Pakistan media warn of growing chaos after Christian minister slain
Pakistan is being swept towards violent chaos by a growing wave of Islamist extremism, the country’s newspapers said a day after Taliban militants killed the country’s only Christian government minister. The assassination of Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti in broad daylight in the capital Islamabad on Wednesday threatens to further destabilise the nuclear-armed U.S. ally where secular-minded politicians are imperiled by a rising strain of violent religious conservatism in the society.
“Mr. Bhatti’s brutal assassination has once again highlighted the fact that we are fast turning into a violent society,” the liberal Daily Times said in its editorial. “This is not the time to be frightened into silence. It is time to implement the law and not surrender in front of extremists.”
Bhatti is the second senior official to be assassinated this year for challenging the country’s controversial blasphemy law, which sanctions the death penalty for insulting Islam or its Prophet Mohammad. Punjab provincial governor Salman Taseer was shot dead by his own bodyguard in January for calling for curbing abuses in the law.
“Terrorists silence another voice of interfaith harmony,” the daily Dawn ran a banner headline on its front page. “Shahbaz Bhatti silenced forever,” said The News.
Condemnation poured in from around the world after news of Bhatti’s killing broke, with the Church of England and the Vatican decrying the violence against Christians in Pakistan. “I hope the government of Pakistan will not only hold the killers to account, but reflect on how it can more effectively confront the extremism which is poisoning Pakistani society,” United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay said from Geneva on Wednesday. Read the full story here.
Pakistan must not buckle to extremism, President Asif Ali Zardari said on Thursday. Zardari, head of a government many Pakistanis hold in little regard, said Bhatti’s killing was the result of a “negative mindset and intolerance” that had led to the killing of Punjab province governor Salman Taseer in January.
“We have to fight this mindset and defeat them. We will not be intimidated nor will we retreat,” the official APP news agency quoted Zardari as saying. “Such acts will not deter the government from eliminating extremism and terrorism. Shahbaz fell victim to the negative mindset and intolerance that also took the lives of… Benazir Bhutto and Punjab Governor Salman Taseer.” Former prime minister Bhutto, who was Zardari’s wife, was killed by militants in 2007. Read the full story here.
Meanwhile in Geneva, the Pakistan delegation urged other countries not to link Wednesday’s killing of its only Christian government minister to the wider issue of abolishing the blasphemy law — even though the Pakistani Taliban militants cited this same issue in their statement to explain why they killed him.
“We believe it would not be helpful to link the highly regrettable killing squarely in the context of defamation (of religion) and blasphemy,” Pakistani delegate Asim Ahmad said in a speech to the United Nations Human Rights Council. In the rights council, Pakistan speaks for the 57-nation Organisation of Islamic States (OIC) which is campaigning hard with support from African states and others like Russia and Cuba for what critics dub “an international blasphemy law” that they reject as clearly as they reject Pakistan’s domestic law against criticising Islam.
Ahmad said freedom of speech could not justify defamation and blasphemy. “It is important to prevent the deliberate campaign of defamation of Islam and its Prophet,” he said. Read the full story here.