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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Pakistan’s Islamist parties challenge weakening government

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(A supporter of Islamist political party Jamaat-e-Islami backs Pakistan's blasphemy laws during a rally in Peshawar January 23, 2011/Fayaz Aziz )

Pakistan’s disparate Islamist political parties are uniting behind their hatred of the United States, emboldened by a weak government that looks increasingly reluctant to stand up to extremism and a society where radicalism is widely tolerated. The prospect of these parties gaining strength in this nuclear-armed nation is a nightmare for its ally the United States and neighbors including India and Afghanistan, which are already fighting Islamist insurgents based in Pakistan.

But while there is little chance Islamist parties will be able to take power outright, they are becoming more prominent as anti-Americanism grows among ordinary Pakistanis, many of whom also reject attempts to soften a blasphemy law that has claimed the lives of two senior officials this year alone.

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.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Egypt and Pakistan; something borrowed, something new

candelightThe Egyptian uprising contains much that is familiar to Pakistan - the dark warnings of a coup, in Egypt's case delivered by Vice President Omar Suleiman, the role of political Islam, and a relationship with the United States distorted by U.S. aid and American strategic interests which do not match those of the people.

President Hosni Mubarak cited Pakistan as an example of what happened when a ruler like President Pervez Musharraf - like himself from the military - was forced to make way for democracy. "He fears that Pakistan is on the brink of falling into the hands of the Taliban, and he puts some of the blame on U.S. insistence on steps that ultimately weakened Musharraf," a 2009 U.S. embassy cable published by WikiLeaks said.

Comparisons with Pakistan tend to make you somewhat sceptical about the chances of Egypt's uprising turning out well.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan, blasphemy, and a tale of two women

blasphemyprotestFor all the bad news coming out of Pakistan, you can't help but admire the courage of two very different women who did what their political leaders failed to do -- stood up to the religious right after the killing of Punjab governor Salman Taseer over his call for changes to the country's blasphemy laws.

One is Sherry Rehman, a politician from the ruling Pakistan People's Party, who first proposed amendments to the laws. The other is actress Veena Malik, who challenged the clerical establishment for criticising her for appearing on Indian reality show Big Boss.  I'm slightly uncomfortable about grouping the two together -- the fact that both are Pakistani women does not make them any more similar than say, for example, two Pakistani men living in Rawalpindi or  London. Yet at the same time, the idea that Pakistan can produce such different and outspoken women says a lot about the diversity and energy of a country which can be too easily written off as a failing state or  bastion of the Islamist religious right.

Sherry Rehman is living as a virtual prisoner in her home in Karachi after being threatened over her support for amendments to the blasphemy laws. She has refused to leave the country for her own safety, nor indeed to accept the position adopted by her party leaders -- that now is not the time to amend the laws. Their argument appears to be that trying to amend the laws now would just add more fuel to the fire after religious leaders defended Taseer's killing and organised huge protests in favour of the current legal provisions.

Musharraf says Pakistan’s blasphemy law cannot be changed

musharrafFormer President Pervez Musharraf has said that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws could not be changed, but that the man who killed Punjab Province Governor Salman Taseer over his opposition to them must be punished.

Musharraf, who is planning to return to Pakistan to fight elections due by 2013, said blasphemy was an extremely sensitive issue for the people of Pakistan. “Therefore doing away with the blasphemy law is not at all possible and must not be done,” he told Reuters in an interview at his London home on Sunday. (Photo: Former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf in New Delhi, March 6, 2009/Stringer)

Taseer was killed by his security guard this month after backing amendments to the blasphemy laws, which are often misused to settle personal scores. The man who confessed to killing him, Mumtaz Qadri, has been treated as a hero by some in Pakistan and religious parties have led demonstrations against any changes to the blasphemy laws.