ISLAMABAD -  Pakistan People’s Party Wednesday urged the leaders to unite the nation rather than dividing it.

Speaking at an iftar-dinner hosted by PPP Leader Senator Sherry Rehman here, Bilawal said with the fires of conflict, both sectarian and mercenary, threatening to engulf many Muslim countries, it was important for leaders to unite, not divide.

“Pakistan today should be speaking of tolerance, faith and unity. In this age of long wars, illiberal voices and borderless challenges, we should be worrying much more about connecting our region, about disengaged neighbours, and of internal challenges to stability. Although I want to use this brief time to talk about the future, the past casts a long shadow over our histories, both remembered and unlearnt,” he said.

Despite this being a summer of public discontent, I want to take a moment to remind ourselves that Ramzan is about reflection, prayer and the power of peace in a troubled world. I believe that real prayer is as much about deeds as it is about ritual, and it is at times of crisis, both national and international, that the actions and words we use reflect our core values, he added.

He said Pakistan today should be speaking of tolerance, faith and unity. In this age of long wars, illiberal voices and borderless challenges, “we should be worrying much more about connecting our region, about disengaged neighbours, and of internal challenges to stability. Although I want to use this brief time to talk about the future, the past casts a long shadow over our histories, both remembered and unlearnt.”

The PPP chief said many do not know that it was not always this way and did not have to be this way. “Pakistan was held in high esteem both globally and within the Muslim community, where my grandfather, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, would call the Ummah (nation) together at a conference in Lahore, to bury our differences and jointly pledge for common goals as responsible actors in the international community, he recalled.

He added: “Even as close as 2012, Pakistan did not have strained relations with Kabul. Under (former) President (Asif Ali) Zardari’s stewardship we were diligent to build friendships across the length and breadth of Afghanistan, careful not to privilege one group over another.”

He said despite the Mumbai attack in 2008, “we were able to iterate that Islamabad wants to move past old frames of strategic reference. We could still deal with terrorism as a joint regional problem, with ongoing bilateral dialogue, not just summitry or quiet cups of tea.”

On the broader end of the spectrum, he said: “I know China was always Pakistan’s friend, through thick and thin, yet the grand plan of Gawadar port and economic interdependence too came from us, as did navigating the relationship of the NATO and American alliances through turbulent waters.”

Bilawal said Pakistan has always supported the Kashmiri people in their legitimate struggle for self-determination and urged the international community to speak to the human rights atrocities committed in Indian held Kashmir.

He said it would be a good time to remind ourselves of the urgency and salience of public priorities. “Many imperatives have gotten lost in the unresolved story of Panama and other leaks that sprang from the international journalists’ dragnet. We need a clear head and strong hand at the wheel,” he said.

Bilawal said many had forgotten that a state of national inaction gripped Pakistan’s drive against the one thing we should unite against, “which is violent extremism.”

He added: “We should be worrying about the rising graph of intolerance that fuels lynching and mob violence. Our universities, colleges’ schools need to be beacons of learning and critical thinking, not redoubts defined by the darkness of scorching hatreds and exclusion.”

He said people need to see leadership on this account, not just condemnations and statements of resolve. “We need to move beyond that. We need to regroup as a country, as a nation against the enemies of an inclusive, peaceful Pakistan. I would like to pay respect to icons of bravery, victims and heroes of our time, like Mashal Khan and Malala Yousufzai. One died painfully as a price for being young, gifted and an activist, while the other lives bravely, against all odds, telling her tale,” he said.

Bilawal said the nation should be thinking of “why we need such costly valor from our students. We should be altering the curriculum that in some provinces still promises endless war, not the Quaid-e-Azam’s strong message of plural inclusion from his August 11, 1947 speech to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan. I know we are doing it in Sindh. But surely others must follow, and answer for what is being taught in our public schools.”

He said more than anything “we should be thinking of our own future, my generation, which is going to need jobs and opportunities. Our demographic map is no secret. Without a path to equitable growth, and incomes that invest in the old and new economy, we cannot break out of the cycle of disrepair that our system has become hostage to.”

The PPP leader said there was no silver bullet for transforming Pakistan’s trajectory, but change must, change will come. “It will come only if people sense that there is hope. My mother, Benazir Bhutto, was known for being bullish on hope, but she also had a plan, like we do. What do I hope for? Mundane entitlements, some may think, but important to changing lives,” he maintained.

Bilawal said he meets all sorts of people every day, “but most of all, I meet the dispossessed who come to us, the PPP, with hope in their eyes, sometimes even a desperate hope. They don’t ask for much. They want clean water in their taps, security against terror, schools that get their children jobs and hospitals that manage their health needs. These are basic entitlements, promised with food, shelter and freedom from poverty that my party has long fought for.”

Bilawal said he will measure success for a next government, after “we re-framed the relationship of the federation to the provinces in the 18th Constitutional Amendment, by its commitment to making Pakistan sovereign and equitable. I measure sovereignty not just by taking responsibility for what goes on within my borders, who we fight inside and who without, but also for self-reliance.”

He said Pakistan has just come out of a stormy budget session in parliament, and “it struck me as extremely worrying that along with our exports, our tax base has shrunk. Both have shrunk disastrously since our government, while all levels of debt have gone up, and it takes no calculus lessons to say that this is not how national sovereignty or social justice is achieved. We have to start somewhere by matching revenue with expenditure. This will not be achieved by borrowing from capital markets and more indirect taxes. This is the path away from true sovereignty, not towards it.”

Bilawal said he was glad that the Benazir Income Support Program was growing, which is Pakistan’s largest social transfer program. “It came from our government and our manifesto, with its strong emphasis on flattening social pyramids,” he added. Earlier, Senator Sherry Rehman welcomed the guests. The event was attended by PPP leaders, members of other parties and diplomats.

 

SHAFQAT ALI