state control. Pakistan’s economy was dependent upon these big entrepreneurs for much of the development and creation of employment. This was also due to the fact that the government increased the defense budget, leaving less allocation for development projects (Kaushik, 243).  Furthermore, the administrative system was a victim of red tapism and corruption. The Land Reform measures could not be implemented properly due to the dishonesty and issues related to bribery at the lower level, especially in the law enforcement agencies. Records were forged and transfer of land was made on paper to relatives etc, which failed to break the grip of the existing landed class (Malik, 92). In other words, the infrastructure that was required for the effective functioning of much of these socialist measures was not present. Moreover, the economic dependence of many of the ‘harees’ on the ‘jageerdaars’ in much of rural Pakistan prevented the landed aristocracy from abiding by the law. Much of the resulting economic disaster lead many circles to be critical of the actual implementation of socialist policies and whether they can produce results on ground or not.

Keeping in line with Leninist ideology on imperialism, Bhutto stood for state sovereignty. In his essay “Political Development in Pakistan” he talks about this concept and explains how Pakistan has always allied itself closely to the US and has been among the foremost to join SEATO and CENTO, but has, however, not benefitted. He disregards foreign aid when it comes with a compromise to state sovereignty (Grover, 250). This idea of self autonomy and resistance to foreign Western subjugation touched large sections of society. Bhutto exposed Pakistan’s vulnerable position in world politics, especially with relation to India and the United States. He was a strong supporter of improving relations with the Peoples Republic of China (Grover, 255). Nevertheless, it is debatable as to what extent Bhutto could live up to his anti-imperialist stance. After the 1971 fiasco Bhutto became obsessed with achieving armament parity with India. For this purpose, support from US would be crucial. However, when the US refused armament supply, Bhutto expressed his disapproval by withdrawing from SEATO. Under Nixon’s government, relations between the two states improved considerably over the issue (Kaushik, 204).  Nonetheless, on the issue of nuclear proliferation, Bhutto’s strong standpoint is quite appreciable. Despite US warnings to stop Pakistan from purchasing nuclear technology, Bhutto went ahead with the project and in this regard he portrayed, although in limited capacity, Pakistan’s ability to make sovereign decisions in its own interest.

Right from its inception, Pakistan has been facing an identity crisis. Initially, Islam was taken to be a uniting force for the Muslims of the subcontinent that lead to the creation of Pakistan. Later, rifts began to develop not just on the basis of ethnicity but also the religious circles raised their voice demanding the implementation of Shariah. Iftikhar H. Malik, in his book “State and Civil Society in Pakistan”, refers to the contention between the ruling elite of Pakistan and the religious elite. Pakistan faced problems in defining a system for itself. Some of the clergy’s demands were fulfilled with the incorporation of the Objectives Resolution, although, issues on the basis of religion kept emerging (Malik, 51). However, this continuing variance made one thing absolutely clear; Pakistani politics could not be separated entirely from religion. Furthermore, if any doctrine or ideology was to make its place in Pakistan, it had to be compatible with Islam or else strong opposition would result from the Ulema. Although religious parties have not had a majority in the Parliament historically and the common people may not be practicing Muslims per se, the rhetoric of the Ulema has been instrumental in wooing public opinion of the masses against anyone who threatens the rule or principles of Islam. This is why all governments in Pakistan till today have not parted from Islam rather, have used it as a tool to manipulate the masses and to legitimize their rule. This is why even concepts such as, democracy and electoral politics, were initially under much criticism and leaders such as, Bhutto had to assure the public that they were in no way contradictory to Islamic principles.

When considering Socialism in the context of the Pakistani society, it is essential to view the compatibility between socialist principles and Islam to reach any conclusion. Bhutto himself, in his essay “Political Development in Pakistan”, states that there is no incompatibility between Islam and socialism. He uses Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Allama Iqbal’s vision of Pakistan to justify socialism. He claims that they both dreamt of a country established on Islamic principles with a socialist economy (Grover, 245). The concept of egalitarianism is one of the foremost essentials in an Islamic society. Islam preaches that in the eyes of God all men are equal and a higher status is accorded only to those who are more God-fearing. In this sense, Socialism and Islam are essentially attempting to achieve similar ends. Social equality and justice cannot exist in the presence of economic disparity.  Bhutto, therefore, introduced the concept of “Islamic Socialism”. This implied the development of an egalitarian society on Islamic principles.

However, as astute as Bhutto was, he failed to realize that the comparison of Islam with socialism simply on the rhetoric of egalitarianism is not enough. He could not justify this on philosophical grounds as to how he was comparing an ideology based on materialism with religion which has its foundations on transcendental reality. Perhaps the most fatal blow that socialism suffered was at the hands of the religious circles. Nadeem Farooq Paracha, an eminent writer of the left in Pakistan, views the failure of Islamic Socialism in Pakistan and much of the Arab world because of the clergy. Traditional Islamic scholarship has always viewed socialism to be an anti-religious creed. However, the divergence is simply not on philosophical grounds and the ground realities must not be ignored. Nadeem Paracha points out that much of the clergy, especially those in politics themselves, come from the landed aristocracy which makes them skeptical of socialist policies in the first place. This brand of socialism tried to emphasize those aspects of Islam which are in harmony with modern socialist ideals however; at this they were criticized of wrongly interpreting the holy text. Furthermore, in the case of the Pakistani society issues such as drinking, music, cinema etc, have mostly been disapproved of and the modernist regime of Bhutto was strongly condemned by the ulema (Paracha). Besides this, some religious Ulema were against the policy of land reforms based on their school of thought. Scholars such as Muhammad Taqi Usmani asserted that the ceilings or limitations on land holding, such as the ones proposed through land reforms, had no place in Islam. Also, the state does not possess the right to forcefully acquire land from some party for the purpose of redistribution (Web).

In this discussion, it is also imperative to consider the role of ideology in general. In world politics, hard core ideology cannot sustain if it does not mould itself to the social, political and cultural setup of a society. In his essay “Interaction of Ideology and Strategy in Pakistan’s Domestic Politics”, Khalid Javed Makhdoom explains the problem ideology has to face in opposition of realism and pragmatism (Grover, 528). The PPP claims that Bhutto envisioned a Pakistan in which power was invested in the hands of the masses. He brought to the forefront an ideology that was the voice of the working class, however, political expediency demanded something else. His socialism was the idea of a “mixed economy”. This implied that he could not essentially hurt the big entrepreneurs and could not break their grip of the economy. The measures he could in reality take were not enough to reform the established capitalist system. Therefore, the inefficacy of policies such as nationalization and Land Reform owe to the imbalance between ideology and realism. Bhutto, unfortunately, was unable to attain the right balance and tilted too much towards expediency leaving ideology in the background.

Purely socialist oratory and ideals, to break away from the “Jagirdari” system in Pakistan, had to be put in accordance to the social and political setup of the country. It was not plausible to raise slogans of socialism and implement those policies in a country where funding for the election campaign comes from big landlords and industrialists. Moreover, the majority of the vote bank resides in rural areas where voting decisions are decided by the tribal chiefs or the bigger landlords (Sayeed, 46). Sayeed points out that in viewing the structure of the PPP at the time of Bhutto, it was visible that the upper positions were occupied by those belonging to the upper middle strata, however, a large number of active workers were industrial laborers, small shop owners and workers. Relations between the upper and lower levels of leadership weakened and more and more workers belonging to the peasantry and the working classes began to leave the PPP.

When Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s daughter, Benazir, came to power in 1988, she had to face entirely different political realities. She came to the forefront after Pakistan had been ruled by an army dictator for several years. It was imperative for her to deal with the new issues at hand such as relations with the US and the military (Grover, 447). She could not afford to sustain the concept of socialism at that point in time when communism was declining throughout the world. For many analysts, the decline of the socialist ideology was apparent when the USSR fell in 1991. As US had emerged as the victor from the cold war, it was essential for Benazir to look towards maintaining cordial relations with it. Hailing from a modern upper class family and being exposed to secular Western education, she became the target of much criticism by the Ulema and religious circles (Malik, 162). Pakistan had been exposed to Islamization policies for a while now and Benazir thought it in her best interest to adopt practices such as the “chaddar” and “Tasbih” to appease the religious faction. Upon assuming power, she made the deep-seated decision of pursuing a capitalist system for Pakistan, keeping in view the global context. She disregarded much of the socialist ideas without providing solid reasons (Shafqat, 658). During both her tenures, Benazir stayed far from nationalization policies, in fact in 1990 she ordered privatization of around 14 units. In her second tenure, the private sector even went as far as entering railway, telecommunication, energy and transport (Bhowmik, 931). This was a move much in contrast to socialist agenda of arguing for important industries such as these, which are essentially the backbone of an economy to be under state control.

After the death of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, PPP split into many factions. Benazir had to deal with the issue of keeping the party together and to continue the struggle for democracy. Professor Khalid Mahmud sheds light on these splits and describes them as the confedralists, the leftists and the pro party establishment group (Mahmud, 144). It is evident that in the wake of Islamization policies, Benazir looked for support in the Western and particularly US block to rally and legitimize support. She now considered the US to be her constituency for gathering support and coming to power. However, this move of hers was strongly criticized by the leftist factions in PPP. To their disappointment, it was obvious that she had abandoned the path of “anti imperialist” policies unlike her father, but much like him she also preferred the politics of expediency, although with regards to different issues. Moreover, eminent names in the party such as Mumtaz Bhutto and Hafeez Pirzada who had also been close associates of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had split ways with the mainstream PPP leadership. This perplexed the leftist circles even more and created more controversy about Benazir’s ability to lead her party through the turmoil (Mahmud, 145). Maliha Lodhi, who has enjoyed an illustrious career in Pakistan’s Foreign Service, also analyzes this aspect of Benazir’s leadership in her article “25 years of the PPP”. It was Benazir who shifted the focus of the party from socialism to social democracy. Although the outburst of socialism had by the 1990s diminished to a great extent, however, the PPP is still known among the common man as the party that forwards the upward mobility of the oppressed classes (Lodhi, 311).

Pakistan’s strategic location has turned out to be quite unlucky for it. Due to this fact, Pakistan has remained in the eyes of superpowers such as the USA and the USSR. During the cold war years, it was in USSR’s interest to ally with Pakistan and underdeveloped countries would always prove easier grounds for the propagation of socialist ideologies. Although Pakistan never became an outright ally of the USSR, it has in fact, throughout most of history, remained loyal to the US. Rampant corruption and disrespect for merit, lack of envisioned leadership and institutional imbalance has been Pakistan’s plight. Unfortunately, Pakistani leadership has always looked towards the West to legitimize its rule rather than its own masses. This is to a great extent owed to the reality that colonialism might have ended but imperialism has not. Pakistan has remained dependant economically on the US especially. The strategic location as regards to India and the two major wars that Pakistan had experienced always left Pakistan dependent on the US, either for arms or other forms of foreign aid. Be it the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan or the September 11th attacks, US has always used Pakistan for its own interests. This realization has created a lot of anti-American sentiment, not only in the masses but also among the intellectual circles of Pakistan. Hamid H. Kazilbash, in “Anti Americanism in Pakistan”, sheds light on the aspect of American control over Pakistani politics. In fact, it is assumed by the masses to a great extent that the fate of leadership and rule is in the hands of the White House (Kazilbash, 62). It is pertinent for parties to take notice of this important fact. The US has been responsible for mentoring authoritarian dictatorships in Pakistan such as that of President Zia-ul-Haq. Therefore, when Benazir Bhutto had to assume power it was impossible for her to ignore this colossal influence that US exercised. Taking an anti imperialist stance like her father was not what the situation demanded of her.

Considering the case of the Pakistan People’s Party, it can be deduced that Z.A Bhutto’s socialist policies fell prey to the institutional imbalance between the bureaucracy and the politicians, most of whom hailed from the aristocracy and who never let national interest take precedence over vested interest. Moreover, Maliha Lodhi sheds light on an altogether different aspect of Z.A Bhutto’s case. She points towards the fact the political circumstances at the time that Bhutto ran for elections were ripe for a socialist change. Ayub Khan’s authoritarian rule had lead to the accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few big families and economic disparity was unbridled. In such a situation, Bhutto strung the right chord by raising the slogan of “rotti kapra makan” and showing them the dream of a classless and just society (Lodhi, 311). Therefore, in this respect his commitment to ideology can be viewed with some skepticism. Benazir Bhutto inherited more complex circumstances, in which she not only had to legitimize her position, but also look to keeping the party together. She saw the United States as her savior and so joined the line of many of the opportunistic and power driven politicians of Pakistan.

Supporters of the Pakistan People’s Party today contend that although they now look towards being a social democracy, the party does retain much of its original character of being a voice for the downtrodden masses. This argument can be viewed by looking at the party’s 2008 manifesto. Claims such as provision of education, healthcare and sanitation are much similar to their initial claims and are much like the claims of most socialist parties. Due to the change in global politics and the world scenario today, it is quite unthinkable to adopt policies such as nationalization and land reform. This also partly owed to the fact that once these policies encountered failure in the 1970s, people are unlikely to restore their faith in them again unless or until they are assured  of their success in the form of determined and willful leadership. M.B Naqvi in his article “PPP: The party continues” puts forth the fact that now no matter  what ideology a party adopts in its manifesto, it is of no use to the common man whose economic position does not depend on promises but on what action a party takes on assuming power (Grover, 459).

Furthermore, when considering ground realities, many supporters of the party today argue that socialist ideologies have now become part of history especially after the fall of the USSR. Pakistan is now beset with new problems such as terrorism, although economic tribulations remain. In such circumstances, the party has to look towards stabilizing Pakistan’s image in the Western world and to fight stereotyped conceptions of Pakistan portrayed in the Western media. Moreover, it is also claimed that the essential nature of socialist policies or the ends that they try to achieve as regards bringing economic equality are still dear to the PPP. This is manifested in their initiatives such as The Benazir Income Support Program. This program aims at providing income to 40 % of the families living below the poverty line (BISP).

The implementation of socialist policies, especially in a country like Pakistan, requires headstrong leadership and revolutionary change. Rejecting imperialism is no easy task for the leadership of any third world country. Although socialism, unlike hardcore Marxism, does not rely as much on revolution, reform in the case of Pakistan could not work because of the socio-economic realities. Z.A. Bhutto, however, can perhaps hold claim to the revolutionary task of enlightening the masses about their status. It was the first time in the history of Pakistan that some leader belonging to the upper stratum of society stood up and made them realize the exploitation and oppression they were subject to. Although Bhutto was possibly the only leader in Pakistan to have experienced such ground swelling, his effort of reforming from within the existing framework failed terribly. Moreover, Pakistan’s legacy is unfortunate in this respect that politics of expediency end up taking precedence over any ideology or vision and PPP’s shift from being a party for change to a party supporting status quo is very much owed to this reality. 

Written By: Chanel Khaliq

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