Was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto a Socialist?

Asad Butt & Kamran Asdar Ali

Was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto a Socialist?

Communism in Pakistan a book by Professor Kamran Asdar Ali, a professor of Anthropology and Asian Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, and a celebrated author with research interests in political economy and post-colonialism is a first dive into the rise and fall of the Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP), from Partition in 1947 to the aftermath of Bangladeshi independence in 1971. 

In his book, Professor Ali explains that Pakistan has experienced three military takeovers and is plagued with geopolitical conflict - from Kashmir to Baluchistan, Waziristan - and therefore, in order to understand the complexities of these events, it is vital to understand the state's relationship throughout history with its divergent political and ethnic voices. Shedding light on a vital and little-researched aspect of Pakistani history, this book shows that military coups, Islamic radicalization and terrorist activities do not constitute the sum total of Pakistan's history; that it, too, has had a history that included the activities of communist intellectuals and activists. 

To discuss the changing ideological and political structures within Pakistan, New Wave Global’s correspondant Asad Ejaz Butt interviewed the author of Communism in Pakistan, Professor Kamran Asdar Ali. 

Asad Ejaz navigates the talk through a historical analysis of the success of Pakistan’s five year plan in the 60’s and raises questions about whether Pakistan’s eventual shift toward socialism was a consequence of regional pressure. 

Kamran Asdar Ali begins the conversation by explaining that his interest in writing his book stemmed from a desire to revive the often sidelined events of Pakistan’s history. He expresses that the silencing of groups like the communists and feminists is a common phenomenon to occur when there is state-led narrative building- as is the case in Pakistan. 

“Not only was Pakistan’s military establishment historically playing the role of keeping the labor in check, but it was also forcing unity between the different peoples and groups in Pakistan” - Kamran Asdar Ali 

When asked by Ejaz Butt whether he thinks that Pakistan has an inherent disposition against communism owing to the realities of its partition from the Sub-Contient, Kamran Asdar explained that although Pakistan barely inherited any industries, there is not a single model of communist revolution that could help answer the question. The merits of a marxist interpretation of history are also delved into before an exploration of the weak democratic principles that had, in contrast to public opinion, existed even during Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s time is provided.

Moreover, additional themes of Zulfikar Bhutto’s socialist politics and the economic success of the 60’s and 70’s is explored whilst inferences are drawn from India’s communist landscape to better understand the one in Pakistan. 

“The late 60’s saw people like Zulfikar Bhutto flirting with the idea of socialism, even the right was taken about it (socialism) because you could not have a mass based movement without addressing the inequities produced by the system in the 60’s” - Kamran Asdar Ali