The Pakistan People’s Party was founded by Berkeleyand Oxford-educated politician and lawyer Zulfikar Bhutto. During the presidency of General Ayub Khan, Bhutto served as a cabinet member and eventually as foreign minister. Ayub went to war with India over Kashmir in 1965, and eventually, with the intervention of the Soviet Union, signed the Tashkent Agreement, which restored prewar boundaries and diplomatic relations between the two countries. Bhutto opposed Ayub’s signing of the Tashkent Agreement, resigned his post, and formed the Pakistan People’s Party in 1967.
The People’s Party championed the causes of socialism and democracy and denounced the Ayub regime as a dictatorship. Bhutto’s countrywide campaign against Ayub also drew support from businessmen, small factory owners, students, and rural dwellers. Under the pressure of mounting public unrest, Ayub resigned in 1969 and handed over power to General Yahya Khan. When elections were held in 1970, the People’s Party captured a majority of votes in West Pakistan, whereas a clear majority was won in East Pakistan by the Awami League of Sheik Mujibur Rahman. While the Awami League promoted greater autonomy for East Pakistan, the People’s Party argued for a strong centralized government. Differences between the two parties, and General Yahya’s inability to play a neutral role in the conflict, led to civil war. In 1971 East Pakistan seceded to become Bangladesh, and the People’s Party formed a government in Pakistan.
In power, the People’s Party stood for the nationalization of industry and education and for land reform. At the same time, Bhutto drafted the country’s fourth constitution, according to which he gave himself the title of prime minister, reduced the president to a figurehead, and granted himself powers that were as broad as those held by the military dictator whom he had opposed. Factionalism within the People’s Party, accusations of preferential politics, a tribal uprising in Baluchistan over the exploitation of local resources such as natural gas, and underrepresentation of Baluchis in the structures of the state undermined Bhutto’s government. The deaths of thousands in the uprising in Baluchistan, oppressive measures taken by Bhutto against political opponents, and accusations of having rigged the elections of 1977 led to a military coup by the army chief of staff General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq.
Bhutto was tried for orchestrating the murder of a political opponent, found guilty, and hanged on April 4, 1979. The leadership of the People’s Party was assumed by his daughter, Benazir Bhutto. After General Zia was killed in a plane crash, rumoured to be sabotage, the People’s Party came to power under Benazir Bhutto in the elections of 1988. However, her government was short-lived, she was arrested, and her government dissolved by Ghulam Ishaq Khan, the president at the time.
The People’s Party next came to power in 1993, but the government was again short-lived; violence between ethnic and linguistic groups erupted frequently in Karachi, the government lost control of the urban center, and a power struggle between Benazir Bhutto and her brother Mir Murtaza Bhutto led to divisions within the party. In 1996, during his sister’s tenure as prime minister, Murtaza Bhutto was shot dead outside his residence in a police encounter. Opposition leaders accused the People’s Party of state terrorism against its political opponents, and the government was dismissed in 1996 again under charges of mismanagement and corruption. Benazir Bhutto continued to head the party in exile and upon her return to Pakistan in 2007. After her assaisination on December 27, her husband and 19-year-old son were appointed party co-chairmen.