You have been campaigning on the ground in Kashmir. How is the sentiment on the ground?
Ans: The response of the people of Kashmir has been overwhelming. Wherever I went during my two trips to Kashmir I found enthusiastic party workers and the public surging forward, displaying an emotion that is rarely witnessed. If free and fair elections are held I am confident the PPP will win hands down.
The Pakistan People’s Party was founded with the Kashmir issue as one of its central themes. The people of Kashmir have not forgotten Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s and the PPP’s unceasing commitment to the Kashmir cause, and it was in full evidence during my trip. Our critics who predict doom and gloom for the PPP should have witnessed the Jalsas in Kotli and other places. Seeing is believing. It is hard to describe in words the emotions of a charged crowd who trekked long distances to come to our jalsas in this sweltering heat.
Traditionally, the political party holding Islamabad has managed a win in Kashmir also. How hopeful are you to break this pattern?
Ans: Yes, it is correct that traditionally the ruling party in Islamabad manages to win the Kashmir elections also. But let me make it clear. If the elections are held without the interference of those who are known for manipulating electoral processes and rigging in elections the PPP will break fresh ground and break this pattern.
The PTI government is claiming the economy is recovering, and claimed the same during the budget session. Do you see it as a political boast or a political challenge?
Ans: I am amazed at the audacity of PTI’s Imran Khan in claiming that the economy is recovering. He reiterated his tall claims about the economy in his post-budget address to the National assembly also. Economic recovery without improving the lot of poor and marginalized is a myth and a charade. If the economy had really recovered, why today poverty, inflation, and unemployment are at record high levels? Why are the poor becoming poorer and the rich richer? Imran gave tax amnesty to the rich but asked the poor to pay the taxes as he did in his last address to the National Assembly. Isn’t it hypocrisy? The farmers have not been given relief in the budget in electricity rate for tube wells nor in the fertilizer DPA.
Imran’s claim of economic recovery is a political boast which has no basis in reality.
4- Punjab, often called the heart of politics in Pakistan, remains weak for PPP in terms of organizational structure. What steps are you taking to strengthen the party there?
5. We are in the process of reorganizing party structures in Punjab as well as in other provinces. But we are doing it gradually and step by step. The provincial structure of the Party in Punjab has already been dissolved, and a body has been set up to reorganize the structure of the provincial chapter through a broad based consultation with all tiers of the Party. The change is intended to give a chance to others also to prove their worth in the Party. Change is the essence of all forward movement in life.
5 – How final is the farewell to PDM?
Ans: The PPP did not leave the PDM. It was the PDM which decided to part ways with the PPP. I cannot say why the PDM chose to do so. It is for them to comment on it. The PPP position was and is clear. If we clamor for supremacy of the Parliament, we cannot and must not abandon the parliamentary platform. We must fight on the platform of the Parliament for its supremacy.
It should not be forgotten that this has been the consistent position of the PPP. In 2014 when the PTI staged 126-day dharna in D Chowk and sought to delegitimize the parliament it was the PPP that announced that it will stand by the government of the day even if it was the government of our political adversary the PML-N. The Prime Minister at the time was almost ready to resign under pressure when the PPP stood up in the parliament and announced to a bewildered House that it will not be a party to anything that delegitimize the parliament and legitimized non democratic forces. By defending the Parliament we defended democracy, not an individual, the Prime Minister of the time Mr. Nawaz Sharif.
Remember also when my mother Shaheed Benazir Bhutto refused to abandon the parliament, even when the party had been given only 17 seats in the National Assembly. When some people approached her to quit the assemblies she refused saying that she would prefer to defend democracy and parliament while remaining inside the parliament rather than outside it. And she proved it. The PPP had a bitter experience of boycotting the 1985 polls. The vacuum in the parliament was filled by a new crop handpicked by General Zia which perverted the Constitution by bringing in the Eighth Amendment and endorsing the military dictator by name in the constitution itself. It could not have happened in a democracy, in a parliament elected by the people. We have learnt lessons from the past and would not like to repeat past mistakes. The nondemocratic forces in the country are waiting in the wings to sneak into the vacuum. The PPP believes that political vacuum should not be allowed in any case.
But this does not mean that we are against the PDM. We will continue to support all opposition political parties in opposing the PTI government both inside and outside the Parliament house.
6 – You are going to Washington DC in July. What shall we expect?
Ans: My visit to Washington this month is a brief private tour during which I will meet Party’s overseas chapter also.
7. Why is Shah Mehmood Qureshi so angry with you?
Ans: I think this question should be addressed to Shah Mehmood Qureshi. I am not angry with him. I only said in the National Assembly how Shah Mehmood was seeking to become the Prime Minister himself instead of Yousuf Raza Gillani. That is a matter of record.
8. When are you expecting general elections in Pakistan?
Ans: We are ready to enter into the electoral contest anytime. Under the constitution, early elections can be called by the government by the Prime Minister dissolving the National Assembly. So it is essentially a judgment call of the prime minister. If and when he decides to hold early elections and if such elections are free and fair, the PPP will be ready for it and hopefully emerge as the single largest party in the parliament.
9. Which parties are closer to you for alliance?
Ans: The PPP has its own distinct character as a party that stands for a genuinely democratic, federal, parliamentary system of government. It would like to retain its character and move forward with all progressive, democratic forces in the country instead of subsuming itself in other parties.
10. Why did you change your mind on turncoats and are allowing them to return to the PPP?
Ans: The PPP has never closed its doors on anyone. Those who left the Party in search of greener pastures and at a difficult time for the party have a lot to explain their conduct. The Party also respects the sentiments of old diehard and committed workers who have stood through thick and rendered great sacrifices for democracy.
Return to the fold of the Party of those who left it is neither a blank check nor automatic. The party will consider case by case all those who left the party but now repent their past actions and wish to return to the party fold. Balance and prudence is the determining factor. There is nothing wrong with it.