Democracy is weak, but not irresponsible: Zardari

Speaker National Assembly Dr Fehmida Mirza presiding the joint sitting of the Parliament while President Asif Ali Zardari addressing the members of the Parliament in Islamabad.

President Asif Ali Zardari has urged the Parliament to adopt the 18th amendment bill without any delay, saying a lot of work has yet to be done.

Addressing the joint session of the National Assembly and Senate here at the Parliament House held to mark the commencement of third Parliamentary Year, the President said, “There were anxious moments when some people feared that we had failed but collectively we were able to resolve differences”.

The 18 constitutional amendment bill has already been laid in the Parliament, he said while congratulate each and every member of the Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reforms.

He also congratulated all the political parties in the government and the opposition for displaying a true national spirit, saying they have all risen above partisan politics, in an unprecedented show of national solidarity.

He also thanked the Law Minister Dr Babar Awan, and the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, for extending cooperation to the Parliamentary Committee, led by the Raza Rabbani, adviser to the Prime Minister.

He also appreciated the commitment and hard work put in by Mian Raza Rabbani and all members of the Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reforms.

“Two years ago, standing here I had urged the Parliament, to revisit the 17th Amendment and do away with Article 58 (2) (b). And last year, repeating the request, I also urged you Madam Speaker, to form an All Parties Committee for this purpose. History will record, that it was achieved, when the first woman Speaker in the Muslim World, presided over this august House”, he added.

We have reasons to be proud, Zardari said. “It is the first major Constitutional reform in more than three decades. Previously there were piecemeal constitutional amendments but most of these were brought about to legitimize unelected leaders and NOT for the cause of the people.”, he said.

The amendments will make the Constitution, truly democratic and federal in character, and restore provincial rights and Parliamentary sovereignty, he said.

Member of National Assembly Kashmala Tariq arrives at Parliament House for the joint session of the Parliament

“The Seventeenth Amendment has been repealed subject to amendments and the provinces given autonomy as never before.
We have, therefore, honored our pledge to restore the supremacy of the Parliament”, Zardari added.

Finally, the people of Pukhtoonkhwah will get their identity as their province is renamed as Khyber Pukhtoonkhwah, he said.

“We all know, that the history of our Constitution is a history of subversion. The repeated suspension of the Constitution by undemocratic forces gravely undermined the Federation. It led to the tragic neglect of the provinces and disempowered the people”, he said.

“We are witnessing the power of a democratic government in action. A democracy, that some people think is fragile. Fragile it may seem, but Irresponsible it is not”, he said

The first Constitution was given to the people in 1973 by the political leaders of the time, led by Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and the Pakistan Peoples Party and it was based on Parliamentary Democracy, Federalism and Islamic principles and it had the support and backing of all provinces and major political parties, he said.

In a short span of five years, the people of Pakistan made great progress in Freedom, Democracy and Constitutionalism, he said, adding that, the nation was filled with energy, a sense of purpose and shared destiny.

People were given their universal right to a passport, and the economy grew, as money poured in from expatriates, he said.

The people got jobs and had opportunities in all sectors, he said,, added, Fundamental rights were introduced for the first time, and people felt protected.

“The emancipation of women began as they entered the Police Force, Foreign Service and Subordinate Judiciary. Azad Jammu and Kashmir got autonomy with its own President, Prime Minister and Judiciary. Balochistan got Provincial status, with Provincial Assembly and a High Court. The emancipation of the people in the tribal areas and Northern areas began”, he said.

“The Simla Accord of 1972 bought the longest peace between India and Pakistan, and brought back the Pakistani prisoners of war, with safety and honor. The first PPP government led the historic OIC summit and gave Pakistan its nuclear program. But, just as people had begun to feel a sense of relevance, on the fateful day of fifth of July 1977, the Constitution was subverted. the hopes and dreams of a people were shattered”, he said.

Without learning from history, the Constitution was further distorted by yet another intervention in 1999, he aid.

The Pakistan Peoples Party and its allies had promised the nation, that distortions to the 1973 Constitution would be removed and the powers of the Parliament would be restored, he said.

Strengthening Parliament has been the cornerstone of our political philosophy, he said. Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto refused to weaken democracy by rejecting offers made to her to boycott Parliament, when her Party had only 17 members in the National Assembly, Zardari said.

In line with her philosophy in November last year, he said, “I gave up the National Command Authority, and placed it under the Parliament through the Prime Minister. Although I was neither asked nor required to do so”.

“We are all answerable to history. I have said before that I have walked from the gallows to the Presidency. Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had declared that he would prefer to die at the hands of dictator rather than at the hands of history”, Zardari said.

“Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto will remain alive in history for standing up to the militants, despite threats and warnings, not only from ordinary people but also from heads of governments”, he said..

“As the custodian of their legacy I have my eyes on history. By standing in their shadows today and empowering the Parliament, I hope to walk into the annals of history”, he said.

“Let us pledge that we will uphold the supremacy of the Constitution. This requires that each pillar of the state work in its constitutional limits, and does not trample on the domain of others.
For stability and development, each organ of the state must work within the parameters of the Constitution. We believe in reconciliation, and not confrontation”.

“The government at the very start inherited many problems. These were problems of an ailing economy, growing extremism and militancy and a judicial crisis”, he said, adding that, significant progress has been achieved in different areas during the two years. 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”, Zardari said.

When the government took over it faced a situation of near economic meltdown due to problems inherited and also due to global recession he said. “It inherited massive shortfall in energy, dwindling foreign exchange reserves and rising inflation”, he said. “Difficult decisions had to be taken for economic stability. The decisions were difficult. But they were necessary.”.

The foreign exchange reserves have increased and the Karachi Stock Exchange has made impressive gains, without any artificial inducements, he said. “Remittances have increased by nearly 25% a year, due to new incentives. For the first time, remittances in one month, exceeded 800 million dollars, last September”, he added.

The government has achieved, international financial respectability, despite all the obstacles, he said. “The crisis of confidence has been one of our most serious political challenges. That is why we apologized to the people of Balochistan, for the excesses done to them in the past. But we have done much more than tendering apology”, he said..

In my second address to Parliament, he said, he had urged the setting up of a Committee on Balochistan. “The Agahaz i Huqooq Balochistan has been announced. The government has set up a Commission on Missing Persons. Political reforms have been launched, in Gilgit Baltistan. A woman has been appointed Governor Gilgit-Baltistan in the name of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto. The Council of Common Interests has been reconstituted”, he said.

“The government introduced The Benazir Income Support Program, to break the cycle of poverty. Digital Smart Cards have been introduced for transparency. The Smart Cards will entitle the poor families to accident and health insurance, and many other social benefits”, Zardari said.

Interest free loan of Rs 300,000 named Waseela-e-Haq, is given to the female head of the family, he said, added, this has been done to empower our mothers and sisters.

“I am aware that a crippling power shortage has slowed economic and industrial growth. We inherited a shortfall of thousands of MW, but will not offer any excuses. We realize the suffering that load shedding causes to our people”, he said.
We are painfully aware of the darkness it spreads, how children study by candlelight, and how the wheels of industry often stop, he said.

“We will not dwell on the past, as to how the independent power projects launched by Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, were made controversial. The government is addressing the problem with the help of the private sector, although some have tried to make the Rental Projects controversial”, he said. Construction of the Neelum Power Project in Azad Kashmir has started. The Basha Dam has been launched. It will generate 4500 MW of power, and store over 6.5 million acre feet of water”, he added.

“The Thar Coal Project has been revived. The government is mindful of the water issue. For the first time, a Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Water has been appointed. We have raised the issue with India. It was the first thing I raised with Indian leadership in my first contact and I have raised it on every occasion we have met. We will continue to raise it at every international forum, within the terms of the Indus Waters Treaty. The government is also addressing water issues between the provinces”, he said.

The issues will be resolved through available constitutional and legal mechanisms, he said, adding that, Thirty-two small and medium dams will be built in the country. Work on three of the dams has already started”.

For the first time, state land in their command areas will be irrigated and distributed free, among the women of that area, he said.

For the first time in over four decades, agriculture is being revolutionized, through hybrid seed, improved technology and high intensity cultivation, he added.

“Women and minorities are the most vulnerable groups.
The government enacted legislation against the harassment of women at the workplace. We will pursue the pledges made by Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto at the Beijing Conference, and in the document on CEDAW”, he said.

Women have been made beneficiaries, of the Benazir Income Support Program, he said. The blasphemy law will not be allowed to be misused, against any one for settling personal and political scores, he said.

The President said, “he Government believes in transparent accountability of all. That is across the board, and NOT selective.
Let everyone be judged by the same yardstick. Let there be no different laws for different people”.

“I am happy to state that after consultations with the stake holders, reforms in FATA and amendments to the FCR have been finalized and will soon be implemented”, he added.

The UN Commission of Inquiry in the assassination of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, will be submitting its report very soon and we are also mindful of our obligation to carry out a national investigation, he said.

“I can assure you that, health and education and population planning will receive far greater attention and resources than ever before.
We need to work collectively to combat hunger and disease”, he said..

About war against terrorism, h said, militancy and extremism have been the greatest threat to our national security in recent times.

He assured the nation that we will fight militancy to the finish. “We will make peace with those, willing to give up violence.

But use force against those, who challenge the writ of the state.

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”, he said.

“I assure you that the sovereignty of Pakistan has been protected and solemnly pledge that it will be safeguarded at all costs”, he said.

The nation is proud of the sacrifices made by the members of the Armed Forces, Para-military forces, Police and specially the citizens in fighting militancy and their sacrifices will not go in vain”, he said.

He also commended the Ministry of Interior led by Mr. Rahman Malik for their courage in confronting militancy. “It is a matter of great satisfaction that, 87% of the population has been issued computerized national identity cards. Compared with only 44 % of what we inherited”, he said..

“We are committed to upholding the freedom of media. The government plans to work with all stake holders, to create an atmosphere of self regulation without state interference”, he added.

“We respect the majesty of the law. the government has enhanced the pay scales, allowances and perks of members of judiciary. We hope to provide easy access to justice, for every one”, he added.

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