Address of President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari to the Parliament, September 20, 2008
Honourable Members of the Parliament
I bow my head in gratitude before Allah for standing here today to address the joint session of the Parliament. I thank the Members of Parliament and of all the provincial Assemblies for reposing confidence in me and electing me to this high office.
I have been given this singular honour and privilege in the name of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and I am humbled to be standing here in front of the seat of democratic power in Pakistan
On this important day our thoughts go to Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, the first woman Prime Minister of the Muslim World and the twice-elected Prime Minister of Pakistan whose personal sacrifice and courage has made democracy possible. We are here, this parliament is here because of the historic choices she made.
It is indeed her day. I wish she was addressing the Parliament today and not me.
Our thoughts also go to the shuhada of Karsaz, to the martyrs of Liaquat Bagh tragedy of December 27; to those who were martyred on July 17th in Islamabad and on May 12th in Karachi and indeed to all those martyred and injured for the cause.
At this moment in time, I also pay homage to the brave soldiers who have embraced martyrdom at our borders and mountains, as well as to those who gave their lives today. I ask this august House to join me in a prayer for all our shaheeds, including Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, and especially today, Mir Murtaza Bhutto, whose death anniversary we mark today.
They are our real heroes.
For myself, I can only say that I stand here after crossing a river of blood and tears. I have been a prisoner of conscience, but will never let that make me a prisoner of history. This means that while I will learn from history, I will never allow my decisions to be dictated by the politics of vengeance and bitter memories.
It is time for us to move on. God has given us a unique opportunity and we must not waste it.
I wish to congratulate all the elected Members of the Parliament. I also congratulate the Prime Minister, the federal and provincial governments on assuming their responsibilities.
The mandate you have is both an honour and a great responsibility.
To address the Joint Session of the Parliament in less than two weeks after my election as President shows that we hold the Parliament in the highest esteem, and accord the highest priority to the fulfillment of its obligations under the Constitution and law.
Under dictatorship, the Parliament was stripped of its powers, and not given due respect. The Constitution requires that the President address the Joint sitting of the Parliament after every election and at the beginning of every Parliamentary year. Yet in the last eight years, the Head of the State only once addressed the Joint sitting of the Parliament.
But let me assure you, that the days of constitutional deviation and bypassing the Parliament while taking decisions of national importance are over.
As head of the state I wish to make it very clear that the President and the government must always seek guidance from the Parliament in carrying out our duties. We are committed to upholding the sanctity of the Constitution, supremacy of the Parliament, and, rule of law.
The cardinal principle of our governance is respect for the mandate of the people as manifested in the February 18 elections.
Madam Speaker, Honourable Members of the Parliament
I have a dream for Pakistan. My dream is to free this great country from the shackles of poverty, hunger, terrorism and disunity.
And I know that as law makers, you too share that dream.
For every hope, we need a plan, and for every plan we need an agenda.
Without a doubt, a heavy national agenda challenges your government.
It is the agenda of moving quickly to heal the wounds of the past and restore the trust in the federation.
Tendering an apology to the people of Balochistan was a long overdue step. The release from captivity of former Chief Minister Balochistan is also a positive move. The resolution recently, of a longstanding dispute and payment of billions of rupees to Balochistan is a step in the right direction.
But much more needs to be done.
Successive blows have weakened the federation. It needs to be strengthened.
For this, the bitterness of the past must give way to reconciliation and harmony. I believe that the 1973 constitution is the only consensus document that can fashion such a social contract.
I also request the govt to start a consensus building process on provincial autonomy and the apportionment of resources through a new formula that meets the need of a united federation.
We must root out terrorism and extremism wherever and whenever they may rear their ugly heads.
Reforming the tribal areas and bringing them into the mainstream of national life can no longer be delayed. They must be treated at par with the rest of their Pakistani brethren.
The people of the Northern Areas must also get their basic rights, representative rule and an independent judiciary.
We believe in the independence of the judiciary and all matters concerning the judiciary shall be resolved in accordance with the constitution and law.
Another great responsibility rests on your shoulders. That is the removal of distortions in the Constitution, made by successive dictators to prolong their rule.
As the democratically elected President of Pakistan I call upon the Parliament to form an all parties committee to revisit the Seventeenth Amendment and Article 58(2)b.
Never before in the history of this country has a President stood here and given away his powers.
Madam Speaker, Members of the Parliament
Pakistan is at a critical security juncture today.
In order to meet the challenge / posed by the extremist and terrorist elements in the Tribal Areas and the adjoining regions, the Government has devised a comprehensive three-pronged strategy.
First, to make peace with those who are willing to keep the peace / and renounce violence;
Second, to invest in the development and social uplift of the local people and
Third, to use force only as a last resort / against those who refuse to surrender their arms, take the law into their hands, challenge the writ of the Government / and attack security forces.
For all stakeholders to have ownership of this policy, I will request the Government to hold a national security briefing / for an in-camera joint session of Parliament. / Let everyone have an opportunity to make an informed judgment about the risks to our beloved country and about how we should move forward with responsibility and clarity of vision.
I ask of the Government that it should be firm in its resolve to not allow the use of its soil for carrying out terrorist activities against any foreign country.
We will not tolerate the violation of our sovereignty and territorial integrity by any power in the name of combating terrorism.
Madam Speaker, Honourable Members of Parliament.
I believe that the world has become a dangerous place for nations with conflict on their borders.
So / we need peace not only within Pakistan but also in our neighbourhood. At all times, we must keep our national interest in mind.
This means understanding the limits of confrontation. Under this strategy, President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai was especially invited to my oath taking ceremony / as a mark of Pakistan's sincere desire and consistent efforts / to promote close relations and strengthen cooperation with the brotherly country of Afghanistan.
On the other side with India, the government believes that the relations between the two countries can and should be creatively reinvented.
As Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto said, "It is time for new ideas. It is time for bold commitment. And it is time for honesty, both among people and between people. There has been enough pain. It is time for reconciliation."
For these ideas and for seeking peaceful relations in the region, we were once called, a "security risk" by our critics.
But ideas cannot be killed by repression.
The Charter of Democracy binds the government to a framework of peace and justice for the people of Pakistan and peace and friendship with India.
Pakistan has decided to resume the composite-dialogue process with India, driving our relations through enhanced trade.
We express our complete commitment to the Kashmiri people in their just struggle for the restoration of their fundamental rights. We will continue to seek the settlement of all outstanding disputes, including the dispute over Jammu and Kashmir so that the main hurdle in the way towards peace and full normalization of relations between Pakistan and India is removed.
As a new initiative we will start a cross-LoC trade as a pioneering CBM in Kashmir. We also propose a more liberal visa regime to further expand people-to-people contacts and friendly exchanges, and establish new facilities for the visiting Sikh and Hindu pilgrims.
As another initiative in our relationship with India, I would urge the Parliament to form a bipartisan caucus for the purpose of resolving outstanding disputes relating to Kashmir and the Indus Water head works. All parties must be represented on this caucus so that the nation is united on this key issue and draws strength by speaking in one voice.
Madame Speaker, Honourable Members of Parliament
The greatest challenge this government faces is an economic one. No elected government can survive the prospect of its people going hungry. The immediate and most urgent task before the Government is to provide food security to the common man burdened with the rising prices of food items.
But we must realize that given the global oil and food shocks we face today, and the neglect of the Agricultural sector over the past nine years, this will not be enough to take the edge off the growing poverty our people face. To provide immediate relief to the poorest of the poor, the government has introduced welfare schemes across the board, with no political strings attached, like the Benazir Income Support Scheme for which a budgetary allocation of Rs. 34 billion has been made in the current Financial Year.
The ban on trade unions has been removed and the minimum wage of an unskilled worker has been increased.
I do realize that all this is not enough. Undoubtedly, your government inherited an economy that was driven by pure consumption, and as such was saddled with huge liabilities of unpaid subsidy-claims on account of petroleum products, power tariffs and luxury imports. The subsidies on oil and gas that we have removed is something no political government wants to shift, but this bitter pill we had to swallow because our balance of payments account could not sustain the expenditures of the last regime.
I see a new beginning for our economy, marked by a program of restoring investors' confidence, resumption of foreign investment, gradual build-up of reserves, exchange rate stability and, above all, revival of sustainable growth.
I am aware of the harsh reality that Pakistan is passing through an acute energy crisis due to a serious shortfall of electricity. Unlike the last government, which did not install a single new Megawatt in seven years, / our Government has taken immediate short and medium term measures to address the issue. We cannot take Pakistan out of darkness in one month, but we can certainly do it by the end of the next year.
The government needs to set core priorities.
I believe that the vast and rapidly changing agriculture sector offers enormous opportunities to hundreds of thousands of rural poor to break the vicious cycle of poverty.
Agriculture-led growth will raise farm incomes, lower food prices and generate the surplus for exports that we so urgently need. Therefore, agriculture needs to be placed at the top of the agenda for ensuring food security on a long term basis, generating jobs and income for a vast majority of people living in the rural areas of the country. For the first time in the history of Pakistan, the government is looking at crop-insurance schemes.
Just development is not possible without justice for women.
I note with pain that despite legislation that protects women, the women of this great nation continue to suffer crimes against them with disturbing frequency.
I will request the Government to do its utmost / to not just provide protection to women, but to empower them at every step of the long road to their just entitlements as full citizens of this state.
We cannot reverse decades of social backwardness by one stroke of the pen, but we can, and we will turn this tide slowly but surely. For the first time ever, all state allotments, both in income support or land, will be made in the name of the women of this country, as my late wife Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto would have wanted. This is a first step on a long journey, but let me assure you, the women of Pakistan will stand with me in this venture.
I also note that the minorities of Pakistan have played a crucial role in the development of the country but have not received their social and political dues. We will further draw them into the mainstream of national life and make full use of their potential.
Madam Speaker, Members of the Parliament
The media has come a long way from the first day the PPP government opened up the airwaves to private networks. Our Government lost no time to dismantle the infrastructure of violence that the last regime had left behind in repealing the Pemra and Print media ordinances which hung over the media's head like a sword. We will soon be bringing other fundamental laws, such as the Freedom of Information Bill, and work with stakeholders toward an open atmosphere of self regulation with no interference from the state. I have requested the Government of the day to look into providing wage support and housing colonies in every province on a low-cost basis, for all journalists.
Under the new set up, the Parliament is asserting its role as a sovereign body.
For the first time in more than 44 years, the Defence Budget was discussed in the National Assembly.
Also, for the first time in the history of Pakistan, we have appointed a Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee from the Opposition as per our commitment in the Charter of Democracy.
And we all know that across the board and transparent accountability forms a key pillar of good governance.
Unfortunately accountability has been grossly misused as an instrument of political witch hunting. I believe the government has decided to repeal the NAB Ordinance and replace it with a system that is across the board, transparent and within the accepted norms of the mainstream judicial system.
The harsh provisions in the FCR are being done away with. A committee for PATA and another committee on FCR set up by the government are finalizing their recommendations. I have recommended to the Government that they change the name of the NWFP to Pukhtunkhwa, in response to a long-standing demand of the people of that Province.
Madam Speaker, Members of the Parliament
In the realm of foreign policy it would be our endeavour to promote regional and international peace and security as well as the economic and social development of our people.
The world has changed to market democracy. Our foreign policy would be geared to not only defence of territorial integrity and sovereignty but also promotion of commercial and economic interests.
Pakistan can position itself as the trade and energy hub for South and Central Asia.
We will strengthen our brotherly relations with Iran and take our time-tested and all-weather friendship and strategic partnership with China to greater heights.
With the United States and our European partners we will endeavour to build a long-term partnership that is broad-based and mutually beneficial.
Pakistan will continue to extend full support to the Palestinian cause of self-determination.
We value our ties with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Libya.
We will rejuvenate our relations with the Arab League, the OIC and ASEAN to promote bilateral trade and investment.
With the Islamic and Arab countries we enjoy excellent relations. We will further develop our friendship with the countries of Asia, Latin America and Africa.
We underscore our commitment to the principles of the UN Charter, international law and values of our common humanity.
Madam Speaker, Honourable Parliamentarians
Democracy in Pakistan has finally been restored; but it is still a tender sapling which needs nurturing before it becomes a great sheltering tree.
There are still elements, who want to derail it yet once again.
With faith in democracy and national reconciliation as envisaged by Shaheed Mohtrama Banazir Bhutto we must remain vigilant against such elements.
The people of Pakistan have great hopes and expectations from this Parliament.
To help them realise their dreams we need to join hands and work together in harmony and not in discord.
We need to banish forever the politics of destruction and confrontation.
The people yearn for a better future.
They long for a Pakistan that was envisaged by the Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Qauid-e-Awam Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.
That indeed is the Pakistan for which Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto gave her life.
That is the Pakistan for which we will live.
And that is the Pakistan for which I, as President, will lend you all support. As someone who has walked from a death cell to the Presidency, let me assure you, nothing is impossible. I can steer the country out of darkness with the help of this Government.
I am confident that you will rise to their expectations and not disappoint our people.
Let us pledge to help build together a secure, strong and prosperous Pakistan.
May Allah help us in this noble mission.Pakistan khappay!
(Source: Press Information Department, Government of Pakistan)