What do Isreali Jews, black South Africans, proverbial South Asian mothers-in-law and the PPP, have in common? Do I hear a resounding “Nothing”? Or are there some of you who realise instantly that these ostensibly disparate groups share with one another, an acute sense of victimhood that has become a defining feature of their identity and discourse and the motivation behind their actions. Interestingly, however, whilst for the Israeli Jews, black South Africans and even the South Asian mothers-in-law, this sense of victimhood is based on reality, for the PPP, its existence is largely imaginary.
Let’s examine this more closely: Israeli Jews are inheritors of discrimination as old as Christianity, primarily because the Christians believed that had it not been for the Jews, Christ would not have died on the cross. During the Holocaust years, this discrimination exploded into a full-scale genocide, which only exacerbated Jewish insecurity. The black South Africans had, until very recently, suffered under apartheid, which not only classified society along racial lines but also relegated blacks to its lowest rungs. As for the South Asian mother-in-law, she is a creature brewed in the cauldron of age-old South Asian tradition, which typically allowed women very limited and disguised power, and that too, within the confines of the home.
However, unlike each of these underdogs, the PPP in its early years rode in on the wave of the brilliance and charisma of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and found its way, very quickly, into the halls of power, albeit not before ZAB had served as a minister in a martial law regime and not without further interesting arrangements, which gave ZAB the dubious distinction of being Pakistan’s first Civilian Martial Law Administrator whilst also being its first civilian president. The PPP’s star was once again ascendant under the leadership of Benazir Bhutto who occupied the office of the prime minister twice and has seen yet another resurgence under President Asif Ali Zardari’s present government.
The purpose of recounting the history of the PPP’s glory days rather than bemoaning the tragic deaths of ZAB and Benazir, is not to discount either these losses or the role of the PPP in mobilising democracy at the grass roots in Pakistan. It is rather to question its blanket claims to martyrdom, and to recognise that its path has been as much of expediency and compromise as it may have been of sacrifice. It is also to recall that the PPP’s most recent incarnation has only been made possible due to the NRO, which was in truth, nothing more than a bargain between a military dictator keen to perpetuate his authority and a political party equally eager to return to centre stage.
Despite all this, the sheer stubbornness of the PPP’s response to the Supreme Court’s decision in the contempt proceedings, its determination to make a mockery of the rule of law that it likes to pay lip service to, and its insistence on casting itself in the role of the victim rather than the aggressor, reminds me of the well-established psychological theory, that victims of abuse usually become its worst perpetrators the moment they find themselves in positions of authority. This theory may, in fact, be one underlying explanation of the persecution of the Palestinians at the hands of Israeli Jews, the chauvinism of the predominantly black African National Congress towards South Africa’s minority whites and the treatment of the unwitting daughter-in-law at the hands of the stereotypical mother-in-law.
The only problem in our scenario is, however, that given the PPP’s reality, its assumed victimhood is inappropriate, if not downright absurd. The PPP is not a victim. It is a political party that once stood for principles, which resounded with the people of this country, and that took risks and made expedient compromises to ensure that it remained a player in Pakistan’s political arena. Over time, however, the party appears to have lost its way. Instead of safeguarding the rights of the common man, it now appears to protect the selfish interests of its self-styled leaders, who because they lack the talent or the vision to inspire people — as indeed ZAB had — have decided simply to manipulate and hoodwink them. They may do well to remember, however, that all personas are ultimately shattered and victims are at best pitied, never admired or respected.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 9th, 2012.