'India's illegal actions threaten peace in the region,' President Alvi tells joint parliamentary session
President Arif Alvi on Thursday delivered his constitutionally mandated address to a joint sitting of parliament at the beginning of the second parliamentary year of the National Assembly under the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government.
Prime Minister Imran Khan, the chiefs of the navy and air force, and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee attended the session.
Members of the opposition started raising slogans of "Go Niazi Go" — targeted at Prime Minister Imran — as soon as President Alvi began his speech.
Alvi started his address by congratulating the lower house of parliament on completing its first year under the PTI government.
"It is my constitutional responsibility to review the parliament's performance," President Alvi said, amid loud opposition protest.
Referring to India's revocation of occupied Kashmir's special autonomy, he said: "India has violated its own constitution as well as the Simla Agreement with its illegal actions [in occupied Kashmir].
"The government has raised the issue in the United Nations Security Council and other platforms very successfully.
"It is a huge accomplishment for the government that the UNSC held a session on the issue after more than 50 years, despite India trying its best to prevent that from happening.
"[I] thank the friendly countries that understood the seriousness of the Kashmir issue, especially China, and raised it in the UN," he said. The president also lauded what he called a successful visit by the prime minister to the United States.
"Pakistan is with its Kashmiri brethren. We will continue to extend moral support; we were, we are and will always be with the Kashmiris.
"India's illegal actions have threatened peace in the region. Pakistan has always responded to India's warmongering with offers of dialogue.
"India has stepped up ceasefire violations at the Line of Control.
"India has always sponsored terrorism on Pakistani soil; Kulbhushan Jadhav is an example. He has confessed that he is a serving officer and was sent to ignite tensions in Balochistan."
The president said the world will have to acknowledge that India is being ruled by a "fascist party" — the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Govt performance, economy and development
President Alvi said the state of Madina was the first to issue a human rights charter. "I am glad that the prime minister is personally reviewing every ministry's performance.
"The Citizens' Portal initiative is very admirable and I hope it will improve.
"I want to emphasise that it is important for the development of economy to move towards a technology-based economic system.
"The IT sector must be promoted and youth must be provided with IT and AI training. Development in IT will lead to a stronger democracy."
He noted that an increase in exports and decline in imports has reduced the current account deficit and foreign reserves have also risen in the past year.
The president emphasised the documentation of all businesses to prevent smuggling and said the tax forms should be made easier.
"A lack of accountability has damaged the country's economy," he said. "Corruption eats up the roots of any nation. Unfortunately, our country has been suffering due to this."
As the opposition members continued their loud protest, the president at this point asked them to "continue to make noise but also pay attention to [what I am saying]".
"I hope the government will take concrete measures to control the population," he continued. "In this regard, media can play an important role.
"I also want to ask religious leaders and the civil society to contribute in promoting awareness."
President Alvi appreciated the judiciary's performance over the past year, saying swift disposal of cases and establishment of model courts were laudable developments.
"I direct the government to ensure that the Ehsas programme remains transparent," he said.
"Women are being given equal representation in Ehsas programme. We must give women a respectful position in society. We need legislation to ensure women get their rightful share in inheritance."
"The government's plan to build homes for the homeless is admirable and I hope it would be completed as quickly as possible.
"The proportion of young people in the population is sizeable and the Kamyab Jawan Programme will help them become economically independent.
"[I] hope that electronic wallet and payment methods will be introduced so people can pay the smallest amounts through their phones. This would also make documentation easier.
"We need to include differently-abled people in our economic circle."
President Alvi noted that climate change was adversely affecting the country, saying the government will plant trees and take steps to minimise pollution.
The president said Pakistan's atomic weapons "deter our enemies' evil plans".
"I pay tribute to our forces who proved their mettle by fighting a long battle against terrorism.
"Getting involved in the Afghan war cost Pakistan, as Prime Minister Imran Khan has always said. It gave rise to extremist thinking.
"Though we gave refuge to Afghanis out of our spirit of hospitality, it has burdened our economy."
Alvi said Pakistan's relations with Afghanistan are "historic" while its relationship with China is vital. "CPEC will promote economic development in the country.
"China took concrete measures against corruption despite tough opposition. Our government should do the same," he added.
The president noted that Pakistan's relations with Iran are improving while its ties are positive with Turkey, whom he thanked "for standing by us in tough times".
'Complete freedom of speech'
The president in his speech said that media is the state's fourth pillar.
"The government has always wished for the media to play a positive role in society.
"Government should form a concrete social media policy to fight against fake news, disinformation and misinformation.
"There is complete freedom of speech in Pakistan," he said.
The leaders of two main opposition parties — the PML-N and PPP — had told Dawn on Wednesday that they would finalise their strategy for the joint sitting at a meeting of the combined opposition just before the start of the session, but declared that they would definitely use their right of protest over the "unconstitutional" appointment of two members of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) by the president and non-issuance of production order for arrested lawmakers.
“It is unlikely that the government will have a smooth sailing during the joint sitting,” said PPP’s Syed Naveed Qamar.
PML-N information secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb told Dawn that the incumbent government was in the habit of inviting trouble for itself and this time again, it had done so by making “illegal appointments” in the ECP.
She said that so far the NA speaker had not issued the production orders for the arrested opposition members to allow them to attend the joint sitting. She said it was the right of every member of parliament to attend the joint sitting.
Presently, six opposition members are in the custody of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and other law-enforcement agencies over charges of corruption. The arrested members are Asif Ali Zardari of the PPP, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Khawaja Saad Rafique and Rana Sanaullah Khan of the PML-N and Ali Wazir and Mohsin Dawar, the two independent MNAs from Waziristan.
During today's parliamentary session, the PML-N had placed enlarged portraits of Abbasi and Sanaullah on their empty seats.