ISLAMABAD: A well-prepared President Dr Arif Alvi during his constitutionally-mandatory address to a joint sitting of parliament on Thursday gave high marks to the one-year performance of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government with his loud voice dominating the traditional clamour by the opposition.
Amidst loud sloganeering by the protesting opposition members carrying portraits of their incarcerated colleagues, the president in his speech marking the opening of the new parliamentary year lauded the government’s efforts to highlight the Kashmir issue at the international level in the aftermath of the Indian move to annex the disputed territory through a controversial constitutional amendment and termed the recent discussion on the Kashmir issue in the United Nations Security Council after 50 years a “big diplomatic victory” for Pakistan.
At one point, the president asked the protesting opposition members to “continue to make noise but also hear what I am saying”.
The opposition members, mainly belonging to the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), gathered in front of the dais of the speaker and the rostrum of the president as soon as he started delivering his speech.
Carrying portraits of jailed colleagues, opposition lawmakers gather in front of president’s rostrum and raise slogans against government
Prime Minister Imran Khan with his cabinet members arrived in the house minutes before the start of the session, whereas Leader of the Opposition and PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif entered the hall when Speaker Asad Qaiser made a formal request to the president to deliver his speech after recitation from the Holy Quran and playing of the national anthem.
PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari did not attend the proceedings and preferred to stay in Karachi amid reports that the federal government was considering taking over of the administrative affairs of the provincial capital through a little-known constitutional provision.
The absence of Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa from the official gallery was also noticed by media persons. The chiefs of navy and air force and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, however, witnessed the whole proceedings.
Though the opposition had announced that it would lodge a strong protest against the president for allegedly making illegal and unconstitutional appointment of two members of the Election Commission of Pakistan, its lawmakers mainly targeted Prime Minister Khan and Speaker Qaiser in their vociferous slogans over the non-issuance of production order for the arrested legislators. Some of the women opposition members were also carrying placards inscribed with slogans against the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
The PPP and PML-N members carried the portraits of their leaders Asif Zardari, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Khawaja Saad Rafique and Rana Sanaullah, but they totally ignored the two other arrested independent MNAs from tribal areas — Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir.
The opposition members kept on raising slogans throughout the president’s speech, but failed to make any interruption due to the effective counter-strategy by the government. Unlike in the past, the treasury members did not respond to the opposition’s slogans, thus providing a full opportunity to the president to complete his address. Most of the treasury members remained seated throughout the proceedings, but a few sitting on the front benches were seen approaching the protesting opposition members, asking them to end their protest.
At one stage, when some of the opposition members managed to reach close to the president’s rostrum, the sergeants-at-arm, including the female staff, quickly came into action and succeeded in pushing the protesting members down the stairs, thus clearing the president’s view for the official front PTV camera.
The opposition members raised the slogans like Muk gaya tera show Niazi, go Nizai go Niazi (Your time is over, go Niazi), Gali gali main shor hai, Aleema Baji chor hai (Everyone says Aleema Baji, the sister of PM Khan, is a thief), Kashmir pe sauday bazi namanzoor (Say no to Kashmir sell-off) and Speaker ko reha karo (Free the speaker).
Dr Alvi started his address by felicitating the members of parliament over completion of the first parliamentary year under the PTI government. “It is my constitutional responsibility to review the performance of parliament and the government,” the president said while reading out the speech on a smart prompter placed before him.
Highlighting the situation in held Kashmir, the president said India had violated its own constitution as well as the Simla agreement with its illegal actions in the occupied valley. He said the present government had raised the issue in the UN Security Council and other platforms very successfully. He especially thanked China for playing a key role in bringing the Kashmir issue under discussion at the UNSC.
“India’s illegal actions have threatened peace in the region. Pakistan has always responded to India’s warmongering with offers of dialogue,” he said, expressing concern over stepping up of ceasefire violations at the Line of Control by India. “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.”
President Alvi reiterated Pakistan’s support for the people of Indian occupied Kashmir. “I want to clarify to the international community that any negligence in this regard will pose a serious threat to international peace. Even now, we warn India to come to its senses and not to cause an irreversible situation.”
He said India had become hostage to the Hindu extremists and fascists due to the presence of 900,000 Indian troops in the occupied the territory that had become the most militarised zone of the world. “The lives of nine million Kashmiris are in danger. I appeal to the UN to send its observers to Kashmir to ascertain the true conditions prevailing there,” he added.
Dr Alvi praised the government’s policies and steps in almost all sectors, including health and education and said he was glad that the prime minister was personally reviewing every ministry’s performance.
Lauding the government’s economic policies, the president said the increase in exports and decline in imports had reduced the current account deficit and increased foreign exchange reserves. He called for documentation of all businesses to prevent smuggling. He also appreciated the government for launching the Ehsas programme.
The president commended the prime minister’s recent visit to the United States and said Pakistan would welcome American offer of mediation for a just and sustainable resolution of the Kashmir dispute. He said a new era had begun under the government of Prime Minister Khan in the domain of foreign policy.
The president said the nation was proud of its valiant armed forces that proved their mettle to the world by fighting a long war against terrorism. He said the country’s biggest political mistake was to get involved in others’ wars, adding that giving refuge to millions of Afghan nationals was a an unprecedented example of hospitality and generosity in the world, yet it adversely impacted Pakistan’s economy. “In view of these matters, I would like to highlight that all major decisions should be taken by keeping national interests supreme,” he added.
Indirectly attacking the opposition, President Alvi said that a lack of accountability had damaged the country’s economy. “Corruption eats up the roots of any nation. Unfortunately, our country has been suffering due to this.”
He emphasised on efforts to curb population growth and asked the media, religious leaders and civil society to play their role in creating awareness among the masses in this regard.
The president appreciated the judiciary’s performance over the past year, saying swift disposal of cases and establishment of model courts were laudable developments.
Published in Dawn, September 13th, 2019