Benazir Bhutto is warming to an interesting theme these days. The “social contract” between the state and the people has broken down, she says, so radical reforms in society are needed, including suitable changes in the Constitution.
Among her concerns, she lists the ‘abolition of feudalism’ (“because democracy and feudalism cannot co-exist”), and the establishment of an institutional mechanism for ‘public accountability’ and ‘fair elections’ (based partly on proportional representation). She favours the “egalitarian policies of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto” (“excluding indiscriminate nationalisation”) which necessitate state intervention. She also believes that ‘privatisation’ is “a worthy national goal” but argues that “it should be conducted step by step, without haste and in good faith” (she says this is not the case at the moment).
Ms Bhutto also accepts the fact that she made mistakes when, as Prime Minister, she failed to acknowledge the “plurality of Pakistani society” and foolishly antagonised important sections of society. What we need, she passionately advocated in Lahore recently, “is a liberal, progressive, genuine and dedicated leadership in Pakistan”.
Who would disagree with these grand observations? TFT has been pleading for a new “social contract” since 1988 when Ms Bhutto became PM and opened the floodgates of expectations all over the country. Unfortunately, like her father, she failed to deliver. Instead, like him, she created the perfect opening for a gang of adventurers who will not let go easily.
To be credible now, Ms Bhutto has to go beyond the pale of rhetoric and spell out the “social contract” she would like to implement. She must also tell us how she intends to go about creating the political conditions in which a meaningful beginning on this front can be made.
Regrettably, she has not done her homework. Not one of the many eminent lawyers in her party has sat down to detail the constitutional changes she wants to accomplish and why. The PPP has no ‘position paper’ on how the economy should be run, what sort of policies will mobilise resources, how public expenditures should be pruned, what role market forces can legitimately play, how the social sectors can be enlarged, etc. Nor is the PPP prepared to talk confidently about the real meaning of provincial autonomy (we’re up to here with all this talk of how the PPP is the only ‘national’ party in Pakistan). More significantly, the PPP’s bluster about “ending feudalism” fools no one while Ms Bhutto remains wedded to the feudal lobbies in Punjab and Sindh. Even if we accept the facile argument dished out by the Piplias (‘we weren’t ‘allowed’ to govern’), Ms Bhutto’s ‘team’ in and out of office doesn’t inspire much confidence.
Her political strategy to return to the heady climes of Islamabad has been even more problematic. It is based on exploiting the blunderings of her opponents rather than on the value of her net worth. If President Ishaq had held the elections under an impartial administration 30 days after he booted her out in 1990, she might never have made a rapid comeback as a ‘wronged heroine’. If Mian Nawaz Sharif had run a good government, people would have forgiven the IJI for stealing the election and stayed the full course with him. That she is still a long-term contender for power is thanks mainly to the political bankruptcy of those who currently wield it in Islamabad rather than on the invisible merits of the new “social contract” she is flogging these days. No, this will not suffice, Ms Bhutto.
Furthermore, if the PPP wants to see the back of President Ishaq Khan, it is clearly asking for martial law. And if it wants to get rid of Mian Nawaz Sharif, Ms Bhutto had better make up with the President who intends to be around for longer than most of us would care to imagine. At any rate, whether there is martial law or a ‘national government’ in the months ahead, it is certain that there will be no elections in the foreseeable future which allow Ms Bhutto to make a legitimate bid for power once again.
For Ms Bhutto it is obviously good strategy to opt for a ‘national government’ which gives the PPP some breathing space from the yoke of IJI oppression. Mian Sahib’s relations with the COAS have deteriorated recently. Every months brings a fresh package of blunderings from Islamabad. But all this will not amount to much for the PPP so long as the President remains hostile to its leader.
It is true that President Ishaq has gone out of his way to harm Ms Bhutto. But no legitimate purpose can be served by continuing to focus her wrath on him unless she means to instigate a coup against the system. But if the PPP is genuinely interested in working towards a ‘National government’ in which Ms Bhutto personally will not hog the limelight and which is prepared to consider a new “social contract”, it might be advised to rethink its political strategy afresh.