India, Pak must address Kashmir issue: Zardari

Last Updated: Saturday, March 17, 2012 - 21:42

Islamabad: Backing moves to open up Indo-Pak
trade, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari on Saturday said the two
countries must also address "difficult issues" like the
Kashmir dispute.

Making history by becoming the first elected President to
deliver a fifth address to a joint session of Parliament of a
country that has been under military boots for most of its
existence, Zardari faced a hostile House with the opposition
booing and jeering to drown most of his epic address.

Amidst a din, Zardari told lawmakers that "important steps
have been taken to open up trade between India and Pakistan".

"But we must also address difficult issues, including that
of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute," he said in a speech that
outlined his government`s policies, including foreign policy
priorities, for the final year of its five-year term.

In recent months, India and Pakistan have taken several
steps to boost bilateral trade.

The Pakistan government recently decided to switch over to
a negative list regime for bilateral trade, paving the way for
giving India Most Favoured Nation-status by the beginning of
next year.

The two countries have also agreed to increase trade to
six billion dollars by 2014.

Clad in a dark suit and standing beside a photo of his
slain wife, former premier Benazir Bhutto, Zardari said that
Islamabad was seeking a meaningful engagement with US and was
awaiting parliament`s nod.

"We seek to engage meaningfully with the US on the basis
of mutual interest and mutual respect.

"We are looking forward to (parliament`s) recommendations
for re-engaging with the United States," he said.

Zardari also pledged to continue fighting terrorism and
militancy.

"Where necessary, we have used force to ensure that the
writ of the state is not challenged. We will continue to show
resolve on this issue. I believe that our efforts have begun
to pay off and the situation has improved," he said.

?Militants and extremists have targeted security forces
and civilians and even schools and shrines have not been
spared by the terrorists, he said.

"Our bases, police stations, pipelines, railways, hotels
(and) schools have been targeted. Even our mosques, churches
and religious shrines have not been spared," the President
said.

Pakistan`s image had been "negatively projected" and the
economy had to "bear extra burdens", Zardari noted.

"Even the good name of our great religion a religion of
peace and harmony and love has been exploited. To deal with
the mindset of a small minority, we have mobilised our society
and tried to generate a national consensus," he added.

Zardari also paid tribute to security personnel and
civilians killed in terrorist attacks.

The Pakistani Taliban have carried out a wave of bombings
and suicide attacks across the country over the past four
years.

The government has offered to hold talks with militants
who give up violence.

Recent reports have suggested that commanders of the
Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan are divided on the issue of holding
peace talks, and hardliners led by commander Hakimullah Mehsud
have pledged to continue targeting security forces and the
government.

During his address, Zardari focussed on the Pakistan
People`s Party-led government`s achievements since coming to
power, including constitutional amendments aimed at restoring
the Constitution of 1973, the handing over of the President`s
powers to the premier and a development package for the
insurgency-hit Balochistan province.

Zardari vowed that the next general election, scheduled
for early next year, would be held in a free and fair manner.

"We are starting a new parliamentary year. During this
period, we will see a free and fair election," he said.

Legislation had been enacted to "make democracy more
transparent and ensure that the elections are fair and free",
he said.

He referred to the 20th constitutional amendment which
ensures the independence of the Election Commission and the
selection of an impartial caretaker government through
consultations in parliament.

"This extraordinary legislation will guarantee credible
elections, increase confidence in democracy and enhance the
image of our country in the world," Zardari said.

Zardari also referred to Pakistan`s "unique relationship"
with China, which is "deeply rooted and mutually beneficial".

He said his eight visits to China were a "manifestation of
taking this relationship to new heights".

Zardari`s speech was repeatedly interrupted by slogans and
boos from opposition lawmakers, especially the PML-N.

The PML-N members later walked out of the House.
Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, who heads the PML-N
government in Punjab province, did not attend the address.

PTI



First Published: Saturday, March 17, 2012 - 17:52

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