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First Pakistani leader to speak in Indian parliament's Central Hall

Friday July 08, 2011 07:16:14 PM, IANS

New Delhi: National Assembly Speaker Fehmida Mirza will be the first Pakistani leader to make a speech in Indian parliament's Central Hall when a four-day conference of lawmakers from eight SAARC member countries opens Saturday evening.

Mirza, the first woman speaker in the Muslim world, is leading the six-member Pakistani contingent at the 5th Summit Conference of Association of SAARC Speakers and Parliamentarians that will be thrown open by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

She would be the first Pakistani leader to speak in the historic Central Hall that has earlier hosted speeches of world leaders, including US President Barack Obama last year. Obama and other world leaders, however, have addressed joint sessions of the Indian MPs from both upper and lower houses.

"As far as I can recall, no Pakistani leader, prime minister or president has ever spoken from the Central Hall of parliament. Also, the Central Hall is rarely used for international conferences. Such conferences usually take place in Vigyan Bhavan. This makes Mirza the first Pakistani leader to speak from the historic hall," author and veteran journalist S.P.K. Gupta, who has been covering Indian parliament since 1963, told IANS.

The Pakistani contingent consists of three more women MPs -- Tasneem Siddiqui, Shahnaz Ali and Kashmala Tariq.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will make the inaugural address at the four-day conference. It would be followed by the addresses of the speakers of the national parliaments of the other SAARC countries -- Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, a statement from the Lok Sabha Secretariat said.

Afghanistan, which became the eighth member of the SAARC in 2007, is making a debut at the summit.

Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar will deliver the welcome address in her capacity as the president of the conference.

The themes chosen for discussions at the conference include 'Consolidating Democracy, Strengthening trust between Parliament and People, and Sustainable Development in SAARC Countries - The Way Forward'.

Nearly 130 delegates, observers, accompanying people from the eight SAARC countries are attending the conference to be held at Hotel Taj Mahal, New Delhi.

Viewed as a part of Track-II diplomatic initiative between the two countries, the Pakistani parliamentarians are likely to meet members of the Indian civil society. The visit comes days before Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers meet in New Delhi later this month.

The Association of SAARC Speakers and Parliamentarians was launched in 1992 with an objective of promoting people-to-people contacts and interaction among the parliaments and parliamentarians to deepen the roots of parliamentary democracy in the South Asia region.

This is for the second time that the conference is being hosted by India.

Earlier, the conferences were held in New Delhi, Islamabad, Dhaka and Colombo during the years 1995, 1997, 1999, and 2006, respectively.

Cultural programmes showcasing the cultural heritage of India will be organised July 9 and 10 in honour of the delegates who will also be taken on a guided tour of the Parliament House. They will visit Jaipur and Ajmer July 11.











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