ISLAMABAD, Sep 17 (APP):President Dr Arif Alvi Monday urged the political leadership to stand united and make concerted efforts to strengthen the accountability system, counter corruption and address the serious economic challenges by enforcing austerity and playing their part in providing social justice, health and education to the masses.
The president, in his maiden address to the joint sitting of the parliament after assuming the office, termed corruption an ill that had badly affected the national economy and plunged the country in a serious debt trap.
The joint session, co-chaired by Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani and National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser, was attended by members from both the houses of the parliament, including Prime Minister Imran Khan.
In the galleries, Azad Jammu and Kashmir president and prime minister, governors, chief ministers, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Zubair Mahmood Hayat, Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan and Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Zafar Mahmood Abbasi and diplomats were present.
The president said Pakistan was facing gigantic challenges, both at the domestic and international fronts and the biggest was a very weak economy. The country had been spending a major share of its resources on debt repayment.
“The balance of trade is also unfavourable. There is a huge gap in the quantum of our imports and exports. The circular debt has increased to Rs1,100 billion over the past few years and the value of rupee has depreciated sharply in recent months.”
The present government, he said, had resolved to make a ‘New Pakistan’. “In my view, the concept of New Pakistan lies in promoting simplicity, discontinuation of unnecessary protocols and a corruption free system. We should keep in mind that we are a nation which is under the burden of debt,” he added.
.:President Arif Alvi said the recent general election had proved that the people wanted a corruption-free Pakistan. For that there was a need to strengthen accountability institutions, along with a transparent system, so that they could perform their duties honestly and without any discrimination, he added.
Highlighting the issues of inflation and consequent problems faced by the salaried class, the president said the concept of ‘New Pakistan’ lay in promoting simplicity, discontinuation of unnecessary protocols and a corruption free system.
He said according to the established economic principles and Pakistani laws, the debt-to-GDP ratio should not exceed 60 percent but the country had been violating the law for long.
The external and internal debts, he said, had crossed the critical levels which required immediate attention and simplicity in lives, avoiding extravagance and limiting needs by the people.
He said throughout his association with the parliament, he had tried to fulfill all the responsibilities assigned to him and thanked the parliamentarians for electing him to the highest constitutional office of the country.
Assuring them to perform his constitutional responsibilities to the best of his abilities, President Alvi hoped that the parliamentarians would cooperate with him for the betterment of the country.
He said the present government had embarked upon a programme to ensure maximum employment and housing facilities for the masses, which would bring about a real change and build a New Pakistan.
He said Pakistan’s 60 percent population consisted of youth for whom employment opportunities needed to be created on the basis of merit, qualification and capacity to help them earn their livelihood.
He told the House that the physical and mental growth of many of Pakistani children was much below international standards with a number of them facing stunted growth as the mothers and children could not get adequate nutrition.
“Most of our problems are related to social inequality and poverty. We have to eliminate regional, economic and social inequality, and disparity,” he said.
The president said Balochistan and other far flung areas needed attention and hoped that the new government would fully implement the social contract to translate the concept of “New Pakistan” into reality.
.:The president urged the government and leaders of all the political parties to guide the nation in the right direction, in accordance with its sentiments. He was confident that the government would chart out a clear road map in all sectors and at the same time ensure transparency in governance.
He said the construction of new water reservoirs was among the top government priorities and he earnestly believed that both residents and overseas Pakistanis would respond positively to the donations appeal of the Chief Justice of Pakistan and the Prime Minister. This would not only raise capital for the construction of new dams but would also help enhance the country’s foreign exchange reserves.
The president said Pakistan was one of the countries facing a severe water crisis. Due to scarcity and reckless use of water, its underground resources had depleted to a dangerous level as several areas of Balochistan and Sindh were facing drought.
The climate change, he observed, was also having a hazardous impact on the country, with temperatures rising and glaciers melting rapidly due to global warming.
“The atmosphere in cities is deteriorating due to air and industrial pollution. In this regard, we will have to pay special attention on tree plantation and construction of new dams,” he added.
The president stressed upon controlling wastage of water and highlighted two measures, which were inevitable, including making irrigation system more efficient and adoption of a comprehensive strategy to control seepage of water in canals and water courses.
The drip irrigation, he said, needed to be adopted rather than relying solely on flood irrigation. “Besides, we should adjust our lifestyles to avoid unnecessary usage of water,” he said, and cited that the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) had advised to adopt moderation in life and avoid wasteful use of the scarce water, even for ablution.
The president mentioned the need to tackle power, energy and electricity related issues. The power transmission system needed to be made more efficient, line losses reduced and theft of electricity should be eliminated.
He observed that the Northern Areas, Kashmir and other parts of the country were blessed with vast water resources and the climate and environment of those regions was naturally conducive for power generation, therefore, the relevant ministries and departments needed to work for the promotion of “Run of the River” projects along with strengthening the transmission infrastructure so that the generated power could be fed into the national grid and the transmission system across the country made more robust.
The president said agriculture was the backbone of Pakistan’s economy as more than half of its population was employed in that sector.
The development of agri sector, he said, was also dependent on the construction of new water reservoirs. The new PTI government had promised the development of the sector in its manifesto.
“An effective and comprehensive strategy needs to be adopted to provide pesticides, fertilizers and other agricultural instruments to farmers and associated people in this sector. In this regard, a mechanism for consultation with experts and farmers should be evolved,” he suggested.
Dr Alvi said the general populace was concerned about the improvement in education and health sectors. In that regard, he observed, encouraging and good examples had been set in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and other parts of the country.
He, however, observed that the pressure of population growth was huge while resources were limited, so there was a need for developing a balance between the two.
The president underlined the need to improve the quality of education, besides enhancing the number of educational institutions.
He urged the parliamentarians and media to raise awareness regarding mother and child health, and benefits of a small family.
“For women development, policies be devised for their education and employment for all segments of the society. No country can progress without women empowerment. Our women are very hard working and their contribution is significant in all walks of life,” he added.
The president said it was the need of hour that women should be provided more opportunities and were mainstreamed in the national affairs.
It should be ensured that women played their due role in the economy and society without any fear because the religion and Father of the Nation Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah had also stressed on it, he added.
The president said nations faced challenges, which sometimes became so complicated that even setting of priorities became difficult.
“Pakistan is also grappled with such a situation. However, resilient and valiant nations do not get scared of challenges but cope with them courageously. I am gratified that as a nation we are aware of the situation and challenges confronting us. Be it farmers, judiciary, army personnel, civil servants, writers, residents of far-flung areas or the overseas Pakistanis, everyone is ready to share this responsibility,” he added.
.:President Alvi said good relations with all the countries, particularly with neighbours, constituted the basis for a country’s foreign policy.
Expressing the hope about improvement in the foreign policy, he said as a nation, it was the government’s priority to have good ties with all the countries in general and with the Muslim world in particular.
The establishment of a new government was a watershed moment in the foreign relations, he said, adding bilateral relations had improved with the recent visits of foreign ministers of China, the United States, Iran and Turkey, and Saudi Arabia’s information minister to Pakistan, followed by Foreign Minister Qureshi’s visit to Afghanistan.
He said Pakistan’s friendship with China was exemplary based on mutual trust, which had stood the test of time as the two countries backed each other through thick and thin.
“Our bilateral relations are further strengthening with every passing day. The government fully supports the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, which is boosting economic activity in the region. I hope that the government completes CPEC projects expeditiously, which will help in further strengthening our relations. It will mark beginning of a new era in the region,” he added.
The president was confident over strengthening of the energy and trade relations with Central Asian states as they would help in achieving the economic growth targets.
He also highlighted Pakistan’s ties with Russia and said the country accorded utmost importance to those relations. He hoped that the bilateral cooperation in the fields of economy, defence and culture would enhance further.
The president said close relations with Turkey were very special as the same were an important factor in the stability and progress of the entire region.
“Peace and stability in Afghanistan is vital for the prosperity and progress in Pakistan. Lasting peace in that country will open new trade corridors for us and for the region as well. We shall continue our endeavours in this regard with full sincerity,” he added.
President Alvi said Pakistan desired good relations with all its neighbours. It wanted a peaceful and good neighbourly relationship with India, based on mutual co-existence and would welcome every positive step in that direction.
“Resolution of the Kashmir dispute is essential to have an enduring relationship between the two countries. Blame game brings no solution to any dispute,” he emphasized.
Dr Alvi assured that the Government of Pakistan would continue its moral, political and diplomatic support to the Kashmiri people.
“Pakistan will keep on endeavouring at every level to resolve this dispute in accordance with the United Nations Security Council resolutions. The people of Kashmir have given historic sacrifices in the quest for their right of self-determination,” he added.
The president also condemned denial of right to self-determination to the Kashmiris and cited the recent report by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which had clearly highlighted the gross human rights violations of the Kashmiri people.
He called upon the international community as well as other human rights organizations to also play their role to bring an end to the grave human rights violations in the Indian-occupied Kashmir.
.:The president expressed his pleasure over completion of tenures by the last three assemblies and observed that the parochial interests and rampant corruption were the biggest reasons behind the current challenges.
He said the youth needed to be equipped with vocational training to help them find suitable jobs. He also called for easing the small loans process and taking measures for exporting the skilled labour.
He also emphasized the promotion of sports and arts for physical and mental growth of the youth by taking input from the scholars.
He said investment in the human capital was possible through a uniform curriculum and educational system and related facilities.
He called for revamping education system in the country, particularly in its backward areas. He believed that there was no harm in replicating the KP model because public sector institutions could provide qualitative education to all.
President Arif said more than three million students were currently studying in religious seminaries. In order to bring them into the mainstream, the curriculum in the seminaries needed to be made compatible with the modern day requirements to enable them play a positive and proactive role in different walks of life.
In this regard, he said the government needed to devise a strategy in consultation with the religious scholars.
The president said after FATA’s merger with the KP, the government would have to formulate relevant policies and take prompt decisions, keeping in view the hopes, expectations and aspirations of the people of the region.
He was confident that the government would be able to reduce fiscal deficit, redress the issues of state owned enterprises, formulate investment friendly policies, and simplify the investment processes.
For the purpose, the government would have to reduce the role of departments and put a restraint on their discretionary powers. Banks and investors would also have to be proactive in that regard, he added.
The president also called for attracting the overseas Pakistanis to invest in the country and urged all the chambers of commerce and industry to play their positive roles in that context.
He said terrorism had been overcome consequent to the nation’s resilience and sacrifices of the law-enforcement agencies.
“On behalf of the entire nation, I would like to pay tribute to all the martyrs in this struggle. They have put in the greatest sacrifices for the motherland,” he remarked.
Earlier, the House offered Fateha for the departed soul of Begum Kulsoom Nawaz, the wife of former prime minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif.