ISLAMABAD: President Asif Ali Zardari on Monday said there is no place for dictators in today's Pakistan, becoming the first Pakistani president to address a joint session of Parliament for the sixth time.
“There is no place for dictators in today's Pakistan,” said the president. “I wish to salute the people for their courage. They have spoken through their vote. Their voice has been heard.”
“It is an honor to be the first elected civilian in the history of Pakistan to oversee the transfer of power in a democratic manner,” he said. “It is a cause for which Shaheed Benazir Bhutto dedicated her life. It is a cause for which I spent 11 and a half years in prison. It is a cause for which Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif suffered imprisonment and exile.”
“Democracy has arrived,” he said.
Monday’s address was expected to be Zardari’s last address as president as he runs out his five-year presidential term in September.
Zardari congratulated Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and hoped that he would live up to the people's expectations after being elected as new prime minister.
He also thanked and congratulated the people of Pakistan for participating in the elections, and for demonstrating courage in defying terrorist threats.
“Their participation shows that the ethos of our people is democratic.”
Speaking further about Pakistan’s troubled history with democracy and dictatorship, Zardari said the smooth transition of power from one democracy to another democracy was “a triumph of all political parties and democratic forces.”
“Collectively our people have written a new chapter in our History. Collectively the people of Pakistan deserve to be commended.”
He commended the outgoing parliament for bringing constitutional amendments, such as the 18th amendment granting provincial rights, and taking away the sweeping powers of the president under Article 58 (2)(b).
“Previously there were piecemeal constitutional amendments…designed to promote the personal interests of dictators.”
“It is a matter of great satisfaction and pride that Parliament purged the Constitution of undemocratic Articles,” he said. “The outgoing Parliament made a lasting contribution. It made the Constitution truly democratic.”
Zardari spoke about the ills of dictatorship at length and even hinted at an ‘appropriate policy’ of trying in court former Army generals who had abrogated the Constitution to lead military dictatorships.
“There have been calls to punish those who subverted the Constitution. It is for this august Parliament and the government to devise an appropriate and wise policy. I assure you of my support in this,” he told Parliament.
“Each pillar of the state must operate within its constitutional limits. Let no organ of the state trespass into the domain of others.”
In his address, the president also spoke about insurgency-hit Balochistan province and the issue of ‘missing persons’.
“Peace and reconciliation in Balochistan must receive high priority. We need to address the issue of missing persons. A Commission on Missing Persons has already been set up. It has also made some progress,” he said. “But a lot more needs to be done.”
He emphasised out that militancy, extremism, and terrorism pose the greatest threat to Pakistan’s national security. At the same time, Zardari also spoke about US drone attacks on Pakistani soil, and violations of Pakistan’s sovereignty.
“We need strong leadership to overcome the threat. We are ready to make peace with those willing to give up violence. But we should also be ready to use force against those who challenge the writ of the state,” he said.
“The government will not allow the use of our soil, for terrorist activities against any other country.
“Drone attacks are a serious violation of sovereignty and international law. They are also counterproductive and are not acceptable.
“We need to take some hard decisions and without delay. Delaying decisions do not avoid problems.”