Earlier this year I asked someone who had been a senior minister in the government of Pakistan why the country could not change laws which discriminated against minorities. I asked the question because more than 80 people from the minority Ahmadi sect had just been killed in two mosques in Lahore, which at the time served as a wake-up call of the dangers of growing religious intolerance in Pakistan.
His answer was unhesitating. You could not possibly do something like that in Pakistan.
Such is the power of the religious lobbies that no government dares challenge them. Each "wake-up" call is soon forgotten until another injustice against religious minorities punches its way to the surface.
The latest was the sentencing to death for blasphemy of a Pakistani Christian woman. According to press reports Aasia Bibi had been working in the fields in Punjab province when she was sent to fetch water. When she returned, some Muslim women refused to drink it, saying it was unclean because it had been carried by a Christian. As the argument escalated, police became involved and Aasia Bibi was charged with blasphemy for allegedly insulting Islam. After a year in jail, she was convicted and sentenced to become the first woman to be hanged for blasphemy in Pakistan.
Aasia Bibi's sentence has garnered unusual international attention, with human rights groups like Amnesty International calling for her release and the Pope using his weekly public audience to plead for her life. President Asif Ali Zardari has now stepped in, asking his government to look urgently into the case. Her plight has also prompted a fresh round of calls for a change in the law.