Socialism in Pakistan

Socialism in Pakistan

The influences of Socialism and socialist movements in Pakistan have been fluctuating and often limited at various times throughout the country's history and at present remain questionable. While capitalism has always held its sway, the prevalence of the socialist ideology has nevertheless continued to be found in a number of instances in Pakistan's political past and prominent personalities. Much of the remaining socialism in Pakistan today accedes to the idea of Islamic socialism, where the state would be run in a socialist set-up consistent with Islamic political principles, while other proponents demand pure socialism.



The struggle of socialism and communist system began in August 1947, shortly after the creation of Pakistan. The Pakistan Socialist Party (PSP) was the only socialist party of her time, and had major base in rural areas of East and West Pakistan. The PSP was a secular and socialist party that had first oppose the idea of Pakistan, and it had found itself politically isolated and with little mass appeal despite its strong base in rural areas. Because of its secular policies, the party was labeled as Kafirs, by her opponents. Furthermore, it found it difficult to compete with the Islamic socialism that Lyakat Ali-Khan, first Prime minister, professed to in 1949.[1] It had around 1200 members and was a member of the Asian Socialist Conference.[2] However, after the Chief Martial Law Administrator General Ayub Khan imposed the first martial law, all political parties were banned in Pakistan in 1958.

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, a renowned socialist democratic, was a major and driving force of introducing socialism in the country. Bhutto was heavily interested in secularism and socialism during his time, and while studying political science, he would later deliver a series of lectures on the viability of socialism in Muslim countries. During his tenure as the President and later as Prime Minister, he pioneered several socialist economic policies.[3] He eradicated the feudal system to a great extent; mass reforms took place in limiting the amount of land that could be owned, with remaining land divisions being allotted to a large chunk of poor farmers; landless tenants could also find increased support in the new programme. Labour rights were upgraded more than ever before; poverty experienced a sharp reduction.

Fundamental rights of the citizen, such as access to adequate health and free education, were brought under a renewed focus. Schools, colleges and universities were nationalized. A large segment of the banking sector, industrial sector (including iron and steel mills), engineering firms, vehicle, food and chemical production industries were also nationalized.[3] The number and strength of trade unions experienced a rise. Rural residents, urban wage earners and landless peasants were to be given ‘material support’ as people of the state.[4]

When Bhutto founded the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in 1966, he declared the PPP's beliefs in a speech as following: "Islam is our faith, democracy is our policy, socialism is our economy. All power to the people."[5] His left-wing, socialistic ideas and his famous slogan of "Roti, Kapra aur Makan" ("food, clothing and shelter") drew mass support and contributed to much of the PPP's popularity.[6] A number of critics, notably the conservatives and hard-line religious leaders, have however blamed Bhutto's socialist policies for slowing down Pakistan's economic progress, owing to poor productivity and high costs.

After the removal of Bhutto, the socialism in the country would met with harsh political opposition from the conservative Pakistan Muslim League and the hard-line religious bloc Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal. General Zia-ul-Haque, Chief Martial Law Administrator (President as well) and Chief of Army Staff, dealt with socialists, communists and the secularists met with harsh political oppression under the General Zia regime. Many of the socialists, marxists, communists, secularists, and the democratic activists were either thrown in jail or went missing in which their records are not yet to be found anywhere. The socialism under Zia regime saw itself struggling with political opponents as well as with military dictatorship. During 1977 until 1988, government cracked down the socialists and were not allowed to took participate in the elections. Despite Benazir Bhutto's democratic regime, the oppression of socialists forces continued and subsequently they had lost public support in the country. In 2002, Pakistan Social Democratic Party but it was short lived. After few months, the party was disbanded in favor of Pakistan People's Party.

Contemporary situation

Notwithstanding the changes which took place during the Bhutto era, the ability of socialism to expand in Pakistan has for most of the time, been restricted and unsuccessful. Hardcore organisations such as the Pakistan Socialist Party have failed to make an impact, especially after the Islamic socialism that Liaquat Ali Khan theoritically professed to in 1949.[7] Pakistan furthermore does not have the required economic capability nor infrastructure which would make it self-reliant and allow socialism to institutionalise.[3] Other contended reasons are opposition by right-wing religious parties, who claim that socialism in any form is not compatible with Muslim norms of ruling the state.

Socialist organisations


  1. ^ Rose 1959, pp. 59–60, 64
  2. ^ Rose 1959, p. 67
  3. ^ a b c Socialism in Pakistan
  4. ^ Trade liberalization and regional disparity in Pakistan by Muhammad Shoaib Butt and Jayatilleke S. Bandara
  5. ^ US Country Studies. "Yahya Khan and Bangladesh" (PHP). Retrieved 7 November 2006. 
  6. ^ 1970 Elections,Pakistan
  7. ^ Rose 1959, pp. 59–60, 64

Further readings

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