Address of President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari to the Parliament, March 28, 2009
BISMILLAH- IR- RAHMAN‑IR-RAHIM
Madam Speaker! Honourable Members of the Parliament!
Assalam o Alaikum!
I am thankful to Allah, to be standing here today to address at the beginning of the second year of the Parliament. Six months ago, soon after you elected me as President, I had the privilege of addressing this august House, to mark the beginning of its first year. Seldom before, a President had the honour of addressing the Parliament, twice in six months. I wish to thank you, for the honour shown to me.
I wish to congratulate, all the elected Members of the Parliament, on completing the first year of the Parliamentary calendar.
I also wish to congratulate, the newly elected Senators, the Chairman and Deputy Chairman on their election.
I would like to begin by stating that Parliament is the source of all political power.
We hold the Parliament in the highest esteem.
Supremacy of the Parliament has been a dream of our leader, Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto The Charter of Democracy flows from her belief in the supremacy of the Parliament.
About six months ago standing here, I had called upon the Parliament, to form an all parties committee, to revisit the 17th amendment and Article 58’2(b).
I am conscious of the fact that 6 months is not a long time.
I urge you, Madam Speaker, to constitute a committee of all political parties to propose amendments in the Constitution in the light of Charter of Democracy.
The amendments should be finalized without any further delay.
The government at the very start inherited many problems.
These were problems of an ailing economy, growing extremism and militancy and a judicial crisis.
Significant progress has been achieved in different areas during the last one year. But much more needs to be done.
A heavy national agenda awaits you.
It is the agenda of protecting democracy, fighting militancy, healing the wounds, and building infrastructure. We have to root out terrorism and extremism.
The world is passing through a severe economic recession. Economic slowdown has impacted all countries. When the government took over it faced a situation of near economic meltdown due to problems inherited and also due to global recession. It inherited massive shortfall in energy, dwindling foreign exchange reserves and rising inflation.
Difficult decisions had to be taken for economic stability.
A home grown economic reforms program was developed. I appreciate the Prime Minister for taking difficult decisions.
The decisions were difficult. But they were necessary. The reforms program has started showing results. Inflation has declined, from over 25% in August 2008 to 21 %. Hopefully it will be brought down to single digit by next year. Since the second quarter, there has been no net borrowing, from the State Bank of Pakistan.
The rupee recovered some of the value it lost in October 2008.
In the first 8 months of the financial year remittances have grown.
Foreign exchange reserves stood at 6.4 billion dollars in November last. A week ago they were over ten billion dollars.
Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto had a dream and vision. It was the vision of reconciliation. Reconciliation is the only way forward. We must not remain hostage to the bitterness of the past. We need to bring together the federating units in a spirit of mutual accommodation. Yesterday I visited Balochistan and met a cross section of the people. They feel deprived and neglected. Let us not give an excuse to our enemies to exploit the deprivations of the people of the province. A lot needs to be done. It can be done. I have the mandate from the Governor, Chief Minister and MPAs of Balochistan to urge the setting up of a Parliamentary Committee. The Committee comprising of all political parties should recommend measures for addressing the long standing issues of Balochistan. The Committee may seek guidance from the work done by a previous Parliamentary Committee.
An enabling environment needs to be created to facilitate the return and rehabilitation of displaced persons in Balochistan who fled their homes recently.
Ways and means may be explored for the voluntary return of exiles and grant of general amnesty to the political prisoners.
These are issues which need to be discussed in the Parliament. I urge the Parliament to frame Balochistan policy which is sustainable and acceptable to the people of the province. Give them the autonomy they have been demanding for 60 years.
The government has taken special measures to address the financial problems of Balochistan. Just yesterday I announced on behalf of the government a development package of 47 billion rupees for Balochistan. It is a matter of great satisfaction that the Gwadar Port project has become operational. The completion of the project has advanced our strategic interests, created jobs and generated economic activity in the remote areas of Balochistan.
The federal government has decided to pay 17 billion rupees the Balochistan government owed to the State Bank of Pakistan.
The province was paid 6 billion rupees in budgetary support and payment for gas royalty.
BENAZIR INCOME SUPPORT PROGRAM (BISP)
The government has introduced a transparent welfare scheme, the Benazir Income Support Program, to provide relief to 3.5 million poor families. 34 billion rupees have been allocated for it, during the current year. Over the next two years the coverage under it will be doubled.
The poor families will also be entitled to accident, health insurance and utility stores discount. The program also provides emergency relief package to the internally displaced persons.
Bomb blast victims will also be included under the emergency relief package of the program.
One person from each poor family would be given technical training and financial assistance to enable him earn a respectable living.
Under the scheme money is disbursed to the female head of the family.
This is a fulfillment of the dream of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto to empower the women of Pakistan.
The international organizations have acknowledged that the program is transparent, and free of political influence.
For achieving economic growth and employment generation a policy of public’private partnership has been adopted.
Over and above the available international assistance another initiative called the Friends of Democratic Pakistan has also been launched.
It aims at involving the international community to help Pakistan in areas of internal security, infrastructure development, and poverty alleviation.
Through long term strategic partnership with the Friends, we hope to address the security challenges faced by the country.
Our Friends would be meeting in Tokyo on April 17 to consider a comprehensive plan of action for strengthening our security and building infrastructure for economic development.
Members of the Parliament!
We face security challenges, that need to be addressed urgently. In consultation with the coalition partners the government has adopted a three pronged strategy. The strategy is based on making peace with those willing to give up violence.
But at the same time to deal firmly with those who challenge the writ of the government. It also aims at economic development of the affected areas. A national Counter Terrorism Authority has been set up. With the help of the Friends of Pakistan, the government will raise 20,000 additional police force in each province with special equipment and special pay package.
I welcome President Obama’s call to the Congress to pass a bill for 1.5 billion dollars aid to Pakistan every year.
The U.S President’s new approach represents a positive change. It is an endorsement of our call for economic and social uplift as a means to fight extremism. We are fighting militancy and extremism for our own sake. We will continue to do so for the sake of our children.
The Government will not allow the use of its soil, for terrorist activities against any other country. We will also not allow anyone to violate our sovereignty. Sovereignty of Pakistan must be protected at all cost. It will be.
The nation is proud of the sacrifices of the members of the armed forces, para military forces, police and the citizens in enforcing the writ of the government. Many of them have laid down their lives, so that you and me live and the nation lives on.
The government has traced and located about two hundred persons who were earlier reported missing in the country.
Members of the Parliament!
The government inherited power shortage of around 3,500 megawatts. I appreciate the way in which the government has taken the challenge head on. The private sector has been encouraged to come forward. And they have come forward in a big way. A number of IPPs and rental power projects are being set up. Some of them will be commissioned this year and relieve the burden. The construction of 1000 MW Neelum Hydel Project in Azad Kashmir has started.
The sources of funding, of 8 billion dollars Bhasha Dam have been identified. Its construction would start in about a year’s time. An investment of 30 billion dollars has been planned in the power sector by up to 2016. It includes development of the long awaited Thar coal project Out of this, 20 billion dollars will be contributed by the private sector.
Honorable Members of Parliament!
The government has placed special emphasis on agriculture. The procurement price of wheat was increased, to benefit the farmers and ensure food security. The Cabinet has approved a crop-loan insurance scheme.
The scheme is passing through different stages of implementation. The government provided a subsidy of 35 billion rupees to stabilize fertilizer prices. Under the Shaheed Benazir Tractor Scheme 20,000 tractors will be provided to farmers at subsidized rates.
As a result of sound polices we expect a bumper crop this year of wheat, rice and cotton Inshallah. Higher procurement price of crops is expected to inject 300 billion rupees in the rural economy.
This will greatly benefit the rural population and create demand for locally manufactured goods. I am pleased that the government has declared to fulfill its promise with the farmers and will purchase their wheat crop at the announced price of Rs. 950 per maund.
LABOUR AND MANPOWER
The government has always paid special attention to the labour and the working classes. It had promised them to undo all anti labour laws. Accordingly the IRO 2002 has been repealed and replaced with Industrial Relations Act 2008. 80,000 flats are planned to be built for the workers. Out of these, construction of nearly 10,000 flats has already started. Thousands of employees in the state corporations who were sacked unlawfully are being restored through legislation.
Contract employees and daily wage workers are also being regularised. We will replace and amend all anti labour laws. Under the directions of the Prime Minister the Labour Ministry is already working on a new labour policy.
I welcome the announcement made by the Prime Minister sometime back to give right to vote to the Pakistanis living and working abroad. The modalities of giving the right to vote are now being worked out and will soon be finalized. I deeply appreciate our Pakistani brothers and sisters working abroad.
They have been a source of great strength to the country. Remittances from abroad which were 6.4 billion dollars last year are expected to increase to 7.5 billion dollars this year.
Last year the government had announced giving free national identity cards to over 25 million people without cards. I appreciate that the Prime Minister has already inaugurated the project.
WOMEN, YOUTH AND MINORITIES
In the area of women development the government will actively pursue the promises made by Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto at the Beijing Conference and in the document on CEDAW.
A new youth policy is being introduced to direct the energy of the youth towards creative pursuits.
The minorities are being drawn into the mainstream of national life. In the last Senate election the minorities were again given representation in line with the manifesto of the Pakistan People’s Party.
EDUCATION AND HEALTH
A new education policy has been framed. It aims at Universal primary education by 2010 and increasing education budget to 4% of GDP by 2012. It allows the provinces to teach one regional language up to higher secondary level.
In the health sector a new health policy is being finalized. Human Organ Transplant Authority has been established and another 10,000 lady health workers are being recruited.
The Prime Minister had announced a program for meeting the growing housing needs particularly of the low income groups. It is reassuring that pilot housing projects have already been initiated in Islamabad and provincial capitals.
MEDIA AND ENVIRONMENT
We are committed to upholding the freedom of the media. The government plans to work with all stake holders, for creating an atmosphere of self regulation without state interference. The government also intends to set up a Journalist Victims Fund.
The Parliament is asserting its role as a sovereign body. The fact that I am here on the first day of the second Parliamentary year demonstrates our respect for the Parliament. In its first year the National Assembly completed mandatory 130 working days. The Senate completed 95 working days. Several important legislations were passed during the first parliamentary year. These include:’
A Bill to provide training and research facility for members of the Parliament.
A Bill to lift the ban on the union activities in PIA.
A Bill to provide for protection against harassment of women at work place. The Defence Budget was placed for the first time before the National Assembly for discussion and debate.
For the first time the opposition leader now heads the Public Accounts Committee of the National Assembly as required in the Charter of Democracy. For the first time the Prime Minister is regularly attending the Question Hour and responding to questions to make the government accountable.
The government believes in a fair, across the board and transparent accountability. In line with the Charter of Democracy a law is being drafted for creating a transparent system of accountability to replace the NAB Ordinance.
Last year I had said that the harsh provisions in the Frontier Crimes Regulation are being amended.
After extensive consultations with all the stakeholders recommendations for amendments in the FCR have been finalised.
ASSASSINATION OF SHAHEED MOHTARMA BENAZIR BHUTTO
The assassination of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto was not merely a conspiracy against democracy and peoples’ rule in Pakistan. It was a conspiracy to balkanize the country and the region. Questions have been asked about the status of investigations. We had two options. One, to undertake investigation on our own. Two, to request investigation through an impartial international body because of its international dimensions. An international investigation is the best way to expose a conspiracy that is international in character. That is why even before the government was formed, the PPP had demanded a UN probe. We are grateful to the Secretary General for agreeing to set up a UN Investigation Commission. The Commission will complete its work within six months of formation. It is hoped that the UN investigations would soon expose all the hands and minds behind the conspiracy.
The government believes in the independence of judiciary. People have made great sacrifices for the cause of an independent judiciary. The Prime Minister in his first address released the deposed judges from unlawful detention. In the second stage, the salaries and privileges of the deposed judges were restored. The government has restored all the judges.
We welcome the restoration of judges as promised by Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto. Let not the baggage of the past hold us back. Let us now move on. We continue to repose complete trust and confidence in the judiciary.
The foreign policy objectives of the government are to promote regional and international peace and security and ensure the economic and social development of our people. Greater emphasis is therefore placed on the economic dimension of relations with other countries. Economic relations with China were taken to new heights with the conclusion of the Free Trade Agreement last month.
During my visit to Afghanistan in January this year a Joint Declaration on Directions in Bilateral Cooperation was concluded. We believe in peace with honour. Towards this end, the government has taken some bold initiatives. We opened trade across the Line of Control in Kashmir. The government is fully cooperating to bring the criminals behind Mumbai attacks to justice. I appreciate the government’s handling of the crisis.
We are proposing a more liberal visa regime and plan to establish more facilities for the visiting Sikh and Hindu pilgrims.
We will continue to seek peaceful settlement of all outstanding disputes, including the core issue of Jammu and Kashmir.
At the same time the government also believes that Indo Pak relations can and should improve. We hope that the composite dialogue process will be revived soon. Pakistan has excellent relation with the Islamic and Arab countries.
Relations with countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America will be further developed.
Our people have offered great sacrifices for democracy. Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and many others have laid down their lives for the cause. But democracy has yet to gain strength.
For democracy to gain strength we need to work in a spirit of harmony and reconciliation.
Discussion and debate in this august House represents collective national wisdom. We have many challenges to face.
The sea is rough and the weather turbulent. Collective national wisdom expressed in the Parliament should be our compass to steer the ship of the state to the safety of the shores.
The people of Pakistan have great hopes and expectations from this Parliament. I am confident that you will rise to their expectations. As the President of Pakistan you can count on my complete support. Let us all work together for a better Pakistan.
As we move towards a better future I wish to announce that we shall recommend the lifting of Governor’s rule in Punjab. Pakistan People’s Party supports the candidate of PML(N) for Chief Ministership.
Pakistan People’s Party will sit in the opposition and will participate in the legislative process and will not bring down the provincial government of Punjab. We will bring to an end horse trading.
There will be no need for a forward bloc. There will be no need to have another Changa Manga. After PML (N) has made its Chief Minister and outstanding issues are resolved in the Parliament we can still work as friends. As fellow democrats we can take together Pakistan to new heights.
Let not democracy be derailed for any reasons through street demonstrations in Lahore or in Islamabad. Pakistan has many challenges. What it does not need is a challenge from within to its democracy.
Let’s put an end to challenging each other. We have many challenges from outside and let us become friends once again and forever.
May Allah help us all in this mission.
Pakistan Zindabad. Pakistan Khapay.’