Pakistan: Refusing to break with feudal traditions

By Farooq Tariq
December 31, 2007 -- The appointment of Benazir Bhutto's son, 19-year-old Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, as the new chair of the Pakistan Peoples Party is an attempt to keep the feudal traditions of politics alive in South Asia. The PPP Central Executive Committee unanimously approved the appointment of Bilawal Asif Zardari at its December 30 meeting at Nuedero Sind.

According to Benazir Bhutto's will, read out in the meeting, Asif Zardari, her husband, was to be appointed as PPP chair in her absence. However, Asif Zardari suggested his son as the new chair.

A student of Oxford University, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is the eldest, and only, son of Benazir Bhutto's three children. Born in Pakistan, he never has not lived here since he went to school. Asif Zardai will be the PPP's co-chair. Thus the PPP is effectively again under the Bhutto family's total control.

The PPP leadership has retained the same feudal traditions over the last 40 years of existence. After Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was hanged on 4 July 1979, his wife, Begum Nusrat Bhutto, took over. When Begum Bhutto wanted her son, Murtaza Bhutto, to take over in 1996, she was deposed by Benazir Bhutto, who became the life-long PPP chair. In September 1996, while Benazir Bhutto was still prime minister, Murtaza Bhutto was killed in a police encounter. Benazir Bhutto lost power a month later.

Rejecting the government's version of Benazir Bhutto's assassination, the PPP Executive Committee Meeting also decided to take part in the general election of January 8, 2008. This decision was reached despite a massive movement against the General Musharraf's military dictatorship. All over Pakistan, hundreds of thousands have demonstrated against the regime and all the banners and flags of the ruling Muslim League were torn apart. The movement forced the Muslim League (supporting Musharraf) into hiding.

At this moment, had the PPP leadership announced a boycott of the general election and launched a movement to overthrow the military dictatorship the regime would have been forced to resign. Instead, the PPP leadership played on the massive sympathy to build itself through the elections to be held under the Musharraf regime. With this decision, the PPP leadership has let slip a precious moment in history, when a powerful mass movement could have gotten rid of the military's intervention.

With the appointment of Bilwal Bhutto, the PPP leadership refused to break with feudal tradition. It has retained the undemocratic tradition of a few families controlling politics. The hereditary hegemony of politics has been preserved, thus strengthening feudalism.

[Farooq Tariq is spokesperson for the Labour Party Pakistan. Email Visit or]