Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy law has been in the spotlight since November when a court sentenced a Christian mother of four to death, in a case that has exposed deep rifts in the troubled Muslim nation of more than 170 million people. While liberal Pakistanis and rights groups believe the law to be dangerously discriminatory against the country’s tiny minority groups, Asia Bibi’s case has become a lightning rod for the country’s religious right.
On Tuesday, the governor of the most populous state of Punjab, Salman Taseer, who had strongly opposed the law and sought presidential pardon for the 45-year-old Christian farmhand, was gunned down by one of his bodyguards.
Here some facts about the blasphemy law and its fallout.
* The law has its roots in 19th century colonial legislation to protect places of worship, but it was during the military dictatorship of General Mohammad Zia ul-Haq in the 1980s that it acquired teeth as part of a drive to Islamize the state.
* Under the law, anyone who speaks ill of Islam and the Prophet Mohammad commits a crime and faces the death penalty but activists say the vague terminology has led to its misuse. The law stipulates that “derogatory remarks, etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo or insinuation, directly or indirectly shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.”
from Pakistan: Now or Never?:
Not too long ago, you could have predicted relatively easily how regional rivalries would play out in Afghanistan. Saudi Arabia would line up alongside Pakistan while Iran and India would coordinate their policies to curb the influence of their main regional rivals.
But that pattern has been shifting for a while -- the row over Indian oil payments to Iran is if anything a continuation of that shift rather than a dramatic new departure in global diplomacy. And as two foreign policy crises converge, over Iran's nuclear programme and the war in Afghanistan, the chances are that those traditional alliances will be dented further. It is no longer a safe bet to assume that rivalry between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shi'ite Iran will fit neatly into Pakistan-India hostility so that the four countries fall easily into two opposing camps come any final showdown over Afghanistan.
India and Pakistan exchanged a list of each other’s nuclear installations on Saturday like they have done at the start of each year under a 1988 pact in which the two sides agreed not to attack these facilities. That is the main confidence building measure in the area of nuclear security between the two countries, even though their nuclear weapons programmes have expanded significantly since then. Indeed for some years now there is a growing body of international opinion that holds that Pakistan has stepped up production of fissile material, and may just possibly hold more nuclear weapons than its much larger rival, India.
Which is remarkable given that the Indian nuclear programme is driven by the need for deterrence against much bigger armed-China, the third element in the South Asian nuclear tangle. The Indians who conducted a nuclear test as early as 1974, thus,may be behind not just the Chinese, but also Pakistan in terms of the number of warheads, fissile material and delivery systems.