NATIONAL Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, President Asif Ali Zardari and Senate Chairman Yousuf Raza Gillani arrive at Parliament House for a joint sitting, on Thursday.—White Star
NATIONAL Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, President Asif Ali Zardari and Senate Chairman Yousuf Raza Gillani arrive at Parliament House for a joint sitting, on Thursday.—White Star

• In address to joint sitting of parliament, president proposes meaningful dialogue, consensus to end political strife
• Opposition claims Zardari ‘not legitimate head of state’, vows to continue protests

ISLAMABAD: As Presi­dent Asif Ali Zardari attempted to make a case for political reconciliation in his address to a joint session of parliament on Thursday, PTI lawmakers responded to his overture with a full-throated ruckus, that continued throughout his speech.

President Zardari spoke for almost 20 minutes in his record seventh presidential address, with a portrait of his spouse ex-PM Benazir Bhutto placed by his side and his children Bilawal and Aseefa Bhutto-Zardari sitting in the front row.

The session was, however, skipped by the three service chiefs and two chief ministers — Maryam Nawaz and Ali Amin Gandapur. Even PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif was conspicuous by his absence.

During the speech, PTI members clamoured in front of the dais, shouting ‘Go Zardari Go’ throughout. At times, the president seemed to lose his train of thought, but remained composed and only acknowledged the protesters with a smile, ending his speech with a victory sign.

“In my considered view, it is time to turn a new page… The challenges we face are not impossible to overcome. They just require the fundamentals of meaningful dialogue and parliamentary consensus… We can effectively tackle our challenges and foster an atmosphere of mutual respect and political reconciliation,” he said.

President Zardari said the country needed to build its strengths by investing in people, focusing on public needs, and harnessing its resources to create pathways to inclusive growth.

Besides economic and tax reforms, he also urged the federal government to promote a working relationship with the provinces.

About climate change, the president said Pakistan had been devastated by the adverse impacts of climate change, especially the 2022 floods. “We urgently need to invest in climate-friendly and climate-resilient infrastructure to mitigate the rapidly compounding risks of risks of climate change.”

Regional peace

Referring to the surge in terrorism, which threatens national security as well as regional peace, he termed the problem a shared concern that required collective efforts for eradication. He urged the neighbouring countries to take “strong notice” of militant groups involved in attacks against Pakistan’s security forces and people.

President Zardari also thanked friendly countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, the UAE, China, Turkiye, and Qatar for supporting Pakistan through difficult times.

Speaking about the Kashmir issue, he called upon India to reverse all illegal measures taken on or after Aug 5, 2019. He also expressed deep concerns over the genocide of Palestinians by the Israeli forces in Gaza, saying Pakistan condemned the brutality and impunity of the occupation forces.

‘Tough time’

In a media talk outside the Parliament House, the PTI leaders boasted they gave a ‘tough time’ to President Zardari during his address. PTI Chairman Gohar Ali Khan justified the protest, saying the PTI would continue to pressure the government. “We gave him the 21-gun salute — the one they all deserve,” he quipped.

“The protest is for the restoration of democracy and strengthening of the parliament,” he claimed. “Zardari is not the legitimate president of the country, and the worst is that he is not even behaving in that manner.” He said Mr Zardari has not even resigned from the PPP co-chief position even though he was the head of the state and the symbol of the federation.

Barrister Khan said that the president of the country has to be “apolitical but Zardari sahib addressed the [PPP] public gathering” in Naudero. “Is that legal,” he questioned.

Published in Dawn, April 19th, 2024

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