General Zia-ul-Haq, the most condemned military dictator of Pakistan’s history, had no idea that his amendment in the anti-blasphemy law will assume the status of a “divine law” within decades of his death. This amendment was made to please the clergy which was one of the sources of his strength and legitimacy and which he strengthened at the cost of the country. This was a man-made law by every definition and there were dissenting voices demanding to rewrite the procedure in order to minimize the chances of its misuse for personal reasons. However, with the spread of extremism in the country, any move to revise the procedure was deemed to be blasphemy itself. The first high-profile victim was Punjab’s governor Salman Taseer who was killed by his own bodyguard for seeking justice for a Christian convict under the law. Just after two months of now forgotten tragedy, Pakistan’s minister for religious minorities, who had opposed the blasphemy laws, was shot dead in Islamabad on Wednesday. Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian member of the cabinet, was thus, the second senior member of the ruling Pakistan People’s party to be gunned down in two months.
According to media reports, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), has accepted the responsibility for this assassination. The killing was condemned by human rights groups, who say religious extremists are waging a campaign of murder and intimidation to expand their influence and create a climate of fear for minorities. The killing also raises questions about the level of security the state is able to provide to senior officials who might be at risk of attack. The government would investigate why Mr Bhatti did not have greater protection – including a bullet proof car. After Governor Salman Taseer’s assassination, someone like Shehbaz Bhatti, who was such an obvious target, should have had more security.
The bodyguard who shot Mr. Taseer said he had killed him for calling for changes to the country’s blasphemy laws. Human rights groups say the laws enshrine discrimination and render minorities second class citizens. An outpouring of popular sympathy for the Mr Taseer’s killer showed how tolerance of pluralism is shrinking in once moderate Pakistan as liberal politicians have increasingly ceded ground to religious hardliners.
Mr. Taseer had championed the case of a Christian woman who had been condemned to death under the blasphemy laws.
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