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Saturday May 18, 2024

Time to turn the page, overcome challenges: Zardari

President Zardari emphasized need for political reconciliation, meaningful dialogue, parliamentary consensus and fostering an atmosphere of mutual respect

By Asim Yasin
April 19, 2024
ISLAMABAD: (Clockwise) President Asif Ali Zardari addressing the joint session of parliament at the beginning of the parliamentary year here on Thursday; opposition lawmakers carrying PTI founder’s pictures gather in front of the speaker’s podium while chanting slogans for Imran’s release.
ISLAMABAD: (Clockwise) President Asif Ali Zardari addressing the joint session of parliament at the beginning of the parliamentary year here on Thursday; opposition lawmakers carrying PTI founder’s pictures gather in front of the speaker’s podium while chanting slogans for Imran’s release.

ISLAMABAD: Braving a noisy protest by the PTI-backed Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC), President Asif Ali Zardari in his first address to the joint session of parliament on Thursday emphasized the need for political reconciliation, meaningful dialogue, parliamentary consensus and fostering an atmosphere of mutual respect. “I also feel that we have little time to waste. The country needs us to move on from polarisation so common now to contemporary politics,” he said.

As the SIC legislators continued their loud protest, President Asif Ali Zardari continued with his address. As Zardari moved to the dais, the SIC parliamentarians started chanting “Go Zardari Go” and “Release Imran Khan” with placards carrying Imran’s pictures assembled in front of the speaker’s podium.

Placing the picture of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto on the rostrum, the president said in his considered view, it was time to turn the page as the challenges being faced today were not impossible to overcome.

“They just require the fundamentals of a meaningful dialogue and parliamentary consensus… We can effectively tackle our challenges and foster an atmosphere of mutual respect and political reconciliation,” he emphasized.

“This joint house must play a leading role in rebuilding public confidence in the parliamentary process and establish a foundation for the uninterrupted sustainable development of our nation.

“Let us not confuse constructive disagreement and the healthy noise of a growing democracy with the pursuit of zero-sum thinking. The country needs us to take pause and reflect on what we prioritise in our goals, our narratives and our agendas,” he said.

“I believe we can reset the political atmosphere to reflect more light than heat if we really want to, but it will need all of us to step back and decide what matters the most, and I mean all of us. At the end of the day, it is up to all of us to turn challenges into opportunities because that is what robust nations do,” he said.

At the same time, he said, “In my considered view, it is time to turn a new page. If we see today as a new beginning, which it is, then we can build on our strengths by investing in our people, by focusing on public needs and by harnessing our resources to create pathways to inclusive growth.”

“I have always drawn inspiration and guidance from great leaders such as Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, who spent their lives being advocates for democracy, tolerance and social justice.”

Zardari said he firmly believed that by embracing the vision of these leaders, the Pakistan nation could effectively tackle its challenges and foster an atmosphere of mutual respect and political reconciliation. “The challenges we face today are not impossible to overcome; they just require the fundamentals of a meaningful dialogue, parliamentary consensus and a time-lined implementation of rigorous reforms aimed at addressing the underlying issues, both old and new, confronting us.

“I strongly believe that in order to align our country with the 21st Century, it is imperative that we move forward on reforms to promote good governance for provision of optimal social entitlements to our citizens,” he said.

The president asked the parliamentarians to begin with a vision that strove to leave no one behind. “For this thought to move beyond an idea, the political leadership gathered in this house must prioritise the specific needs of marginalized communities and underdeveloped areas,” he said.

Speaking about the economy, the president said Pakistan needed all hands on the deck to revitalize its economy. “Without shedding all caution to the winds, our primary objective should be to attract foreign direct investment. I, therefore, urge the government to intensify its efforts for implementing comprehensive ease-of-doing-business reforms and simplifying the existing regulations to provide an enabling environment for both foreign and domestic investors,” he said.

He said besides working on economic reforms, spurring jobs, reducing inflation and expanding the tax net, the federal government should also promote positive working relationships and effective coordination, within the constitutional framework with the provinces.

Zardari commended the establishment of Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) and said it was aimed at attracting and facilitating investments in key sectors, which was a step forward in the right direction. He exhorted the government to intensify its efforts for attracting foreign direct investment, implementing comprehensive ease-of-doing-business reforms and simplifying the existing regulations to provide an enabling environment to both foreign and domestic investors.

At the same time, he also emphasized diversification of exports, enhancement in the competitiveness of domestic products in global markets, introduction of value addition, and venturing into new international markets.

Similarly, he said the huge, untapped potential in agriculture, marine life, information technology and textile sectors should be exploited to earn foreign exchange.

On the issue of terrorism, Zardari said terrorism was again rearing its ugly head and threatening the nation’s security as well as regional peace and prosperity. He said Pakistan believed that terrorism was a shared concern requiring collective efforts. “We expect the neighbouring countries to take a strong notice of terrorist groups involved in launching attacks against our security forces and people,” he said.

“Today, I reaffirm the nation’s resolve to eliminate terrorist elements. My late wife, the twice-elected Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Shaheed, gave her life standing up to terrorists, so you will never find me wanting in building the unity and momentum behind such an effort.

“We are proud of our armed forces and law enforcement agencies who have rendered immense sacrifices and played a heroic role in the fight against terrorism and defence of our national frontiers.”

The president said he would also like to take this opportunity to thank the friendly countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, the UAE, China, Turkiye, and Qatar, who always supported Pakistan in difficult times.

The president said it was also important to recognise that the US, the EU and the UK had all been established trade partners, with a history of cooperation in many sectors, which will grow further.

“I extend my heartfelt gratitude to China for its unwavering support to Pakistan in various fields,” he said. He said an enduring strategic and all-weather friendship between Pakistan and China was the cornerstone of stability in the region.

On the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, President Asif Ali Zardari said, “We remain steadfast in our commitment to collaborating with China to advance our shared goals of fostering regional peace, promoting connectivity, ensuring prosperity, and maintaining stability, which includes the completion of CPEC.

“We will not allow hostile elements to jeopardize this vital project or undermine the strong bond between the two nations and will take all necessary measures to ensure the security of our Chinese brothers and sisters,” he said.

On the issue of Kashmir, the president said he must remind the world of the unsung sacrifices of Kashmiri brethren in their ongoing struggle for the freedom of Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu & Kashmir. He said the revocation of Articles 370 and 35A was a part of India’s strategy to reduce the Kashmiri Muslims to a minority in their own homeland.

The president said Pakistan rejected the one-sided actions and called upon India to reverse all illegal measures taken on or after 5 August 2019. “I assure our Kashmiri brothers and sisters that Pakistan will continue to provide moral, political and diplomatic support to the people of occupied Kashmir until they get their right to self-determination,” he said.

On the issue of Palestine, the president said, “We are deeply concerned over the tidal wave of indiscriminate killings of innocent Palestinians and large-scale genocide committed by the Israeli security forces. We strongly condemn the brutality and impunity of the occupation forces and remain steadfast in our principled support for establishment of an independent and viable state of Palestine, based on the pre-1967 borders, with Al-Quds Al-Sharif as its capital.”

On the issue of climate change, the president said any global or national stocktake will tell us that the world is changing fast under our very feet. “Pakistan has been seriously devastated by different impacts of climate change, especially in shape of catastrophic floods in 2022. We urgently need to invest in climate-friendly and climate-resilient infrastructure to mitigate the rapidly compounding risks of climate change,” he said.

At the same time, he said, “We need to ensure that clean energy technologies form the core component of our national energy mix, as they will not only create opportunities for green economic growth but also make energy more affordable for our people.”

On the issue of education, the president said: “We must acknowledge the fact that in Pakistan there is a massive number of children who are out of school and given our growing population, that number is growing faster than the facilities we have been providing,” he said.

He urged all provincial governments to bring focus and energy on transformative reforms in the education sector, not just on improving access to primary and secondary education for all children but for ensuring quality as well.

Zardari stressed the need for rebuilding scaled-up expansion in health sector and said regular investments in the primary and secondary health infrastructure, as well as human resources, were needed to ensure that every citizen had access to quality healthcare services and that no citizen lacked medical care.

On women’s rights, Zardari said Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto was a champion of women’s rights and she always went an extra mile in advancing women’s causes, just as she sought entitlements for the economically and socially vulnerable groups of Pakistan.

The president said he was proud of the fact that the Benazir Income Support Program had been providing a lifeline to millions of vulnerable women across the country, offering them financial assistance and social protection, while giving many women the incentives and seed capital to start up small businesses.

“I am glad that the number of beneficiaries of this poverty alleviation program has risen to over 9 million but we need to bring more underprivileged women into this social safety net,” he said.

The president said he was hopeful that the new government will actively work to reduce social and economic fragility while aggressively promoting girls’ education and health, including programs, to reduce maternal mortality and enhance mother and child nutrition.

The president expressed his confidence in the parliament. Expressing his complete faith in political leadership, public institutions, civil society and youth, he said, “I am certain that together, in a fresh start, we can chart a course towards a strong and prosperous Pakistan.”

Meanwhile, as the SIC parliamentarians moved towards the speaker’s dais with posters and placards, raising slogans of “Go Zardari Go”, “release Imran Khan” and gathered around the speaker’s podium, PMLN parliamentarians surrounded Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

The joint session also saw someone blowing a whistle during the joint session. As the SIC legislator Jamshed Dasti put Imran’s picture in front of the president’s dais, the sergeant-at-arms removed it and PPP legislator Abdul Qadir Patel exchanged hot words with Jamshed Dasti.

On this, other PPP legislators and SIC legislators also exchanged hot words.

Patel and Jamshed Dasti tried to push each other but former NA speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf and other leaders from both sides pacified the situation.