December 27, 2007, will always be remembered as a tragic day in the history of Pakistan, sincethe most popular, courageous and able leader of the country, Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, sacrificed her life to save the future of the country and itspeople. The cowards made the endearing leader their target, because she espoused democratic values and had firmly resolved to give the people of Pakistan their fundamental rights.

The brutal assassination of the popular leader took place immediately after her historic speech to a massive public rally held at Liaquat Bagh, Rawalpindi, where she expressed her uncompromised commitment to revive true democracy in the country and make it a social welfare State where the socioeconomic rights of every citizen are protected. The anti-democratic forces were afraid of Benazir Bhutto, as they were aware of the fact that she was a forceful advocate of the democratic and human rights of the poor.

By targeting the brave leader, the enemies of democracy and the people’s rights actually wanted to murder the hopes and aspirations of the poor masses of the country. These were mainly the segments of society, who saw BB Shaheed as a beacon of hope and an invigorating force for their dreams that wereto get rid of the shackles of ignominy, hunger and poverty.Therefore, the cowardly plot to deprive Pakistanis of their most popular and beloved leader was, in fact, a conspiracy hatched by the undemocratic forces and fascist elements to keep the masses deprived of their fundamental rights and dreams of a better future for them and their future generations. Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto was the champion of national reconciliation and she was well aware of the fact that it was the only way forward to rebuild the nation.

Today, the country’s democratically-elected government is once again confronting the same challenges posed by the undemocratic mindset during Benazir’s regime. However, the political heirs of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto firmly believe in her agenda of ‘greater national reconciliation’ among all the political forces of the country. Thus, the present government is focusing more on serving the people,rather than engaging in the politics of confrontation. One hopes that ultimately sanity and rationality will prevail among all the genuine political forces of the country.

Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto was fully aware of the potential threat to her life, even when she decided to end her exile and return to Pakistan. The present democratic government, while keeping in view the Shaheed’s vision and considering the domestic and global political landscape, as well as the rapidly changing geopolitical situation, is fully determined to frustrate every plan against the institution of democracy and the people of Pakistan.

I can still recall that on every occasion when the people informed Benazir about the impending danger to her life, she would reply that if she does not come to Pakistan to lead the party, it would weaken, which would tantamount to weakening the people of Pakistan and endangering the security and integrity of the country. Therefore, the phenomenally courageous leader came back to Pakistan without any consideration to her personal safety.

The deep love and reverence that Pakistanis had for Benazir Bhutto canbebest judged from the fact that on the day of her Shahadat people from every nook and corner of the country were engulfed in a deep sense of grief and sorrow. It was the day when every eye in Pakistan was full of tears and every heart was bleeding with deep sorrow.

I can never forget the most terrible journey of my life, when we were taking Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto’s coffin from Rawalpindi to Naudero. Besieged by a sense of pain and agony, I was gathering every moment that I had the privilege to spend with my great leader. These were, of course, the great learning curves and the best moments in my entire life. The memories of long years of democratic struggle under her amazing leadership were still fresh in my mind, passing like the flash of light one after the other.

It was an epic struggle of Ms Bhutto for the revival of genuine democracy in the country and I still feel the pride and honour to be with her in all the rallies that held in various parts of the Punjab, as pre-election campaign after her return from exile. I had the privilege to accompany her in the rallies held in Rahimyar Khan, Bahwalpur and the outskirts of South Punjab for upholding the flag of democracy, which is, indeed, the roadmap of making Pakistan a welfare State.

Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto was and still is a great inspiration for women, who want to make a positive contribution in the society. She always wanted women to move ahead in every field of national endeavour, make their mark and serve the nation. Under her leadership, more women were appointed at higher levels inthe PPP and, consequently, the party has played a historical role in empowering women. She always advised us to concentrate on the issues affecting women, minorities and the weaker sections of society. While treading on the footsteps of her father and founder of PPP, Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, she infused the same spirit in the party that is based on serving the masses.

Today, the democratic government under the leadership of President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani is busy pursuing the legacy of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, which is based on social justice, equality and equal economic opportunities to all the citizens of Pakistan. The first-ever comprehensive social protection initiative of Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) is also a tribute to her vision and an effort to materialise itby giving the poor and destitute of the society respect, honour and dignity that they deserve.

I am grateful to President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani to bestow upon me the responsibility of running this auspicious programme, which is the footprint of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto’s great journey on the way of social welfare and women empowerment. BISP can be termed as the practical manifestation of our great leader’s vision, which is also highlighted in the PPP’s slogan of “roti, kapra aurmakaan - elm, roshni, sab kokaam.” Without any fear of contradiction, we can proudly claim today that BISP is playing a vital role to improve the socio-economic conditions of the underprivileged segments of the society throughout the country.

To uplift the living standards of the socially and economically deprived segments of society, in accordance with the vision and guiding principles of ShaheedMohtarma Benazir Bhutto, BISP has launched various pro-poor initiatives, like monthly cash grants, interest-free micro-financing, vocational and technical training opportunities, alongwith health facilities and life insurance for the underprivileged.

The recent measure of launching Waseela-e-Taleem is a landmark achievement in the pursuit of the vision of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, as she was a staunch believer of the fact that education is an instrumental tool to combat and eradicate poverty from the country. Despite all the odds and obstacles, the PPP-led democratic government is deeply committed to advance the vision and mission of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, and her Youm-e-Shahdat offers us an opportunity to reaffirm the resolve to make Pakistan a modern and democratic State.

    The writer is federal minister and chairperson of the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP).