Killed for his belief
In Pakistan, fanatics spill more blood
Editorial in Pioneer, New Delhi
March 03, 2011 10:28:42 AM
The assassination of Pakistan’s Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti for his criticism of the Islamic Republic’s harsh and inhuman blasphemy law is no doubt a heinous crime but let us not feign surprise that such a terrible thing has happened in that country once again. Less than two months after the powerful Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, was gunned down for exactly the same reason, the murder of Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian Minister in the Pakistani Cabinet, was really predictable — “I was told by the religious extremists… you will be killed,” he had said during an interview. Consequently, he had been accorded extra security but Shahbaz Bhatti had little faith even in his guards. Little wonder that when Taliban jihadis attacked his vehicle on Wednesday morning, the Minister had no security detail. Shahbaz Bhatti was declared dead at a local hospital where the customary autopsy revealed that the terrorists, all of them Pakistanis, had pumped at least 35 bullets into his face, chest and stomach. Such are the wages of the Pakistani state’s collective sin. A country founded on the basis of religion is bound to degenerate into a theocracy and descend into murderous chaos. Mohammed Ali Jinnah may have grandly declared in Pakistan’s Constituent Assembly that “You may belong to any religion… that has nothing to do with the business of the state” but there is little evidence to suggest that either he or those who took over from him took any of these words to heart. We also should not be distracted by what Jinnah promised and his successors practised while looking for Pakistan’s ‘lost secular ideals’ for they never existed. Pakistan has transmogrified, as it was destined to, into a haven for terrorists of varying shades of Islamism, all of them raring to wage jihad both within and outside the country that was supposed to provide shelter and succour to the sub-continent’s Muslims. Pakistan’s political and military elite bred and reared a monster to implement Islamabad’s policy of promoting cross-border terrorism; that monster has now turned on its master. It’s a beast which can never be appeased, but this simple message continues to be lost on both the Generals of Rawalpindi and the politicians of Islamabad.
It’s futile to debate and deliberate on Pakistan’s future. At the moment, it’s a country in free fall, a state which is collapsing with every passing day. Yet, and tragically so for Pakistanis, their rulers, including the men in khaki who persist with their dollar-fetching fiction that Pakistan faces its real threat from India and not from jihadis within, are seemingly callous and couldn’t care less about the state of affairs which prevails. The Americans thought they could fix Pakistan and prop it up with large handouts of civilian and military aid. But despite billions of dollars being poured into bottomless pits that dot Islamabad and Rawalpindi, Pakistan remains as rickety as ever — some would argue even more than ever before. We can bemoan the passing of liberalism in Pakistan and the danger faced by those who are yet to be converted to the ideology that drives the Taliban and Al Qaeda to commit horrendous crimes, including against their co-religionists. But that is not going to help either Pakistan or Pakistanis. For, ultimately Pakistanis alone can save their country from imploding into a million pieces.
Editorial in Indian Express, New Delhi
Posted online: Thu Mar 03 2011, 03:06 hrs
The murderous culture wars over Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have silenced another voice. Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian member of the cabinet, has been ambushed and shot dead for arguing that these laws be diluted.
Blasphemy is acting or speaking in a way that scorns the existence or power of those held sacred — and Pakistan’s penal code has a range of punishments for insulting Islam, ranging up to the death penalty. The law was substantially strengthened under General Zia ul-Haq’s military dictatorship. Though no one has been given the death penalty, hundreds of people are in jail under vague blasphemy charges — the laws are often wielded against religious minorities, or even to settle narrow grudges. And merely the accusation of blasphemy is sometimes enough to spark violence from angry mobs, no matter what the judicial verdict is. In fact, this immediate wave of conflict was provoked by the death sentence handed out to a Christian woman in Punjab, Asia Bibi. But in a climate of death threats and hostility, and especially after the governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, was killed by one of his bodyguards for his outspoken support of Asia Bibi, many of those who advocated reform of the harsh laws have been cowed into submission. The government has dismissed any talk of amending the laws.
Pakistan has always been riven by this struggle to define its soul, the competing tugs of conservative Islam and liberal modernity. That debate has been ongoing, but now it appears as if religious bigotry is exclusively dictating the agenda through the streets and mosques, and strangling all other worldviews. The state and its institutions should see the incident for the larger threat it bodes.
Shahbaz Bhatti: a great loss
EDITORIAL in Daily Times, Lahore
Federal Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti was gunned down on Wednesday morning in Islamabad as he left his house to attend a cabinet meeting. According to reports, Mr Bhatti was ambushed by unknown assailants who shot him several times. Mr Bhatti succumbed to his injuries while he was being taken to hospital. No group initially took responsibility for the assassination but pamphlets left by Mr Bhatti’s body were attributed to the Pakistani Taliban. Later in the day, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility and issued a statement that “those proposing amendments in the blasphemy law will meet the same fate”. President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani have strongly condemned the incident and ordered an inquiry into it. Within two months, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has lost two of its prominent members. Mr Bhatti’s assassination comes almost two months after Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer’s murder in Islamabad. Being a member of the minority community, Mr Bhatti was vocal about the misuse of the blasphemy laws. In an interview to the BBC, Mr Bhatti had said: “I was told that if I was to continue the campaign against the blasphemy law, I will be assassinated. I will be beheaded. But forces of violence, forces of extremism cannot harass me, cannot threaten me.” Mr Bhatti’s brutal assassination has once again highlighted the fact that we are fast turning into a violent society.
Governor Taseer’s assassination and now Mr Bhatti’s murder by religious zealots should serve as a wake up call for the government. If the terrorists can kill the governor of Punjab and a federal minister in broad daylight in the capital of Pakistan, the government should not rest till the perpetrators are nabbed and brought to book. The extremist groups feel that they have a free hand to do as they please, to silence voices they disagree with. The PPP was pussyfooting around Mr Taseer’s murder. It is because of the PPP government’s spineless response to Mr Taseer’s assassination that the religious right was further emboldened.
Mr Bhatti had asked for more security in the face of additional threats following Mr Taseer’s murder on January 4. Officials have so far denied that there was a security lapse in this case. Inspector General Islamabad Police Wajid Durrani said that two squads were provided to Mr Bhatti but he himself had asked that no squad be provided at his residence. Even if Mr Bhatti had made that request, in the light of the grave threats given to him, the security officials should not have entertained his request and should have insisted against it. The terrorists who killed Mr Bhatti were not met by any resistance because there was no security detail to protect him. It is also astonishing that even though the debate on any amendment or repeal of blasphemy laws died with the death of Mr Taseer, the religious right continues to play this card to justify violence.
Religious intolerance is increasing while dissident voices are being silenced in Pakistan one after another. All those who have raised their voice against the extremist mindset are being threatened or harassed. The government must not let the terrorists challenge the writ of the state anymore. This is not the time to be frightened into silence. It is time to implement the law and not surrender in front of the extremists. Our founding fathers did not wage a struggle for an intolerant society. They wanted equal rights for all human beings regardless of their caste, creed and religion. We must reclaim our tolerant heritage. Pakistan cannot let the blood of Mr Taseer and Mr Bhatti go to waste. RIP Shahbaz Bhatti. A brave man like you will surely be missed. *
SECOND EDITORIAL: Human rights activist killed
On Tuesday, human rights activist and Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) coordinator for district Khuzdar, Balochistan, Naeem Sabir was shot dead by unknown assailants in his home town. This was the latest in the series of targeted killings of those raising their voice for the rights of the Baloch. Naeem Sabir was also a writer and chairman of an NGO, Health and Rural Development of Balochistan, and defended the rights of the disadvantaged, particularly handicapped persons. His crime was his outspokenness and consistent reporting of human rights abuses in his district. Khuzdar area has been particularly volatile, with news of demonstrations, clashes with security forces, abductions, and the discovery of bullet-riddled bodies, and search operations consistently emanating from this district during the past few years. Baloch Students’ Organisation-Azad has a strong presence in this district, which is home to Balochistan University of Engineering and Technology. The strategic location of the district on the border of Sindh, through which Pakistan National Highway linking Pakistan to Iran and Turkey passes, might be another reason why security forces are rattled by the fear of expanding insurgency and unleashed brutal repression in the district. Anyone who was actively involved in regularly exposing human rights violations by the security forces was an obvious target.
In recent months, the tactics of state agencies have changed, which are now abducting and killing dissidents, instead of keeping them in custody or killing them secretly. Earlier, such persons were disappeared without a trace. As a result of protests by their relatives and pressure by the Supreme Court to produce the missing persons, now tortured, disfigured bodies of abducted persons reappear a few days after their disappearance. The victims are invariably those who raise their voice for the rights of the Baloch through peaceful means, not those who are conducting the armed insurgency. Naeem Sabir was one such person. He was not even a political activist. Instead of improving the law and order situation, the brutal repression of moderate Baloch will further alienate them and force many of them to choose the option of violence.