Mourning Shahbaz Bhatti

March 2, 2011, will be remembered as a dark day in the history of Pakistan, especially with regards to minority rights. Federal Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti was assassinated in broad daylight in Islamabad.

His assassins escaped. Mr Bhatti was killed within two months of Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer’s assassination. Mr Taseer was also killed in Islamabad. They were both killed because they dared to raise their voice for a poor Christian woman, Aasia Bibi, who is still rotting away in a Pakistani prison, fearing for her life. Mr Taseer and Mr Bhatti were critical of the country’s man-made blasphemy laws as these laws are misused to target minorities and even Muslims as a cover for personal and/or property/financial disputes. The debate on the blasphemy laws may have died after two of the most high profile assassinations in a span of two months but has the government given up on catching the killers of Mr Bhatti? In December 2011, Interior Minister Rehman Malik revealed that Mr Bhatti’s assassins belonged to the banned organisation Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP). While Salmaan Taseer’s murderer, Mumtaz Qadri, was given a death sentence by the court (which is currently in appeal), one of Shahbaz Bhatti’s alleged murderers, Abid Malik, was cleared of the charges. It is appalling that a federal minister was assassinated a year ago but his murderers are still at large. The government must nab Mr Bhatti’s killers as soon as possible.

That a sitting governor of the most populated province and the only Christian member of the cabinet were both assassinated in the capital city of Pakistan shows two things: one, rising intolerance and two, poor law and order situation. Prime Minister Gilani on Wednesday said that interfaith harmony was the need of the hour as all religions advocate peace, tolerance and accommodation. But a country where the white part of the flag representing religious minorities is red with blood, organising a conference on interfaith harmony will not do the trick. Targeted killing of Shias and Ahmedis is on the rise. What is needed is a change of mindset. What is needed is a crackdown on all jihadi groups and an end to the overt and covert support to these groups by the military establishment. Only then would Pakistan regain an important part of Mr Jinnah’s much besmirched legacy.  – Dailytimes