The National Assembly set aside contentions for a while on Thursday to honour the memory of Quaid-i-Azam. – APP Photo

ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly set aside contentions for a while on Thursday to honour the memory of Quaid-i-Azam with rare cheers for what is perceived as his secular vision for Pakistan and some rhetorical vows to follow his teachings in tackling the country’s problems.

But the occasion marking what is called an historic Aug 11, 1947, address of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah to Pakistan’s first constituent assembly – three days before the formal creation of the new country at partition of the formerly British-ruled India — seemed little more than ceremony.

The house met one hour late with a sparse attendance and some lawmakers who crowded Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s desk mainly to get papers signed by him during an opposition speech had to be reminded by Speaker Fehmida Mirza to maintain order since the proceedings were being telecast live.

The only time desk-thumping cheers from both the treasury and opposition benches rang out in the house was when the speaker, while reading out a portion of the Quaid’s speech so lawmakers “seek inspiration and guidance from his wisdom”, finished that famous paragraph often seen as his unfulfilled wish to see Pakistan as a secular state:

“You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or any other places of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the state.”

However, a couple of religious figures, including one from Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI), who were present in the house at the time seemed unimpressed and sat motionless in their seats, though JUI’s lone female member elected on a special seat for Christians from Balochistan province, Asia Nasir, joined members of other parties in desk-thumping.

But whether by design or oversight, neither the prime minister nor some other members who spoke on behalf of their parties specifically took up the theme that was greeted with cheers and that is often cited as a shield against religious parties seeking to have theocracy in Pakistan whose creation some of them had opposed during the independence movement.

Mr Gilani referred in general terms to the Quaid’s “vision of rights to all on the basis of equality” that he said “we should follow” and described the parliamentary system of government and provincial autonomy as the founder of the nation’s political concept followed also by PPP leaders Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto.

Calling for national unity, the prime minister said no single party could meet the country’s present-day challenges, adding: “If we are together, we can solve all problems, whether of law and order in Karachi, or of terrorism or economic challenges.”

“Let us resolve again today to make the country strong economically and defence-wise,” he said and used the occasion to reiterate that Pakistan’s nuclear programme was in “safe hands” and secure from any evil eye.

PML-N parliamentary leader Sardar Mehtab Ahmed Khan, the main speaker from opposition benches, regretted what he called deviation from the Quaid-i-Azam’s vision by successive rulers and institutions that were under oath to protect the Constitution by imposing martial law and creating situation like the separation of former East Pakistan and the prevailing law and order situation and terrorism.

He accused the present government of failing to come up to people’s expectations in three and a half years of its existence.

It was after a mini debate on the Quaid’s ideals that the house resumed what has been an acrimonious debate for over a week on the recent wave of deadly violence in Karachi and sectarian attacks in Quetta and saw another token walkout by the government-allied ANP for the third day running to protest against a government about-face over the local government system in Sindh province to appease the Karachi-based MQM.

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