Pakistan People’s party and the context of Pakistani politics 1992


Nature of the PPP

At the time of its founding in 1967, the PPP sought to distance itself from the Pakistani political scene, characterized by the “essentially ‘personality-oriented’ makeup of parties, in which personal allegiances dominate political life to the detriment of political programs and ideological affiliations”.

The PPP defined itself then as an “Islamic socialist” party, whose objective was to serve the needs of simple workers and peasants. The party’s founder, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, upon his election in 1970 tried to introduce a series of social and economic reforms, but he quickly abandoned the party’s socialist program to serve the interests of large landowners. During the 1988 election campaign, the PPP adopted a centrist position like the opposing coalition, the Islamic Democratic Alliance (IDA) .

Major problems, such as personality conflicts, mutual jealousies, organizational weaknesses and “ideological incongruities,” always emerge within the PPP. Alliances have become fluid and party programs are no longer established to fit a clearly defined plan for society. Under Benazir Bhutto’s government, decisions about Mohajirs in Sindh, for example, “were primarily dictated by fear of losing support from rural ridings influenced by Sindhi nationalist groups”.


Like its chief rival, the Muslim League (ML), a member of the IDA [Islamic Democratic Alliance] and the party of Pakistan’s founder Mohamed Ali Jinnah, the PPP is in theory a multiethnic national political party. It is hard, however, to depict a typical PPP supporter at the local level, since the party embraces a variety of social, professional, ethnic and religious groups. In the days of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, for example, PPP supporters might be rural leftists or urban progressives. In the 1980s, the PPP leadership consisted largely of big landowners, while most members at the local level were urban workers. Today, the PPP is supported by many workers, and the party is financed mainly by members’ donations. Like other parties in Pakistan, the PPP has a certain number of opportunists, but usually, only a limited number of people join or leave the party just because it has won or lost power.

According to at least two Pakistani experts, there are no current reliable statistics on the number of members in the PPP. Recent lists contain names of supposed members who have subsequently switched their allegiance. Moreover, many PPP workers or sympathizers at the local level are not recognized by the party itself as official members. Authorities may still connect them with the PPP and treat them as party members, even without evidence. Generally, a person’s affiliation with a political party is simply known to his or her community rather than recorded on official lists.

Although it is difficult to obtain the number of members in the PPP, the percentage of votes in elections should yield some indication of the party’s popularity. In the November 1988 elections following the death of General Mohamed Zia-ul-Haq, the PPP won 38.7 percent of the national vote, some 8 percent more than its rival, the ML, which won 30.6 percent at the national level. In October 1990, the People’s Democratic Alliance (PDA), of which the PPP is a member, maintained its electoral support, winning 36.7 percent of the vote in Pakistan, less than one percentage point below the IDA at 36.7 percent (Khan Feb. 1992, 198). Despite its slender lead, the IDA was able to form a majority government with 105 seats in the National Assembly compared to only 45 for the PDA.

Internal Structure

The Party’s leaders and local representatives are appointed by the PPP’s co-presidents, Benazir Bhutto and her mother Nusrat, on the basis of their loyalty to the Party or to the Bhutto family. Most often, these politicians have little other political weight of their own. In its twenty-five years of existence, the PPP has never held an election to fill party positions because of the absolute control exercised by the co-presidents and the Central Executive Committee. Members of provincial executive committees, PPP representatives in major cities such as Lahore and Karachi, and members of the Central Executive Committee are appointed directly by Benazir Bhutto. According to an oral source close to the PPP, there is a major conflict within the Party in Lahore, where senior politicians manipulate ordinary members to serve their own interests. The Party’s local offices in Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi are open permanently, unlike the other local offices, which only operate during elections.

Provincial Characteristics

The PPP and the Bhutto family in particular exercise great influence in Sindh Province. Most of the PPP’s support comes from the landowning elite and rural Sindh.

In Punjab, family ties and tribal and caste affiliations (biradari) determine the support given to political parties. The ML has more influence than the PPP through baradari . During the 1988 and 1990 elections, the PPP lost many votes in Punjab, although in 1970 Punjabis had given it enough support to win two-thirds of the Punjab seats in the National Assembly and a comparable majority in the Provincial Assembly. In the 1988 elections to the National Assembly, however, the PPP still obtained nearly 40 percent of the votes from Punjab .

In the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), the PPP came second to the IDA with 23 percent of the vote in the 1988 national elections. Appealing to clan affiliations, the PPP draws some support from Pathans in the central parts of the NWFP, although usually not among voters living along the Indus River and the border with the Punjab .

In 1988, the IDA won 21 percent of the vote in Baluchistan, while the PPP won only 7 percent. Many Baluchis remember the destruction of their nationalist movement and the abolition of their traditional system of government (sardari) in the 1970s by the PPP government . However, the PPP now has four members in Baluchistan’s Provincial Assembly, and it was able to join the coalition in power in that province .


In August 1990, Benazir Bhutto was relieved of her duties as Prime Minister. President Khan announced the unilateral dissolution of the national and provincial legislative assemblies and called elections for October 1990. According to the PDA, these elections were marred by fraud. Many members were intimidated and some were prevented from voting in certain ridings.

President Khan cited corruption and nepotism in dissolving Benazir Bhutto’s government. During their two years in power, Bhutto’s associates acquired a reputation for corruption, not uncommon among Pakistani politicians of various parties. Many of Bhutto’s associates have since been the subject of legal proceedings.

Judicial Organization

Pakistan’s judicial apparatus consists primarily of three parallel court systems (civil, religious and special courts), whose main weaknesses are slow proceedings, corruption among judges, and flagrant understaffing. Some even claim that the judicial system has become politicized. This problem dates back to the 1970s, when Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto encouraged hiring of his followers by the public administration. The judicial process is particularly harsh for those who have no protection, who are too poor to pay for a lawyer or who have no political contacts .

Shortly after Benazir Bhutto was stripped of power, Pakistan’s President Ghulam Ishaq Khan set up a number of special courts to investigate corruption in the PPP government. Three types of special courts were set up at that time: special courts for speedy trial, having provincial jurisdiction and able to restrict appeals, courts to punish misconduct, introducing the presumption of guilt, and courts of disqualification with power to exclude elected officials from public positions, even in absentia (ibid). Other special courts were also set up under the Suppression of Terrorist Activities Act (amended in 1990), which allows accused persons to be denied bail or convicted in absentia if their conduct during the trial is found to be at fault (ibid). In July 1991, the National Assembly passed the twelfth constitutional amendment enabling the creation of special courts for speedy trial. These courts began to be used against PPP members shortly after their creation in August 1991 (ibid, 5). In May 1992, the National Assembly passed a new Special Courts for Speedy Trial Act. The parliamentary opposition voted against this Act, calling it “unnecessary, unislamic and discriminatory”.

Over the past two years, PPP members have been arrested, often for corruption or open opposition to the new government, under the Maintenance of Public Order Ordinance (1960), the Suppression of Terrorist Activities Act (1975), the Parliament and Provincial Assemblies (Disqualification for Membership) Rules of 1990 or the Prevention of Anti-National Activities Act (1974). The Maintenance of Public Order Ordinance allows anyone suspected of acting “in a manner prejudicial to public safety or the preservation of public order” to be held without trial for up to three months. The 1975 Suppression of Terrorist Activities Act (special courts) gives federal and provincial governments the right to exercise exclusive jurisdiction over offences committed by “political prisoners”. According to the Parliamentary and Provincial Assemblies Disqualification Regulations of 1990, based on a 1977 Act, those convicted of “misconduct” may be denied the right to hold public office or stand for election for a period of seven years .

General Situation

A PPP spokesperson denounced the threats and intimidation used against Party candidates in the January 1991 by-elections and the arrest of members, the dismissal of public servants recruited under Benazir Bhutto’s government and the blockage of industrial projects approved under the former government. On 27 March 1991, hijackers accused by the government of being connected with the PPP tried to seize a plane, demanding the release of Party members. Benazir Bhutto responded by accusing the government of intimidating, abducting and torturing members of her Party: five of her MPs had been subjected to this abuse in Sindh. Ms Bhutto and her Party then boycotted the National Assembly.

In August 1991, Benazir Bhutto and some of her associates staged a hunger strike in front of Parliament in Islamabad in protest against the establishment of new special courts for speedy trial of thousands of sympathizers. These courts were frequently used to bring PPP members to trial, especially in Sindh . The hunger strike, instead of encouraging the government to release PPP political prisoners, led to the arrest of more Party sympathizers (ibid). In November 1991, a friend of Benazir Bhutto, Farhana (Veena) Hayat, suffered a gang rape apparently organized by the police and Irfanullah Marwat, President Ghulam Ishaq Khan’s son-in-law. During the offence, she was interrogated about PPP members and their activities. In December 1991, the PPP brought together all the opposition parties to demand the government’s resignation and fresh elections .

Periodic arrests of PPP members and abuses of the judicial system against them continued in the first half of 1992, especially following the passage of a new bill officially sanctioning special courts. In August 1992, the Minister of Religious Affairs, Abdul Sattar Khan Niazi, declared that Benazir Bhutto was an “infidel to Islam” (a serious accusation in a country such as Pakistan) and encouraged people to kill her and other members of the opposition. In October 1992, the political atmosphere in Pakistan deteriorated gravely after Benazir Bhutto announced that she would lead a “long march” to demand the resignation of Nawaz Sharif.



The province of Sindh, bastion of the PPP, has the most arrests of Party members, the most prosecutions of members and other forms of abuse. This situation has prevailed since the fall of the government, and is especially marked in rural parts of the province . Several sources report that both Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the Governor of Sindh, Jam Sadiq Ali, who died in March 1992, fiercely opposed the PPP and together they led a campaign to “eliminate” the Party’s political base . “Victims” of judicial system abuses, arrests and even political assassinations in Sindh “usually had links with the PPP” . One oral source reported that maltreatment of PPP members or local sympathizers, although sanctioned by provincial and federal authorities, was also perpetrated by individuals seeking vengeance against Benazir Bhutto’s party .

In August 1990, a wave of arrests struck PPP members, and during a visit by the Fédération international des droits de l’Homme (FIDH) in May 1991, the number of detainees was still in the hundreds . According to police sources, nearly 750 people were arrested in the days following the assassination of judge Nabi Sher Junejo on 18 June 1991. He was responsible for the proceedings against Benazir Bhutto’s husband . Governor Jam Sadiq Ali attributed this crime to the People’s Student Federation (PSF), a pro-PPP group . A July 1991 report by Pakistan’s Crime Investigation Agency (CIA) stated that police had arrested 963 people in Karachi over the preceding six months; the majority of those named in the report were known PSF members . Scarcely a month after new special courts were set up in July 1991, Nawaz Sharif’s government had already arrested over 1,000 alleged terrorists, “most of them Benazir Bhutto’s party workers”, in the district of Sindh alone. Demonstrations held in Sindh to coincide with Benazir Bhutto’s hunger strike led to several hundred arrests according to the opposition . Later, in August 1991, the murder in Karachi of a police officer investigating the case of Benazir Bhutto’s husband led to the arrest of over 30 PPP activists . In November 1991, Benazir Bhutto called a general strike to protest the arrest of 2,000 PPP members (318 according to the government .

After the death of Jam Sadiq Ali in March 1992, the new governor, Syed Muzaffar Hussain Shah, promised not to continue the “repression” of the PPP practised by his predecessor. No major change, however, seems to have occurred in authorities’ attitude toward PPP members. Since then, the federal government and the provincial government of Sindh have not hesitated to accuse PPP members of belonging to the Al-Zulfiqar Organization (AZO), an armed group founded in the 1980s by Benazir Bhutto’s brothers to fight General Zia, but dismantled in 1988 when the PPP returned to power . The presumed link between the PPP and the AZO is still used to arrest Party members under anti-terrorist legislation. According to sources consulted, the AZO has ceased to operate but the government still invokes its name to fuel its propaganda against the opposition .

Shortly after the Governor of Sindh was replaced in March 1992, police arrested 48 people in the district of Lyari in Karachi, where the PPP is dominant, in connection with the murder of the head of the union division of the Mohajir Qaumi Mahaz (MQM, the political party representing the community of former refugees from India, the Mohajirs) and a prominent member of the IDA . In May 1992, between 400 and 3,000 PPP and PSF workers were arrested in Sindh in a four-day crackdown on the supposed AZO . The border with Baluchistan was closed then and some 300 people were unable to leave Sindh. This crackdown followed clashes between Pakistan’s naval forces and presumed AZO members returning from a training camp in India, according to the government . During a demonstration organized by the opposition to protest these arrests, the PPP also made allegations of fraud during by-elections in Sindh and gang rape of certain women members of the Party in the district of Sanghar .

In June 1992, the Pakistani army launched Operation Blue Fox, whose objective was to arrest “bandits and terrorists” in the province of Sindh . The army was sent into Karachi, Hyderabad and other cities and into rural areas to restore law and order; troops proceeded to dismantle the MQM and arrested members of other parties implicated in political violence . In July 1992, on the eve of a demonstration called by the PPP, authorities prohibited demonstrations and political rallies in Sindh, and prevented local politicians from travelling abroad . The army promised to be impartial in the conflict between the MQM, the PPP, Sindhi nationalist groups and Pathan and Baluchi organizations in Sindh, and stated that its sole aim was to punish “bandits” . To prove the impartiality of the security forces, the provincial government dismissed or transferred dozens of police officers in Karachi and the Sindh countryside in Operation Clean-up . The presidential order of 19 July 1992, however, gave members of the armed forces immunity from any civil or criminal liability in this operation. Pakistan’s Minister of the Interior, Chaudhary Shujat Hussain, asserted firmly on 6 October 1992 that the army would not withdraw from Sindh until the rule of law was restored. Despite the army occupation of Sindh, the PPP remains legal throughout the country.


The situation of PPP members appears to have been less difficult in the Punjab than in the province of Sindh . There too, however, the PPP has suffered repercussions from the fall of Benazir Bhutto’s government. For example, Pakistan’s official press agency itself announced in May 1991 that a local leader of the PPP was tortured to death by the police in Chak Jhumra in Punjab . Over the past two years, however, the PPP has been able to conduct its political activities freely and organize some rallies and demonstrations in the province, as was done in Faisalabad in July 1991, in Multan and Lahore in August 1991, throughout the Punjab in September 1991, in Islamabad in December 1991, in Chakwal in May 1992, in Rawalpindi and Lahore in July 1992 and in Okara on 27 October 1992 . Nevertheless, the armed intervention in Sindh in June 1992 had repercussions in the Punjab, where rallies were prohibited in several cities and one of Benazir Bhutto’s former ministers together with certain provincial PPP leaders were imprisoned for attempting to organize an illegal demonstration .

The situation changed in November 1992 with the “long march” organized by Benazir Bhutto right across the country, during which several PPP members and marchers were arrested. The largest number of arrests occurred in Rawalpindi and Islamabad, two of the Punjab’s major cities, and at both ends of the march route. On 16 November 1992, police raided PPP offices in Islamabad to prevent the demonstration from taking place .

 Baluchistan, North West Frontier Province and Kashmir

Information about PPP members in Baluchistan, the NWFP and Kashmir is growing scarcer. In Baluchistan, only one significant event involving PPP members was reported before the November 1992 demonstrations. In May 1992, a PPP local official was killed during clashes between Baluchis and Pathans in Baluchistan. In addition, demonstrations were organized by the PDA in July 1992 in every province except Sindh, and many demonstrators were arrested during these events .The dissolution of the Provincial Assembly of the NWFP in 1990 was ruled unconstitutional by the High Court. One of the judges, who had denounced the unilateral action by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, was asked to give up his position (International Commission of Jurists 1991, 81). The High Court’s decision was not respected and fresh elections were called in the NWFP as elsewhere in the country in October 1990. The following year, a PDA member, the head of the Tehrik-i-Nifaz-i-Fiqah-i-Jafria, was banned from staying in the NWFP, where he was scheduled to speak at a major political meeting of the PPP . At least two opposition demonstrations were held without any incident being reported: following the Veena Hayat affair, peaceful demonstrations were held by the PPP in Peshawar in December 1991, and a mass rally was organized in Swabi in the NWFP in October 1992 .In Kashmir, following the June 1991 elections which the opposition considered fraudulent, the PPP government of Mumtaz Hussein Rathore was dissolved and the Premier of Kashmir was arrested and taken to Islamabad. Mr Rathore was the last PPP leader still in office after Benazir Bhutto’s government had been dissolved. In February 1992, during the march organized by the Jammu-Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) with the aim of crossing the border with India and reuniting the two parts (Indian and Pakistani) of Kashmir, the PPP wing in Kashmir neither approved nor disapproved the demonstration. In August 1992, the Kashmiri Premier formally notified Benazir Bhutto that she would be welcome in Kashmir but should not organize antigovernment demonstrations there .

Benazir Bhutto announced national demonstration

Benazir Bhutto announced a pan-national demonstration for 18 November 1992, the “long march” between the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad, to call for the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif . She called on her sympathizers from all over the country to travel to the capital to demonstrate against the government. To prevent the banned demonstration from taking place, authorities tried to block convoys of PDA sympathizers en route to the capital by arresting thousands of people (at least 2,000 in the Punjab alone), intercepting entire caravans, notably in Quetta, subjecting travellers to road checks, cancelling bus services for a few days, putting up barbed wire on access roads to the capital and even going so far as to blow up bridges on the outskirts of Islamabad. In addition to regular police forces assigned to Islamabad (5,000 officers), Nawaz Sharif called in 5,500 police officers from the forces of other cities in the Punjab, 4,000 Rangers (border police) and two army battalions as reinforcements . Meetings of over five people were prohibited in Rawalpindi and Islamabad . Police raided the PPP head office in Islamabad, where they claimed to have found combat arms (lathis); Benazir Bhutto, on the other hand, maintained that these objects were only flagstaffs . She and several thousand of her supporters nonetheless managed to start the demonstration, but police fired on the crowd and used tear gas to disperse the thousands of demonstrators. Some were beaten and others seriously injured. In addition to the disturbances in the capital and Rawalpindi, clashes occurred in Peshawar between PDA demonstrators and police, a demonstration in Lahore was broken up and PPP members were arrested in the Baluchi capital of Quetta. Following the demonstration, police also arrested eleven members of the Human Rights Commission, a Pakistani paragovernmental organization, who were attempting to investigate the events and PSF members who continued demonstrating despite the ban . In late November 1992, the government announced the release of some 2,000 people who had been detained since these incidents, but the number of demonstrators still in prison remains unknown. In January 1993, the press was still not reporting any number of detentions of political prisoners.

Arrested on 18 November 1992, Benazir Bhutto was sent to her home in Karachi and banned from visiting Islamabad, Rawalpindi and the entire NWFP for a period of 30 days . Reports at first indicated that her home in Karachi had officially been designated a “provincial prison”, although the government denied this. In any event, she was able to leave it on 21 November to cross the country by train (but avoiding the cities she had been banned from entering) within the framework of her campaign designed to overthrow Nawaz Sharif’s government. In response to Benazir Bhutto’s statements, opposition sympathizers took the provincial parliament in Lahore by storm on 5 December 1992, breaking down the gate of the building and burning the doors. Police managed to control the crowd by throwing tear gas at it .


Pakistan’s judicial organization consists of different levels, from civil courts to the Supreme Court, which are mainly interconnected by its appeal system. Some verdicts can be pronounced by a district court, but “must be confirmed by a High Court, even if the convict has not appealed”. If the conviction is upheld, the convict “may appeal to the Supreme Court, but must do so within seven days”; the Supreme Court may, however, decide not to review the case . These brief appeal periods injured some PPP members detained in 1991 and 1992 in the province of Sindh who were not released by police in time to appeal their verdicts .

It is hard to determine whether co-ordination between the federal and provincial judicial systems is effective enough to make any alternative of internal flight impossible. In a recent report, Amnesty International cites the case of a former provincial member of parliament in Sindh who went into exile outside that province but still in Pakistan in order to avoid the repeated arrests he had suffered (June 1992, 13). In a recent telephone conversation, however, a researcher with the Asia Office of Amnesty International in London stated that the member had since returned to Sindh and his trial was still in progress . According to several oral sources, it is generally impossible to flee Pakistani justice, despite its periodic ineffectiveness, mainly because of the fact that the provincial and federal governments have been under the control of the IDA since 1990. If the justice system searches for someone actively enough and an arrest warrant is issued, the accused is liable to be arrested anywhere in the country. Conditions may, however, vary from case to case . The only way to escape justice at all would be to stay underground .

As for the police, they are fairly ineffective as a general rule, but they can become a powerful weapon in searching for a person, especially in Sindh and the Punjab. Information sharing systems do exist, even though they are not computerized; for example, the district commissioner is usually in regular contact with local stations. Moreover, a person can legally be arrested and extradited from one province to another to be brought to justice, for arrest warrants are valid outside the province where they were issued .

In December 1992, the opposition continued its demonstrations, denouncing the corruption of Nawaz Sharif’s government and calling for his resignation. The political confrontation between the government and the opposition thus seems to be continuing. Although a number of PPP members have been arrested over the past two years, the situation became somewhat more stable in 1992.


  • CIA Crime Investigation Agency
  • IDA Islamic Democratic Alliance [in Urdu, Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI)], consisting of the Muslim League, Nawaz Sharif’s main faction, the JI until September 1992 and the MQM until July 1992
  • ISI Inter-Service-Intelligence
  • JI Jamat-i-Islami
  • JKLF Jammu-Kashmir Liberation Front
  • ML Muslim League
  • MQM Mohajir Qaumi Mahaz (National Refugees’ Movement)
  • NWFP North West Frontier Province
  • PDA People’s Democratic Alliance, consisting of the PPP, the Tahrik-e-Istaqlal, the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Fiqah-e-Jafria, and the Malik Qasim faction of the Muslim League
  • PPP Pakistan People’s Party
  • PSF People’s Students Federation


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