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Overseas Pakistanis must get right to vote and get elected: Bilawal
NEW YORK -September 30, 2012

New York: Sept 30 (APP): Chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has said that despite all challenges, Pakistan is making its first constitutional and peaceful transfer of power from a democratic government to a new democratic government due to a strong and democratic set-up, placed by the PPP government. Addressing International Convention of PPP late Saturday, by PPP USA, Chairman Bilawal Bhutto said Pakistan has been transformed from a dictatorship into a democracy and “we have restored the supremacy of parliament, stripped our Constitution of the illegal powers, usurped by military dictators and nourished a thriving civil society and restored one of the freest presses in the world.”  Clad in Shalwar Kameez, and flanked by his sister Bakhtawar Bhutto, the PPP Chairman said ,”Democracy in Pakistan is strong, growing, and laying the groundwork for a very different nation than we have ever known.”

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said the PPP has always, and will always, stand by oversees Pakistanis and is committed to ensuring right to vote to them in elections.

“We are committed to the idea that dual-nationals should be able to participate in all our country’s civic matters, and that include the right to contest elections,” he told the Pakistani community.

He said no unelected people have the right to question the loyalty of anyone elected by the people of Pakistan; therefore the expatriates should be given the right of vote and to contest the general elections.

Appreciating the contribution of the Pakistanis living abroad, he said he could have their feelings as he was forced to live in exile along with his mother Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto.

He said most of the Pakistanis were first forced into exile during the country’s darkest dictatorship in the 1980s.

Bilawal said in fact, it is under this PPP government that overseas remittances have increased from $6 billion, from when it replaced Musharraf’s dictatorship, to almost $ 13 billion under the democratic government.

He said the PPP is transforming Pakistan and building its future.

He said the Pakistan Peoples Party is making history and added the democratic government has achieved more than ever that have been in the past.

Highlighting the achievements of democratic government, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said the restoration of the 1973 Constitution has been part of election manifesto since 1986 and it is not until this government that has finally achieved this goal.

“We have devolved power to the provinces, thus decentralizing government and bringing it closer to the people.”

Bilawal said Pakistan is undergoing the first peaceful transition of power in its 66-year history through a powerful and independent election commission.
He said this government has created the first social safety net for the poor in nation’s history and it was dream of his mother.

This government has passed more legislation for women in this parliament than in all past parliaments combined to ensure protection of women from domestic violence, he added.

He said, “This has been the only government not to hold people in prison for their political allegiances.”

Referring to the landmark Benazir Income Support Programme, he said it has been introduced to help the poorest of poor, allowing them to provide food, clothing and shelter for themselves and their families.

He said the Waseela-e-Haq Programme, started by PPP government, was helping the poorest people to improve their lives.

He said the Waseela-e-Rozgar Programme was started by the PPP government to provide full vocational and technical training to the poorest Pakistanis, empowering them with the skills they need to find work, earn an honest wage and in doing so help themselves, their families and the economy.

He said similarly the Waseela-e-Sehet Programme was launched to improve the health of the people and life insurance to the poorest Pakistanis.

He said similarly the Waseela-e-Taleem Programme has been started to provide educational facilities to the poor.

Bilawal said the economy during the PPP government, despite many challenges, withstood the global economic catastrophe, natural disasters, and the menace of terrorism. 

He said despite external shocks that led to fiscal deficit, Pakistan has, against all odds, managed to have an annual GDP growth rate of almost 4%.
“Our exports crossed an historic benchmark of $25 billion this year. It is the PPP’s economic policies that helped achieve this.  It is our agricultural policy that has transformed Pakistan from a wheat importer to a wheat exporter.”

Bilawal said in last two years agricultural policies have enabled farmers to earn an additional income of approximately Rs. 800 billion.

He said the global escalation in the price of oil and food affects the daily life of the average Pakistani but the PPP has tried its best to limit the impact on the common man while at the same time maintaining fiscal responsibilities to the economy as a whole.

He said despite the enormous economic challenges, the government has more than halved inflation from its peak at 25% to 11%.

Referring to Bloomberg News, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said it has recently rated the Karachi Stock Exchange the 4th best performing in the world. “Not in South Asia, not in Asia, not in the East, but in the world that is beyond imagination and it should be projected in the media properly,” he added.

He said, “We welcome constructive criticism. However, it is also our duty as Pakistanis to unite and highlight the good, not just the bad.”

He said the PPP government took a number of steps for the welfare of the labourers and regularized 12,000 contract employees, increased government employees salaries by more than 125% in the last four years.

Shares were distributed among the workers under Benazir Employees Stock Option scheme, he added.

Referring to the reconciliation policy of Benazir Bhutto, Bilawal said all the provinces have been given equal rights and some of genuine grievances of the smaller provinces were addressed.

Commenting on the Balochistan situation, Bilawal said “with every missing person and with every dead body, we realize a Baloch family loses hope in Pakistan.”

He said “We have stopped living in denial, and we cannot let the province bleed the way it has and taken historic measures to address the underlying causes of the challenges in Balochistan.”

He said, “Where Musharraf treated the people of Balochistan as enemies of the state, we see them as an integral part of our State of Pakistan.”

He said the share of the Balochistan in the new NFC has been more than Rs 95 billion as opposed to less than Rs 40 billion before the PPP government took power.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said the Human Rights Commission is designed to serve as a watchdog group to protect and fight for the human right wherever they may be infringed upon.

“We have increased minority representation in Parliament to make their voices heard on the national stage and our Party has always been the party for equal rights, and it our party that produces men of the caliber of Shaheed Salmaan Taseer and Shaheed Shahbaz Bhatti,” he added.

Condemning the making of blasphemous film, he said all major political parties in Pakistan have called for international legislation that restricts hate speech and criminalises incitement to violence.

“We believe a truly independent and impartial judiciary is a fundamental component to a democratic Pakistan, that is why we respect the majesty of justice and accept the rulings of our Supreme Court, despite reservations,” he added.

He said the PPP has stood shoulder to shoulder with the lawyers community in the quest for the restoration of an independent judiciary. 

He said the democratic government of the PPP opposed the drone strikes and added it will fight this war on its own terms and not at the dictation of any foreign power.

“Unlike the military dictator before us, who took orders from a single phone call, we have taken ownership of our foreign policy and our Parliament conducted a full review of our foreign policy, giving the people’s approval to our actions,” he added.

He said, “Unlike the military dictator, we have not been afraid to stand up to superpowers and we shut the supply routes in protest, we permanently shut Shamsi Air Base.”

President Azad Jammu and Kashmir Sardar Muhammad Yaqoob, President PPP USA Chaudhry Shafqat Tanveer, Qaim Gilani, Chaudhry Wahid Buksh Bhatti, Mian Basharat, Morez Mir, Farhat Chaudhry and Sarwar Chaudhry also spoke on this occasion.

Chairman Pakistan Peoples Party Bilawal Bhutto Zardari was also given “Voice of Democracy” award from the PPP USA for his efforts in promoting the democracy.

Earlier, various delegations of Pakistan Peoples Party from different states of USA and Canada separately called on  Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and discussed with him the party affairs, reorganization of the party and making it more effective and a strong political force.

The PPP Chairman and his sister Bhatawar Bhutto Zardari were given rousing welcome when they arrived at the  venue of the convention.


Following is the text of the speech made by Chairman Pakistan Peoples Party Bilawal Bhutto Zardari at the convention:

Bismillah
AOA
Jiyay Bhutto


It is truly a pleasure for me to be here today to address our patriotic Pakistanis living abroad. I know how you feel, being so far from our country, having been forced to live in exile myself along with my mother Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto. I know you can force me out of Pakistan but you can never take the passion for Pakistan out of me. Most of you were first forced into exile during our country’s darkest dictatorship in the 1980s.


Even though the dictator’s state had given up on you, you never gave up on Pakistan, and now have become the life blood of the Pakistani economy. In fact, it is under this PPP government that overseas remittances have increased from $6 billion, from when we replaced Musharraff’s dictatorship, to almost $13 billion under our democratic government.


The PPP has always, and will always, stand by our oversees Pakistanis. We are committed to insuring your right to vote in elections. We are committed to the idea that dual-nationals should be able to participate in all our country’s civic matters, and that includes the right to contest elections. No unelected people have the right to question the loyalty of anyone elected by the people of Pakistan. You must have your voices heard in the next election. If they don’t let you run, if they don’t let you vote, speak to your family and friends in Pakistan, come back to Pakistan yourselves, and support the Party that has not given up on your voice and your vote.


Ladies and gentlemen, some just talk change.  Others actually cause it.  And I am proud that my Party is transforming Pakistan and building its future.
It has been a long and difficult journey but it is still incomplete. I want you to know that once again, the Pakistan Peoples Party is making history.  It may not be the story that you watch on your television screens or the news you read about in the papers, but it is the transformation of Pakistan that is taking shape on the ground beneath our feet. The ground beneath our feet is shifting.  Our people are paying an enormous price, in blood, sweat and tears, sacrificing collectively to create a new, modern and equitable future for our children and the generations yet to come.


Despite all the conflict and challenges, let me remind you that Pakistan is making its first constitutional and peaceful transfer of power in all its history. We have transformed a dictatorship into a democracy, we have restored the supremacy of parliament, we have stripped our constitution of the illegal powers usurped by military dictators, we have nourished a thriving civil society and restored one of the freest presses in the world. 


No one thought it could happen, but almost five years after my mother’s martyrdom and the election of a new government, democracy in Pakistan is strong, growing, and laying the groundwork for a very different nation than we have ever known.


Others have promised change.  Our PPP government has delivered it.


We have been accused of not fulfilling any of our promises. We have achieved more than we ever have in the past. The restoration of the 1973 constitution has been part of our election manifesto since 1986 and it is not until this government that we have finally achieved this goal. We have devolved power to the provinces, thus decentralizing government and bringing it closer to the people. What this means is that the provinces have both the resources and the responsibility as  key stakeholders in governance. This is democracy bringing the once remote state closer to your doorstep.


My friends, as we meet together tonight, Pakistan is undergoing the first peaceful transition of power in its 66 year history.  A powerful and independent election commission which my mother fought for, my father has delivered, to oversee free, fair and transparent elections. 


Roti, Kapraa, Makkan has been our slogan ever since the PPP’s first election. We have done more during this government than ever before. Our government has created the first social safety net for the poor in our nation’s history, this too implementing my mother’s dream in my mothers name.  Today, the women of our households are being empowered within their families, thereby improving society as a whole.


We have passed more legislation for women in this parliament than in all past parliaments combined. From domestic violence to property rights, the women of Pakistan are being protected by the law, by our government. This is an enormous accomplishment that will not only take women to the path to empowerment, but will benefit their children.


Some of these laws are already beginning to have effect on the ground: the Sexual Harassment at the Workplace law, for instance, has been used by victims in both the private sector as well as government departments, to stop the abuse of women at the workplace.  This is no abstract law, it has started to mean something on the ground, and we need your support to make all the new laws a daily reality in people’s lives. 


And while we are on the subject of human rights, let me remind you that we lead by example, and have been the only government not to hold people in prison for their political allegiances.


Ladies and Gentlemen, poverty in Pakistan is a stain on our collective conscience. To be a prosperous society we must seek to eliminate poverty. If we look at the history of poverty in Pakistan, we see the crushing truth that through no fault of the child, through the accident of birth, the girl born into poverty has virtually no chance to escape. This is grossly unfair, as our masses are our biggest asset.


The landmark Benazir Income Support Program gives a monthly stipend to women of the households of the poorest of the poor allowing them to provide food, clothing and shelter for themselves and their families.


In Pakistan the gap between rich and poor is enormous. Any successful society seeks to close this chasm, increase social mobility and sustain a strong middle class. The richest Pakistanis can take advantage of the opportunities their wealth affords them to start businesses and expand their wealth even further. But it is not just rich people who have great ideas. Our country is full of people who have great ideas and they should all be afforded the same opportunities.  The Waseela-e-Haq program, started by your party’s government, helps the poorest people turn these great ideas, their dreams, into a reality. It provides micro loans to the poorest Pakistanis who want to start their own businesses. The loans are targetted not only to the poorest people but also to identifiable business lifting not only the poor people and their families but also their communities out of poverty.


With Pakistan’s booming population, there’s no shortage of people ready, willing and able to work. They just lack the skills to do so. That is where the Waseela-e-Rozgar, started by your party’s government, comes in. It aims to provide full vocational and technical training to the poorest Pakistanis, empowering them with the skills they need to find work, earn an honest wage and in doing so help themselves, their families and our economy.


A healthy economy needs a healthy population.The Waseela-e-Sehet program, started by your party’s government, provides health and life insurance to the poorest Pakistani. Our goal is to insure that no one is denied the healthcare they need just because they cannot afford it. That life and death should be a matter of fate not a matter of wealth. Our life insurance program provides a protective cushion for families at the most difficult point in their lives, so that the loss of a loved one, the loss of the breadwinner no longer means that desperate families are left alone to fend for themselves.  There are heartbreaking examples of young children running the street stalls their fathers used to run, before they were killed in suicide attacks. This is a devastating reality this program will help to change.


Poor children are doomed to live the same impoverished life as their parents because they don’t have access to education. Their parents can’t afford to send them to school because they need them to start working as early as possible and help with the household income.


The Waseela-e-Taleem program, started by your party’s government, strikes a deal with the parents of poorest Pakistanis:
 

You commit to sending your children to school and we will help you financially. By doing so, the PPP aims to end the vicious cycle of generational poverty.
On the economic front, the PPP to came into power amidst the worst global recession in recent history. It is our government’s policies that prevent certain collapse. Our economy has withstood this global economic catasrophe, natural disasters, and the menace of terrorism.  Unlike even the world’s greatest economies we did not have to bail out a single bank. While Europe falls into a double dip recession with negative economic growth, despite external shocks that led to fiscal deficit,Pakistan has against all odds managed to have an annual GDP growth rate of almost 4%.
 

Our exports crossed an historic benchmark of $25 billion this year. It is the PPP’s economic policies that helped achieve this. It is our agricultural policy that has transformed Pakistan from a wheat importer to a wheat exporter. For example, by increasing the wheat support price we empowered our farmers to grow more wheat.  We have literally gone from being unable to feed ourselves, we had to import wheat, to being able to feed not only ourselves but also the world by exporting our surplus wheat. This is just one of many policies that have lead to a boom in our agricultural economy. In the last 2 years our agricultural policies have enabled our farmers to  earn an additional income of approximately Rs. 800 billion.


The global escalation in the price of oil and food affects the daily life of the average Pakistani. The PPP has tried its best to limit the impact on the common man while at the same time maintaining our fiscal responsibilities to the economy as a whole.  We see inflation as one of our most pressing issues, once again because of the effect it has on the common man.  Despite the enormous economic challenges we face, your government has more than halved inflation from its peak at 25% to 11%. This means the cost of everyday goods for the average Pakistani are cheaper than they otherwise would have been.
We face huge economic challenges. However, it is also time we as Pakistanis showed some economic patriotism. Especially when we have so many factors working against us from terrorism to national disasters to global economic crisis, it is our duty to point out how successful we have been. For example, I bet you have never heard this fact. Bloomberg News has recently rated the Karachi Stock Exchange amongst the 4th best performing in the world. Not in South Asia, not in Asia, not in the East, but in the world! Can you imagine if this was any other government at any other time this fact, this indicator of the health of our economy, would be ignored by our own Pakistani media? It is time for some economic patriotism.  It is time to put our difference aside. We welcome constructive criticism. However it is also ouR duty as Pakistanis to unite and highlight the good not just the bad.


The PPP’s commitment to the labour of Pakistan is second to none. We are committed to the strengthening of unions, while all others are committed to their dismemberment. We’ve regularized 12,000 contract employees, we’ve increased government employees salaries by more than 125% in the last four years. One of our proudest achievements is the Benazir Employees Stock Option scheme which gives a share of all state-owned enterprises to the employees working for these companies. This makes workers joint owners of the companies they work for. This gives them a stake in the company. Shares worth many billions of rupees have been given to more than half a million employees. We truly are the only party that is on the side of the workers and not captive to special interests who seek to profit from our national assets at the expense of the hard working people who have devoted their lives to these companies.


Time and time again we have sought to do just that, give the power back to the people. This is the foundation we are laying. My mother’s policy of reconciliation gives everyone that voice in the system, gives the smaller provinces an equal stake in the federation.
Some of the genuine grievances of the smaller provinces can now be addressed, and as this new structure takes root, the local needs of the people can be addressed in a real sense.  


As desperate as the situation in Balochistan is today, with every missing person and with every dead body, we realize a Baloch family loses hope in Pakistan.


We have stopped living in denial, and we cannot let the province bleed the way it has. We have taken historic measures to address the underlying causes of the challenges in Balochistan. Where Musharraf treated the people of Balochistan as enemies of the state, we see them as an integral part of our state of Pakistan. We have a long way to go in addressing all the wrongs done to them, but at least we’ve started the process. There will be no going back. One of the first acts of our government was to apologize to the people of Balochistan for the wrongs done to them. We then passed legislation that has changed the equation, and that means instead of the federation solely benefitting from the resources, there is redistribution of the resources, where the localities, the province, and its people now have a share.

In addition, the Aghaz-e-Haqooq Balochistan package the government has passed addressed Balochistan’s sense of discrimination and brings it to par with the other provinces in terms of funds, employment and infrastructure. This year, the share of the Balochistan in the new NFC has been more than 95 billion rupees as opposed to less than 40 billion rupees before our government took power.

There is no short term solution, but for the first time in our history, we have made the necessary structural change to address the long term challenges that is necessary for a prosperous, peaceful and stable Pakistan that plays its rightful, integral part in Pakistan. It is an immense task ahead of us, but our government is committed to seeing it through.

The sense of deprivation and discrimination also exists in the minority communities of Pakistan. Pakistan itself was founded as a land where the Muslims in India could live in peace and security, free from the worry of being a second-class citizen. We, in turn, must protect the minorities within our own borders. Law and order should protect the Christian, the Hindu and any minority faith.

Our government stands shoulder to shoulder with all minorities. Our model of citizenship is an inclusive one.  We have passed legislation, such as the Human Rights Commission, which is designed to serve as a watchdog group to protect and fight for their rights wherever they may be infringed upon.we have increased minority representation in Parliament to make their voices heard on the national stage. Our Party has always been the party for equal rights, and it our party that produces men of the caliber of Shaheed Salmaan Taseer and Shaheed Shahbaz Bhatti, men who knew the dangers and risks they faced but raised their voices and sacrificed their lives for the most vulnerable in our society, following in the footsteps of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto.
For in a diverse society such as ours, we cannot tolerate discrimination against ANY faith. I join the unanimous chorus of condemnation of a vile, hateful, blasphemous video that has unfortunately incited violence across the Muslim world. We know Islam teaches that murder of one innocent is the murder of all humanity. When our Prophet (peace be upon him) was the messenger of peace, love and harmony - how can we pretend to defend his honor with death and destruction? Surely those of us that protest peacefully are the true followers of Islam.

The unity of all major political parties in Pakistan on this issue is inspirational. That we can stand united in our protest, united in our condemnation of violence, united in our condemnation of this hateful video - fills me with hope.
 
I do wish this unity existed for the threats we face from within. As Muslims and Pakistanis we are often quick to unite against perceived threats to our religion from external forces but are divided when it comes to threats against our country and religion from within.
 
I believe that all major political parties in Pakistan have called for international legislation that restricts hate speech and criminalises incitement to violence. How can we expect the world to act when we don’t act on hate speech and incitement of violence that occurs in our own country? The incitement of violence, the distortion of facts, the purely fictional interpretation of Islam used to harm innocents goes unpunished.
 
This must end. It is my belief this environment is being created by the enemies of Pakistan to orchestrate a genocide of our fellow Shia Muslims. The whole nation must stand united against this menace. We fly the Shia Alaam above Bilawal House as a symbol of my family’s and my party’s solidarity with our Shia brothers and sisters. Our beloved founder, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah was a Shia himself and it is his vision for a pluralistic, peaceful society that our party wants to make reality.
 
We are the only political party that has consistently stood on the right side of history, opposed every dictatorship and committed to democracy every step of the way, and fought for democratic rule in Pakistan.
 
We believe a truly independent and impartial judiciary is a fundamental component to a democratic Pakistan. That is why we respect the majesty of justice and accept the rulings of our Supreme Court, despite reservations.
 
The PPP has stood shoulder to shoulder with the lawyer community in our quest for the restoration of an independent judiciary.

We did not sacrifice the lives of our workers, we did not come this far in ending military dictatorships forever only to succumb to judicial dictatorships. We will not violate the Vienna Convention and we will not violate the Constitution of Pakistan. If this Court sees it fit to do so, if the courts insist on putting the grave of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto on trial, to repeat the mistakes of history, refuse to redeem themselves from the role they have played in the judicial murder of Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. The ultimate decisions will lie in the court of the people and the courts of history. The Pakistan People’s Party must set the precedent for democratic governments to come and will therefore continue to follow the principles of democracy and the principles of justice, whether we agree or disagree with the Supreme Court’s decisions.

While we can agree to disagree on whether justice is being done, we must all agree a basic principle of justice is that justice should not only be done but it should be seen to be done.  The judiciary in Pakistan will never build its reputation as a truly independent and impartial judiciary if there are to be double standards.

It is highly inappropriate, for instance, that in the case of the Chief Justice’s own son the investigator, the prosecutor and the judges who will hear the case are cherry picked by the court. My hope is that the Court will find its rightful role and carry out its duties in such a way that it restores its institutional credibility.  If the Court cannot or will not, we the people must call for the judicial reforms needed in a mature democracy.

Our democracy also faces the challenge of governing while combating the threat of terrorism. We lost our leader Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto to this fight, we’ve lost our party workers to this fight, we’ve lost our soldiers, our innocent men women and children but we will not lose our country to this fight. When we came into power the extremists had taken over our beautiful Swat Valley. The government’s strategy of dialogue, deterrence and development was successful and as a result, we have regained Swat from terrorists.  Those planning a peace march into Waziristan should visit the now thriving marketplaces in Swat, which were once the bloody squares where the terrorists hung the bodies of innocent civilians in their hateful campaign of death and destruction.
Ladies and Gentlemen, this is our war. When our soldiers are fighting and dying for our country, abducted and beheaded by the Taliban, when our people are in schools, markets, mosques, buses, going about their daily lives and being brutally killed, how then, can one say this is not our war?

We too oppose drone strikes. We will fight this war on our terms and not at the dictation of any foreign power. Unlike the military dictator before us, who took orders from a single phone call, we have taken ownership of our foreign policy. Our Parliament conducted a full review of our foreign policy, giving the people’s approval to our actions. Unlike the military dictator before us, we have not been afraid to stand up to superpowers. We shut the supply routes in protest, we permanently shut Shamsi Air Base.

There are politicians who now paint themselves as the guardians of our sovereignty but were the same politicians in power when the government took directions from a single phone call, opened the supply lines in the first place and granted use of Shamsi Air Base.  Why do they protest now if they would not protest then?

I did not come here to deliver a speech full of rhetoric and slogans. I come here to outline what your party has accomplished, against all odds and expectations, and what we have yet to do and will do inshallah.

We must remain familiar with our history, sensible in our present and always hopeful for our future. I firmly believe there is nothing wrong with Pakistan that cannot be fixed by what is great about Pakistan.

Pakistan Zindabad.”

 

 

 

 

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