FaithWorld

Factbox on Pakistan’s emerging anti-U.S. Islamist bloc

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(Supporters of religious parties burn a U.S flag during a protest in Lahore February 18, 2011/Mohsin Raza)

Pakistan’s religious parties are growing stronger, riding a tide of growing anti-Americanism and outrage over blasphemy cases that has led to the assassination of two government officials. Punjab provincial governor Salman Taseer and Minister of Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti were both killed this year for their support for changing Pakistan’s harsh anti-blasphemy law, a move opposed by Pakistan’s religious parties.

These parties in Pakistan are beginning to set aside sectarian differences that have divided them for years to coalesce around an explicitly anti-American agenda, creating a political bloc that could challenge the ruling parties and ultimately weaken Pakistan’s alliance with the United States. See our analysis Pakistan’s Islamist parties challenge weakening government here.

Groups such as Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and the pro-Taliban Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) are forming a new coalition of about 18 parties and groups that are anticipating early elections against the governing Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).

Here is a factbox on the most important Islamist parties including:

JAMAAT-E-ISLAMI

MILLAT-E-ISLAMI

JAMAAT-UD-DAWA

JAMIAT ULEMA-E-ISLAM (FAZL-UR-REHMAN BRANCH)

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Grief-stricken Pakistani Christians bury slain cabinet minister

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(People gather near the casket of Pakistan's Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti after a funeral ceremony inside a church in Islamabad March 4, 2011/Faisal Mahmood)

Shouting “death for killers”, thousands of Pakistanis on Friday buried Shahbaz Bhatti, the country’s only Christian government minister who was killed by Pakistani Taliban for challenging a law that stipulates death for insulting Islam. His assassination on Wednesday was the latest sign violent religious conservatism is becoming more mainstream in Pakistan, a trend which could further destabilise the nuclear-armed U.S. ally.

Bhatti, a Catholic, was the second senior official to be assassinated this year for opposing the blasphemy law. Provincial governor Salman Taseer was shot dead in January by one of his bodyguards.

Pakistan media warn of growing chaos after Christian minister slain

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(Christians protest in Hyderabad against the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, March 3, 2011/Akram Shahid )

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.”

Factbox – Pakistan’s blasphemy law strikes fear in minorities

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(File Photo: Shahbaz Bhatti, chairman of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, shows a cross burned during an attack on a church in central Punjab province during a news conference in Islamabad November 14, 2005/Faisal Mahmood)

Pakistani Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, who had called for changes in the country’s controversial blasphemy law, was killed in a gun attack in Islamabad on Wednesday, officials said. The 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. In January, 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 angry about the governor’s stand.

Taliban say killed Christian Pakistani cabinet minister for blasphemy

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(The body of assassinated minority minister Shahbaz Bhatti is carried from a hospital after he was killed in Islamabad on March 2, 2011S/Faisal Mahmood)

Taliban militants on Wednesday shot dead Pakistan’s only Christian government minister for challenging a law that mandates the death penalty for insulting Islam, the latest sign of instability in a country where many fear radical Islam is becoming more mainstream. Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti is the second senior official this year to be assassinated for opposing the blasphemy law. Provincial governor Salman Taseer was shot dead by his own bodyguard in January.

These killings, along with frequent militant attacks and chronic economic problems have raised fears for the future of U.S.-ally and nuclear-armed Pakistan, where an unpopular coalition government is struggling to cope.

Christian Pakistani minister shot dead in Islamabad ambush

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(The bullet-riddled car of slain Pakistani Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti in Islamabad March 2, 2011/Faisal Mahmood )

Pakistani Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, who had called for changes in the country’s controversial blasphemy law, was killed in a gun attack in Islamabad on Wednesday, officials said. Police said the shooting took place near an Islamabad market. Bhatti, a Roman Catholic, was the only Christian in the Pakistani cabinet.

“The initial reports are that there were three men who attacked him. He was probably shot using a Kalashnikov, but we are trying to ascertain what exactly happened,” said Islamabad police chief Wajid Durrani. A hospital spokesman said Bhatti had several bullet wounds.