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Govt apologises over remarks in NA

March 13, 2004

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ISLAMABAD, March 12: An opposition protest walkout from the National Assembly on Friday forced a government apology in what seems to be brewing controversy over how much jihad should be taught in the country's schools and colleges.

All opposition parties, despite their own known differences over Islamization, joined the MMA-led walkout to protest against a parliamentary secretary's remarks during the question hour, which was followed by more opposition criticism of army interference in politics on the second day of a debate on President Pervez Musharraf's Jan 17 address to parliament.

While members of the ARD and its allies returned after a few minutes, those of the MMA stayed away until Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed persuaded them back into the house to hear his apology for the remarks by education parliamentary secretary Dewan Syed Jafar Hussain justifying the omission of some Quranic verses from biology textbooks.

"The inclusion of Quranic verses is not a requirement of curriculum," said a written reply from Education Minister Zubaida Jalal in reply to a question from Laiq Khan (MMA, Sindh) about whether and why Quranic verses had been omitted from biology books for the intermediate first year.

"However, in this case, the Sindh Textbook Board has shifted Quranic verses from the book of biology for classes XI-XII to the book of biology for classes IX-X," the minister said.

While answering supplementary questions from MMA members, parliamentary secretary Jafar Hussain denied their charge that the government was omitting verses about jihad and Christians and Jews to meet what they called US conditions for helping the country's education sector.

The walkout was provoked by one of his remarks that questioned the relevance of certain verses to biology.

"I seek apology if their sentiments are injured," the information minister said after the MMA members returned to the house following a blistering attack on the president's policies by PML-N's Khwaja Asif at the start of the debate on presidential address.

MMA's Hafiz Hussain Ahmed said the minister had assured the protesters that the objectionable remarks by the parliamentary secretary would be expunged from the house proceedings and that his colleagues reserved the right to move a privilege motion on the issue.

Sheikh Rashid said no true Muslim could renounce jihad "which is a must for Muslims when the time comes". But he did not say if he had assured the protesters about expunction of the remarks nor did the speaker issued any such order.

Main speech of the day was from PPP stalwart Aitzaz Ahsan, who accused the government of mishandling the nuclear proliferation issue and endangering Pakistan's nuclear assets, which he said could now fall under a "dual control" like a bank locker that would deny Islamabad independence of action.

He said instead of putting the whole responsibility on scientists, the government should have avoided immediate external pressures by referring the issue to an inquiry by three Supreme Court judges.

He also proposed an inquiry into what he called the "judicial murder" of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto after one of the former Supreme Court judges who convicted him, Justice Nasim Hasan Shah, admitted in a TV programme that the former prime minister was wrongly hanged and blamed the conviction ruling on alleged annoyance of the judges by main defence lawyer Yahya Bakhtiar.

Mr Ahsan called for cooperation between the treasury and opposition benches to revive supremacy of parliament that, according to him, had been undermined by Gen Musharraf.

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