“You can imprison a man, but not an idea. You can exile a man, but not an idea. You can kill a man, but not an idea” – Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto 

Today marks a full 50 years of the steadfast determination and indefeasible struggle by what is now Pakistan’s biggest political party – the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). Founded by the visionary Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto on November 30th, 1967, the PPP was born as a vehicle for revolution during a period of immense darkness, to counter a dictatorship that was sucking the lifeblood of our beloved homeland. The Party’s nascence introduced a fusion of socialism and democracy into the system, rooted in guiding the national economy towards a just and equitable society, and thereby becoming a symbol of hope for the masses, where all citizens of the state could finally be afforded equal opportunities.

For half a century now, PPP has been the torch bearer for advancing civic and social reforms. It was the first democratic party to successfully oppose martial law and introduce democratic norms in Pakistan, setting a precedence for others parties to follow. Since its inception, the people of Pakistan have elected the PPP into government five times i.e., 1970, 1977, 1988, 1993 and 2008.

Backed by the progressives, intellectuals, students and labor organizations, PPP rose to power in a short span of time as the party of the ‘common man’ and a voice for the voiceless. It was the first party in the history of the country to be founded on an ideological premise. Under Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the PPP provoked for the first time within the people of Pakistan the realization that they are the true epicenter of power in the country, and introduced the unfortunately still relevant slogan of “Roti, Kapra aur Makaan”.

It is also perhaps the only party in Pakistan which, from the very beginning, has been vigorously supported by people at the grass-root level. The very fabric of the party is interwoven with men and women of all castes, creeds and every conceivable walk of life, and therein lies the true strength of the Party. Through thick and thin, the workers of the PPP have stood alongside its leadership to make the Party the beacon of hope and prosperity that it is today.

The struggles of the movement did not end with Shaheed Bhutto’s untimely judicial murder at the hands of another military dictator; instead, the heavy mantle of leadership was passed on to his daughter, Shaheed Benazir Bhutto. As Shaheed Bhutto aptly put in a birthday letter to his daughter, “What gift can I give you from this cell out of which my hand cannot pass? I give you the hand of the people. What celebration can I hold for you? I give you the celebration of a celebrated memory and a celebrated name”, thereby placing on her young shoulders the weight of his enormous legacy.

And Shaheed Benazir Bhutto rose to the occasion with grace, dignity and strength, undertaking landmark steps for the peace and progress of the country. It was during her governments that for the first time in the history of Pakistan, the press and media were uncensored, and political opponents received due coverage. She introduced multiple initiatives which became the foundation stone for women empowerment, and a template for future generations and governments to follow in the country. These ranged from the induction of women in higher judiciary, to the first ever increase in education, the establishment of the first ever women’s bank, establishment of a separate ministry for Women Affairs, and women police stations. She courageously and successfully fought two military dictators and emerged successful – a feat which is extraordinary, if not unbelievable. The courageous and hallmark steps taken by the first female prime minister of a Muslim country had a long-term positive structural impact on the psyche of a nation where stereotypical gender roles were prevalent. Shaheed Benazir was also the first Pakistani leader one to recognize the threat of violent extremism and terrorism posed to the country, and PPP is only party that openly highlighted its menace.

Unfortunately, Mohtarma’s fearless journey was cut short in the form of her untimely assassination, and the baton was passed on to the now former President Asif Ali Zardari and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. Inarguably, the legacy of the Party lives on within the new leadership - a winning combination of the old and new generations. With President Zardari’s vision and Chairman Bilawal’s youthful leadership, the country can truly move forward on the path of peace, progress and prosperity.

In Pakistan, it is unprecedented for a political party to survive for 50 years with its founding ideology intact, in true letter and spirit, thereby becoming a true symbol of the federation. Today, the party’s message and philosophy resonates within from every corner of the country. PPP is also cognizant of the fact that the political leadership possess the necessary vigilance and vision to create consensus and carry along with them every segment of a society that is traditionally conservative and suspicious of change, in this pursuit of progress, or they would not be sustainable in the long-term.

Consequently, just as it is vital that the young leaders come forward with their zeal and energy, to help move the country towards a better future, it is also vital to have senior leadership who knows how to deal with the intricacies and complexities of political nuance and consensus building on complex issues, in order to gets things done.

The workers and leaders of the Pakistan Peoples Party continue to carry forward the torch that was lit fifty years ago. As it is said, you can remove the soul out of a jiyala but you cannot remove a jiyala from the soul.

While we look back over a remarkable 50 years and renew our commitment to the PPP, we remember not only the visionary leaders of our past but all the generations of unsung, nameless heroes who have sacrificed much for the Party, as we also welcome the new generations into the folds of history. Much remains to be done, but there is no doubt that with the will, determination, and energy of a party that is crucible for the wisdom of age and tenacity of youth, we will overcome all hurdles, and achieve the path of peace, prosperity and progress envisioned for our country by every great leader of its past.