• Addresses joint session for 7th time, says fostering an atmosphere of mutual respect must to overcome challenges
  • Says country needs to build its strengths by investing in people to create pathways to inclusive growth
  • Slogans from PTI-SIC MNAs reverberate in House as they chant ‘Go Zardari go’ while also carrying posters of Imran Khan

ISLAMABAD: President Asif Ali Zardari on Thursday called for turning a new page and making a fresh start, emphasising meaningful dialogue, parliamentary consensus, and fostering an atmosphere of mutual respect and political reconciliation to overcome polarisation and address the challenges facing the country.

“In my considered view, it is time to turn a new page… The challenges we face are not impossible to overcome. They simply require the fundamentals of meaningful dialogue and parliamentary consensus… We can effectively tackle our challenges and foster an atmosphere of mutual respect and political reconciliation,” the president said while addressing the joint session of the Parliament.

Chaired by National Assembly Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, the joint sitting was attended by members of the National Assembly and Senate while in the galleries were provincial chief ministers and parliamentarians, diplomats, and representatives from political parties.

The president’s address was in pursuance of Article 56 (3) of the Constitution which marked the beginning of the first parliamentary year, following the general elections.

The address encompassed all of the major national and international matters and challenges from the economy, poverty, social welfare, women empowerment and foreign policy to Kashmir and Palestine as well as climate change.

Zardari said that having given away his powers to the Parliament, his role was as a unifying symbol of a joint, robust federation, where all people and provinces should be treated as equal before the law.

As a new beginning, he said that the country needed to build its strengths by investing in people, focusing on public needs, and harnessing its resources to create pathways to inclusive growth.

“We have little time to waste. The country needs us to move on from the polarisation so common now to contemporary politics,” he remarked and sought the joint house’s role in rebuilding public confidence in the parliamentary process.

Calling for resetting the political atmosphere and reflecting “more light than heat”, he emphasised reforms, to promote good governance and turn challenges into opportunities.

President Zardari said that by embracing the visions of the great leaders Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, “we can effectively tackle challenges and foster an atmosphere of mutual respect and political reconciliation”.

The president emphasised that in order to align the country with the requirements of the 21st century, it was imperative to move forward on reforms with good governance for the provision of optimal social entitlements to the citizens.

He said that 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.

“This is absolutely essential for promoting an inclusive national development agenda and rolling out policies that execute tangible action on the ground.”

Zardari stressed 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 emphasised diversifying exports, enhancing the competitiveness of domestic products in global markets, introducing value addition, and venturing into new international markets.

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

Commending the establishment of the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC), he said it was a step forward in the right direction as it was aimed at attracting and facilitating investments in key sectors.

About the impacts of climate change, the president said that Pakistan had been serially devastated by different impacts of climate change, especially in the 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 added.

Speaking about the importance of the provision of primary and secondary education, the president pointed out that as a massive number of children were out of school and all the provincial governments should focus their energy on transformative reforms in the education sector.

He also highlighted the urgent need for rebuilding and scaled-up expansion in the health sector, saying that 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 one lacked medical care.

He said that a large number of the population was slipping into extreme poverty due to a combination of factors including climate impacts and sheer cost-of-living pressures.

“It is our responsibility to ensure that they move out of extreme vulnerability, with the ability to access opportunities for jobs, and resources to reinvest in farms, livestock, and small businesses,” he added.

The president viewed that the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) 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.  “The number of beneficiaries of the poverty alleviation programme had risen to over nine million,” he added.

President Zardari expressed the hope that the new government would actively work to reduce social and economic fragility while aggressively promoting girls’ education and health, including programmes to reduce maternal mortality and enhance mother and child nutrition.

Highlighting the Kashmir issue, the president reminded the world of the unsung sacrifices of Kashmiri people in their ongoing struggle for the freedom of Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir.

He said that the revocation of Articles 370 and 35A was part of India’s strategy to reduce the Kashmiri Muslims to a minority in their own homeland, and called upon India to reverse all illegal measures taken on or after August 05, 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 and termed the implementation of the United Nations Security Council’s resolutions a key to durable peace in South Asia.

President Zardari also expressed deep concerns over the tidal wave of indiscriminate killings of innocent Palestinians and genocide committed by the Israeli forces.

He reiterated Pakistan’s condemnation of the brutality and impunity of the occupation forces and commitment to its principled support for the establishment of an independent and viable Palestine state, based on the pre-1967 borders, with Al-Quds Al-Sharif as its capital.

Referring to the resurgence of terrorism and its threats to the nation’s security as well as regional peace and prosperity, he called the menace a shared concern that required collective efforts.

He urged the neighbouring countries to take strong notice of terrorist groups involved in launching attacks against Pakistan’s security forces and people.

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

He said that the country’s armed forces and law enforcement agencies had rendered immense sacrifices and played a heroic role in the fight against terrorism and defence of national frontiers.

Coming to foreign policy, Zardari thanked the friendly countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, China, Turkiye, and Qatar for supporting Pakistan in difficult times.

He also recognised the United States, European Union, and United Kingdom having a history of cooperation with Pakistan in many sectors and hoped to grow that further.

The president particularly expressed gratitude to China for its unwavering support to Pakistan in various fields and reiterated the country’s steadfast commitment to collaborating with it to advance shared goals of fostering regional peace, promoting connectivity, and stability, including the completion of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

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

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.”

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