Farahnaz Ispahani – PPP: The Hope of a New Pakistan

The following article by Farahnaz Ispahani was originally published by Huffington Post on 1 December 2010.

Farahnaz IspahaniAs we celebrate the 44th founding day of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) today, it is important to remember and retrace the history and the principles of the PPP — its consistent purpose of progressive, responsible and compassionate government. The PPP, which was launched at its founding convention on November 30, 1967, is the only party with demonstrated strength in all of the 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 the values of faith, freedom, fundamental human rights, and a society based on the rule of law and human dignity. From its founder, Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, to the great martyr of democracy Shaheed Benazir Bhutto, to the current co-chairmen of the party, President Asif Ali Zardari and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the party has had an unshakable commitment to parliamentary democracy, accountable government, and democratic civilian oversight of all ministries under the constitution. Some people have talked about change. The PPP has delivered it. Some people have talked about democracy. The leaders of the PPP have lived and died for it.

The PPP encompasses four founding principles: Islam is our Faith; Democracy is our Politics; Social Democracy is our Economy; and All Power to the People. The first principle of the PPP, Islam is our Faith, explains that Islam teaches brotherhood, love and peace. Pakistani’s faith places a responsibility on each citizen to reach out in a spirit of accommodation and tolerance to all religions and sects and to treat people of all faiths with respect, enabling them to enjoy religious freedom and equality before the law. The message of Islam is the message of Peace and are symbolized in the words and verses of great Sufi saints Data Sahib, Shah Abdul Latif of Bhittai, Baba Farid Ganj Shakar and Lal Shahbaz Qalander. 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 11 August 1947. Shaheed Benazir Bhutto spent her last years traveling the world, educating people of all religions and on all continents, that Islam was not the caricature it was painted in the west, but a progressive, tolerant, innovative religion that abhors terrorism and violence, and guarantees social equality. She knew that in the end, she was the Jihadists worst nightmare — an enlightened, liberal woman dedicated to equal opportunity for all Pakistanis. She knew what she was confronting, but she bravely moved forward, teaching her country and the world what courage and dignity and true commitment is all about.

The second principle of the PPP, Democracy is our Politics, emphasizes the PPP’s commitment to freedom and fundamental rights, including freedom from hunger and want, is written in the blood of its martyrs and in the red marks of lashes on the back of its workers. It is written in the suffering and sacrifice of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who faced the gallows refusing to bow before tyranny, defending the human rights of our citizens to the last breath. In every age, including today, the PPP leaders and office bearers have been behind bars, in exile, facing political persecution, defending their Party and its principles at great personal cost to their families and themselves. It is written in the suffering and sacrifice of its leaders the greatest of whom was Quaid e Awam Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, who gave their lives so Pakistan could be truly free.

The third PPP principle, Social Democracy is our Economy, aims at creating a just
and equitable society with equal opportunity for all its citizens. 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, the working classes and the middle classes. These policies, while dedicated to the underprivileged, created conditions that enabled the business and trading classes to compete in the open market and satisfied basic human needs including full employment, national health, universal education, water supply and sanitation. Under Benazir Bhutto’s government 89,000 primary and secondary schools were created; 100,000 women health workers spread out across the country bringing health care to villages that had never seen it before; thousands of villages were electrified for the first time; all political prisoners were freed; labor and student unions were legalized; women were appointed to the Courts for the first time in our nation’s history and allowed to compete in international sports; polio was functionally eradicated. It was a record so distinguished that Pakistan under Benazir was awarded the Gold Medal by the World Health Organization, and declared one of the great emerging economies of the world by the IMF.

The fourth PPP principle, All Power to the People, has taken up the task of safeguarding the liberal, tolerant and enlightened values of the country and has been at the forefront in arresting the trends of extremism with its power of people. It has rendered several sacrifices, the greatest being in the early hours of 19th October 2007 when 170 workers of PPP were martyred and more than 500 injured in a bomb blast during a welcome procession of the party’s chairperson Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, on her return to the country after eight and a half year. These workers, mostly young boys, did not just die trying to protect Benazir Bhutto. They died trying to protect democracy in Pakistan. Three and one-half months later, their sacrifice and the sacrifice of our leader Benazir brought free and fair elections to Pakistan, with a democratic government replacing a decade of military dictatorship.

On this day of our founding, we recall both the triumph and the tragedy of our party’s great history — what we have accomplished and what we have sacrificed. Perhaps our greatest substantive and symbolic achievement occurred during this year, when our party led the National Assembly and the Senate to adopt the 18th amendment, purifying our beloved 1973 constitution from the usurpations of dictators. That fight was led by our President Asif Ali Zardari, through an unprecedented, selfless and principled fight to dilute his own power and in the process restore true democracy to Pakistan.

On this sacred day of remembrance and renewal, we reiterate our commitment to follow in the footsteps of our leaders Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto to build a modern, progressive and democratic Pakistan in which the poor, the downtrodden and the marginalized sections of society including minorities and women live with honor and dignity.

And finally on this day our thoughts are with the assassinated leaders of the Party Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto as well as to the hundreds of martyrs of democracy who gave their lives for the future of our children. As Benazir so poignantly noted:

“It is because of their sweat, blood and tears that the dream of democracy has survived. It is because of them that dictatorship has not been able to talk root in Pakistan”.

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s foundation of the PPP was a setback for the reactionary forces in a country long dominated by the Right. The fight goes on…

Farahnaz Ispahani is a member of the National Assembly of Pakistan and spokesperson for the Pakistan Peoples Party co-chairperson.

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