President’s speech

Published April 20, 2024

PRESIDENT Asif Ali Zardari seems to have managed to hit all the right notes in his address to the joint sitting of parliament this Thursday. Unfortunately, given where things stand, it is difficult to take much hope from his words. One of the key points of the president’s speech was that it is high time the country started moving beyond the extreme polarisation that has been plaguing it for a number of years now. This is, without doubt, something the country desperately needs as it struggles to cope with its spiralling social and economic crises. But the question remains: will Pakistanis trust Mr Zardari to lead the way? In our context, the president is the head of state and is meant to represent “the unity of the Republic”. As such, the office of the presidency must uphold national values and principles, and be seen to be above partisan politics. Unfortunately, in our history, hardly any president comes to mind who has managed to stay above the fray of politics — even after the president — ironically, Mr Zardari himself — put his signature to a constitutional amendment in 2010 that diluted the head of state’s considerable powers. Given the bitterness that prevails in the parliamentary opposition — and among political parties in general — can Mr Zardari, who remains PPP-Parliamentarians’ president, play a neutral role?

It was, perhaps, a reflection of these realities that his speech invited boisterous opposition from within parliament, while the three armed forces chiefs, the chief ministers of two provinces, and even the supreme leader of the PML-N, with whom the PPP is currently allied, remained no-shows. “In my considered view, it is time to turn a new page,” Mr Zardari remarked at one stage; at this point, however, this seems like wishful thinking. The players seem to be realising that the political stand-off is turning into an intractable mess. There can be no moving forward till important stakeholders are ready to make major concessions to each other, but nobody appears ready to do so. The Feb 8 elections had offered Pakistan its best chance yet of making a clean break from the turmoil that continues to grip the country. However, that opportunity was lost, following allegations of large-scale rigging that further soured the atmosphere. There now seems to be no easy way to break the deadlock.

Published in Dawn, April 20th, 2024

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