07/20/2012, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Punjab asks that an air force base be named after Cecil Chaudhry

by Shafique Kokhar
Punjab Pakistan People's Party MPA Najmi Saleem introduces proposal in provincial assembly. Christians welcome the decision; however, they note it should have been done when the Catholic air force hero died.

Lahore (AsiaNews) - Punjab's provincial assembly has called on the Pakistani Air Force to name one of its bases after Cecil Chaudhry, an air force hero and a Catholic. The resolution was introduced by Najmi Saleem, a Member of the Provincial Assembly (MPA) for the Pakistan People's Party, which is in power at the federal level but in the opposition in Punjab. The vote was unanimous (352 votes) but some MPAs chose not to vote.

Fr Bonnie Mendes is very happy for "the assembly vote. People have been were waiting for such a move. Ms Saleem became their voice."

A great friend and aide to Shahbaz Bhatti, the federal minorities' affairs minister slain on 2 March 2011, Cecil Chaudhry passed away on 13 April after a long battle with cancer.

A war hero who was decorated in the 1965 and 1971 wars, he retired from active duty in 1986 and became a major figure in the efforts to achieve Indo-Pakistani reconciliation.

Over the same period, he played an important role in defending human rights and promoting youth education.

His retirement, some believe, was due to his Catholic faith. Pakistan's conservative military establishment could not consider a Christian commanding the air force.

In Pakistan, Christians are just 2 per cent out of a population of 180 million.

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