ISLAMABAD - Recounting the achievements of the government, President Asif Ali Zardari on Saturday showered praise on the embattled Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, lauding his political sagacity for skilfully managing the crises confronting the ruling coalition over the last four years.
“Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani deserves our unqualified appreciation for his political wisdom in handling various challenges with courage and perseverance,” Zardari said amidst bench-thumping by the treasury members, while acknowledging Gilani’s loyalty to him and the Pakistan People’s Party (PP) for refusing to write a letter to Swiss authorities, and accepting to go to jail for contempt of court.
Spelling out his vision about the country’s foreign policy, Zardari said the parliamentary oversight and democratic accountability was a new and important facet of Pakistan’s foreign policy, and the government was committed to maintain its bilateral relations with all countries on the principles of mutual respect for each other’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and equality. “We fully support an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process in Afghanistan… Important steps have been taken to open up trade between India and Pakistan. But we must also address difficult issues including that of Jammu and Kashmir dispute ... Pakistan and China have a unique relationship which is deeply rooted and mutually beneficial. My eight visits to China are a manifestation of taking this relationship to new heights,” he said.
The president said that relations with the United States were multi-dimensional and important. Terming 2011 as a challenging year, he said that Pakistan sought meaningful engagement with the US on the basis of mutual interest and mutual respect.
“We are looking forward to your recommendations for re-engaging with the United States,” the president addressed the parliamentarians. However, the president skipped any special reference to relations with Saudi Arabia, saying Pakistan enjoyed close and fraternal relations with all brotherly Islamic countries. About the economic sector, Zardari said his government had inherited an ailing economy and that external shocks due to global recession had created a huge fiscal imbalance. “Over the last four years, the elected government took difficult decisions to get out of a threatening situation, maintain economic stability and bring prosperity to our citizens. We gave relief to our vulnerable segments. We have shown great discipline to reduce government expenditures. We have mobilised domestic tax revenues to lessen our dependence on others and to give better services and projects to our people,” he added. Giving an overview on the government’s achievements on democracy, the president said the world could see that “the march of democracy goes on in Pakistan”. “That our institutions are working. Together we are creating history. While a lot more needs to be done, a strong beginning has been made. We Pakistanis can be proud of our young democracy,” he added.
Referring to the next general elections, President Zardari said the government had moved further to make democracy more transparent and to ensure that the elections were free and fair. He said the 20th Amendment ensures the independence of the Election Commission and the selection of an impartial caretaker government through a process of consultation in the parliament. “We are starting a new parliamentary year. During this period, we will see free and fair elections,” he added.
Referring to the situation in Balochistan, the president said the government had taken special measures to develop the province, end its sense of deprivation and bring it at par with other provinces. Zardari said he had apologised to the people of Balochistan for the wrongs done to them in the past, and the Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan project was being implemented to mitigate feelings of being left out. “But we recognise that much more needs to be done to heal the wounds of the past, and we are willing to go an extra mile to engage in dialogue with our Baloch brothers,” he said.