Amid opposition protest, President Alvi lauds PTI govt's economic performance and welfare initiatives
President Dr Arif Alvi on Monday addressed a joint sitting of parliament marking the start of the fourth parliamentary year of the National Assembly.
Alvi began his speech by congratulating the members of parliament on the start of the new legislative year, and expressed the wish that democratic values and "tradition of tolerance" flourished in Pakistan.
Talking about the economic challenges last year, the president noted that world economies shrank due to the negative consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, but due to the government's prudent policies, "Pakistan's economic performance was better compared to other countries."
Amid loud protest by the opposition benches, the president paused to say: "Despite you making noise, you will have to accept the reality."
He noted that in the financial year 2021-21, Pakistan's exports increased to $25.3 billion, while the Pakistan Stock Exchange "broke all past records and became Asia's best-performing market and world's fourth-best".
He said overseas investors had shown confidence in government policies and business confidence had increased by 60 per cent.
"People paying tax in such large numbers shows complete trust in government policies," Alvi said, congratulating the government for devising and implementing laws and procedures to address the requirements of the Financial Action Task Force.
Recounting the government's steps to uplift the masses, he said it had given a big construction package to people from the lower segments and the Naya Pakistan Housing Programme was started. "Not only has there been speed in financial activities but also opportunities for livelihood have been created," he added.
He acknowledged the 2.77pc growth in the agriculture sector, and lauded a government initiative to provide skills training to youth under which he said 1.7 million youngsters had been provided opportunities.
The president said with the help of technologies such as cloud computing, software development and data analysis, there was a possibility of achieving faster development, while the youth could help in controlling cyber defence and security issues.
He also appreciated the government for adopting policies based on human compassion, saying human development indexes had been neglected in the past.
"Because of corruption and wrong priorities, we were not only deprived of progress but also left behind the world in human development indicators," he said, noting that in the modern age, national security was not just limited to borders and soldiers but also depended on food, education and health sectors.
He mentioned a number of social protection measures introduced by the government under the umbrella of the Ehsaas programme, saying their highlight was that they focussed on humans.
The president noted that the government had set aside Rs260bn through which 12 million families will be given cash income, while Rs100bn had been earmarked for the Kamyab Jawan programme to give loans to the youth to start businesses.
On the government's efforts in the health sector, Alvi said "Pakistan is going towards universal health coverage," adding that 18 million families were benefitting from the health cards so far.
Measures are also being taken to facilitate telemedicine, he said, urging the government to focus on this area.
Noting that the burden on resources was increasing due to Pakistan's growing population, the president highlighted the need to pay attention to population control and requested the government to increase funding in this regard.
"We need to make the family size small in accordance with Quranic verses ... We need to make this popular," he said, urging media and scholars to help the government for the same.
Alvi said the government had paid "special attention" to the rights of women and special needs persons and new laws had been made as well.
"In recent days, incidents of sexual violence against women emerged due to which everyone is sad and I think it is a national responsibility to take steps to curb such incidents," he said, adding that while the government had taken measures to stop such violence, it was also the society's responsibility to play its role.
"Making videos while a [harassment] incident is taking place does not suit the Pakistani society, so it will have to protect women so they can wander freely."
He also regretted that in some parts of the country, women were deprived of their inheritance rights despite the detailed instructions provided in the Holy Quran in this regard.
Talking about the effects of climate change and global warming, he said Prime Minister Imran Khan had taken steps such as the Ten Billion Tree Tsunami and Clean and Green Pakistan programmes to deal with the issue "not for votes but for generations to come".
He stressed the need to introduce electoral reforms in order to bring transparency to elections.
"Electronic Voting Machines are an important tool that will bring transparency, give timely results and keep voter identity secret," he said. "The old ballot paper system is also included in this. I am requesting not to make it a political football; it is related to the country's future."
President Alvi said the government was also taking steps to include overseas Pakistanis in the political process such as I-voting, adding that he hoped all parties would cooperate in this regard.
'Regional stability under threat by Hindutva'
Turning to foreign policy matters, the president said India was resorting to "ethnic cleansing" of Kashmiris and meting out immense injustice to the people of occupied Kashmir.
He said Pakistan had always desired good relations with its neighbours, but India took this wish as a weakness. "In February 2019, India violated our air sovereignty so we gave a befitting response and shot down their plane and returned their pilot," he recalled.
"I want to make clear to India to stop the oppression in India and fulfil the [Kashmiris'] promise of self-determination."
He said the region's stability was under threat by India's growing Hindutva influence. "The world must realise that India is involved in terrorism activities against Pakistan," he added.
Alvi said Pakistan had played a big role for regional peace, and said it wanted Afghanistan's new Taliban government to "unite people, adopt forgiveness as seen at the time of the Conquest of Makkah and [ensure] there is no threat to any neighbouring country".
"The world needs to not abandon the Afghan people and help them," he said, noting Pakistan's efforts to provide humanitarian aid to the war-torn country. "The world will also have to accept that Prime Minister Imran Khan and Pakistan's advice [regarding Afghanistan] proved correct."
The president emphasised that Pakistan was focusing on geo-economics and regional connectivity for its economic progress.
"We look at relations with China with great respect and want to strengthen them. [...] I want to make it clear to India that it will never be successful in its goals and Pak-China friendship will keep strengthening," he said.
Listing some of Pakistan's biggest strengths such as having combated terrorism, charitable nature of the people, and success in dealing with the coronavirus, Alvi urged the nation not to consider itself "weak".
The president listed three things that Pakistan needed to take care of: fake news, backbiting and strong upbringing, including training at home, at school through a uniform educational curriculum, through media, and from the pulpit.
Opposition parties had threatened to boycott the session and stage protests in and outside the parliament house.
The opposition has accused the PTI government and the NA Speaker Asad Qaiser of violating the Constitution by not allowing a debate on the presidential address throughout the third parliamentary year that ended on Aug 13.
Besides the boycott of the joint session, the opposition had also planned to take part in a demonstration being staged by journalists outside the parliament building against what they termed “curbs on media by the government”.
The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) — an alliance of some opposition parties — had already announced that it would boycott the joint sitting of parliament and join media workers’ protest outside the parliament house on Sept 13.