President Zardari Calls For Political Reconciliation

Marks the beginning of the new parliamentary year by addressing a joint session of Parliament, where he calls on political leaders to turn a new page, hold dialogues and a political reset  

President Zardari Calls For Political Reconciliation

President Asif Ali Zardari has called for political reconciliation owing to the current atmosphere of polarisation and political upheaval in the country in the aftermath of the contentious February 8 general elections.

"In my considered view, it is time to turn a new page… The challenges we face are not impossible to overcome. They just 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," President Zardari said while addressing a Joint Session of the Parliament.

Zardari had called the session to mark the beginning of the parliamentary year after the general elections. The session was chaired by National Assembly Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq and attended, among others, by the Leader of the House, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari (President Zardari's son). Diplomats from various countries also attended the session. 

Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) members who were previously aligned with the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) sat in the assembly while holding posters with images of Imran Khan. They raised slogans and agitated during Zardari's speech.

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

Zardari said that given the precarious state of the country, they cannot move forward while there remain conflicts between different political parties. Emergency measures will need to be taken to drag the country out of its current political crisis, and that we all have to stay together and move forward. That will strengthen democracy, he asserted.

The President said it is important for them to reset the political atmosphere with "more light than heat".

He stressed the need to turn a new page and make a fresh start, calling for meaningful dialogue, parliamentary consensus, and fostering an atmosphere of mutual respect and political reconciliation to eliminate polarisation and overcome the challenges faced by the country.

For this, he said it was important for everyone to take a step back and decide what is best for the country and its people. He added that everyone must seriously think about what should be prioritised in their narratives and agendas. He suggested that political priorities need to be synced with the people's needs and demands. 

"If we truly work at it, we can lower the political temperature," he said, adding that they have very limited time to resolve the current crisis. 

"We have little time to waste. The country needs us to move on from the polarisation so common now to contemporary politics," he remarked. 

He urged the lower and upper houses of Parliament to work together to reinforce the parliamentary system.

Given a new beginning after elections, he said, 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.

"I am certain that together, in a fresh start, we can chart a course towards a strong and prosperous Pakistan."

He pointed out that health was one sector that required investment and that the country needed to improve its healthcare system. He added that the country was heading towards a phase of food insecurity because it had insufficient food.

He emphasised the need for reforms to promote good governance and turn challenges into opportunities.

President Zardari said that by embracing the visions of great leaders such as Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, "we can effectively tackle challenges and foster an atmosphere of mutual respect and political reconciliation". 

The President emphasised that 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 services to citizens.

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

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

President Zardari stressed that the government should intensify its efforts to attract foreign direct investment, implement comprehensive ease-of-doing business reforms, and simplify the existing regulations to provide an enabling environment for 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. 
He pointed to the huge untapped potential of agriculture, marine life, information technology and textile sectors, which can be exploited to earn foreign exchange. 

He said that establishing the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) was a step forward in the right direction, as it aimed to attract and facilitate investments in key sectors. 

Turning his attention to the topic of climate change and its impacts on Pakistan, the President said Pakistan had been serially devastated by different climate change-related events, especially in the shape of catastrophic floods of 2022. 

"We urgently need to invest in climate-friendly and climate-resilient infrastructure to mitigate the rapidly compounding risks of climate change." 
Speaking about the importance of providing primary and secondary education, President Zardari pointed out that a massive number of children are 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 and human resources were needed to ensure that every citizen had access to quality healthcare services and that no one lacked medical care. 

Zardari said a large segment 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." 

The President viewed the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) as 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 small businesses. However, he noted that the number of beneficiaries of the poverty alleviation programme had swelled to over 9 million.

The President expressed hope that the new government would actively work to reduce the country's socio-economic fragility while aggressively promoting girls' education and health, including programmes to reduce maternal mortality and enhance mother and child nutrition.

Foreign issues

President Zardari highlighted the Kashmir issue and took the opportunity to remind the world of the unsung sacrifices of the Kashmiri people in their ongoing struggle for the freedom of Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir and self-determination.

He said the revocation of Articles 370 and 35A was part of India's strategy to alter the demographics of Kashmir and lower the population of Kashmiri Muslims to a minority in their own homeland. He called upon India to reverse all illegal measures taken on or after August 5, 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 Jerusalem as its capital.

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

He also recognised the efforts of the United States, European Union, and the United Kingdom, which have cooperated with Pakistan in many sectors, and hoped to expand that cooperation further. 

The President particularly expressed gratitude to China for its unwavering support of 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 stabilising the region, 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."

Resurging terrorism

Referring to the resurgence of terrorism and its threat 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 neighbouring countries to take strong notice of terrorist groups using their soil to launch attacks against Pakistan's security forces and its people. 
"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," he remarked.

He said the country's armed forces and law enforcement agencies had made immense sacrifices and played a heroic role in fighting terrorism and defending national frontiers.