Archive for the ‘ All Pakistan Minorities Alliance ’ Category

In the Name of ‘Honour’: Brazen Shikarpur Killings Shake Hindu Community

By Sarfaraz Memon for The Express Tribune

Most shops in Taluka Chak in Shikarpur were open on Wednesday but there was an uneasy calm. Three Hindu men are dead and no one knows the whereabouts of Seema Bhayo, the girl at the centre of the storm. Residents fear that she may also have been killed. The police have no clue.

It is a simple tale of a love affair that turned tragic. The president has ordered an inquiry into the matter. Not to be outdone, the Sindh home minister has suspended the SHO of the area but neither of these moves brought any comfort to the families who lost their loved ones.

The brutal attack took place on Monday, the first day of Eid, when four armed men on two motorcycles barged into the house of one Naresh Kumar, where he and his friends Dr Ajeet Kumar, Dr Satya Pal and Ashok Kumar were present. The intruders opened fire and killed Ashok and Naresh on the spot, injuring  Dr Ajeet Kumar and Dr Satya Pal.

Dr Ajeet Kumar later died of his wounds at a Sukkur Hospital, more so because no one was willing to take him to the hospital. The policemen who were supposed to guard the house were nowhere to be seen. They did not turn up that day, despite the fact that they had been stationed on fear that such an attack was imminent.

The “crime” that these four men apparently committed was that they intervened on behalf of two young men of their community who had been apprehended two weeks earlier and charged with criminally assaulting a Muslim girl. The real story, as told by area residents, was that Seema and Sandeep Kumar fell in love and were caught while they were meeting at the house of Sandeep’s friend, Nakash Kumar.

This correspondent also visited Qazi mohalla where Seema’s home is situated on the right side of the road and the shops of Sandeep and Nakash were on the left side. A neighbour said that Seema and Sandeep used to meet at Nakash’s house. On that fateful day, area residents saw them going in and raided the house and thus the affair was revealed.

It was the promise of a better life which attracted Seema towards Sandeep, said another resident, adding that Seema’s father Nazir Ahmed Bhayo was a mason by profession. When the couple was caught, the Hindu community intervened to settle the matter. President of the Hindu Panchayat in Chak, Prem Kumar, said “We went to the Bhayo elders and told them that we are ready to pay any fine to reconcile the matter.”

Area resident Moulvi Allah Bux confirmed that the Hindu community were trying to reconcile with the Bhayo clansmen and for this they had met Sardar Babul Bhayo, who gave them a positive response and told them that the date of the reconciliatory meeting would be announced on the second day of Eid. But before the meeting could be held, the murders were committed.

While Babul Khan Bhayo was not available, clan chieftan Sardar Wahid Bux Bhayo  said that it was the Hindu community which had resorted to aggression by sexually assaulting a Bhayo girl. According to him, the three Hindus were killed in retaliation for that incident. But he added that he condemned both incidents.

On Tuesday, hundreds participated in the last rites of the three men. The rituals were performed near the Sadhu Bela temple in Sukkur.

Following the notice by the president, the Chak police has swung into action. During raids in different localities, they have apprehended more than 25 people. DIG Larkana Sain Rakhiyo Mirani said that the murder was an act of terrorism. But the Hindu community maintains that the real perpetrators of the crime have so far not been arrested.

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Pakistani journalist given U.S. Asylum Tells of Threats, Disappearances in Baluchistan

By Pamela Constable for The Washington Post

Siraj Ahmed Malik, an ambitious young Pakistani journalist, was enjoying a stint last fall on a fellowship at the University of Arizona when he started getting chilling messages from home.

One after another, his friends and colleagues were disappearing, he learned, and their bodies were turning up with bullet holes and burn marks. A doctor’s son from his home town was arrested and vanished. A fellow reporter was kidnapped, and his corpse was found near a river. A student leader was detained, and his bullet-riddled body dumped on a highway. A writer whose stories Malik had edited was shot and killed.

“These were kids I had played cricket with, people I had interviewed, younger reporters I had taught,” Malik, 28, said in an interview last week in Arlington County, where he now lives. The final straw came in early June, when one of his mentors, a poet and scholar, was gunned down in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan, Malik’s native province.

On Aug. 19, Malik applied for political asylum in the United States. In his petition, he said that his work as a journalist and ethnic activist in Baluchistan, where he had exposed military abuses, made him likely to be arrested, tortured, abducted and “ultimately killed by the government” if he returned.

Two weeks ago, his petition was granted. It was a highly unusual decision by U.S. immigration officials, given Pakistan’s status: a strategic partner in Washington’s war against Islamic terrorism; a longtime recipient of U.S. aid; and a democracy with an elected civilian government and vibrant national news media.

“I never wanted to leave my country, but I don’t want to become a martyr, either,” said Malik, a soft-spoken but steely man who spends his days hunched over a laptop at coffee shops in Clarendon, checking with sources back home to update his online newspaper, whose name means “Baluch Truth.”

“What’s going on in Baluchistan is like the dirty war in Argentina,” he said. “I need to be telling the story, but I can’t afford to become the story.”

Baluchistan is the Wild West of Pakistan — a remote desert province, larger than France, that is home to a mix of radical Islamic groups, rival ethnic and refugee gangs, rebellious armed tribes, and security agencies that have long been reported to kidnap, torture and kill dissidents with impunity.

Living under constant threat

Yet this ongoing violence and skulduggery receives scant international attention. Foreign journalists are banned from visiting the region alone, while headlines about Pakistan are dominated by a separate, high-stakes border conflict in which American drones and Pakistani troops are battling the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

As a result, a handful of local journalists such as Malik have been left to investigate and report the news without big-city patrons or visiting foreign delegations to give them cover.

“The threat of disappearance was always lurking in the back of our minds,” Malik wrote in his asylum petition. “My friends, colleagues and I lived with the knowledge that yesterday it was him that disappeared; today it is someone else; tomorrow it could easily be me.”

As Malik recounted over coffee, pressure and threats from unidentified intelligence agents were a daily hazard. According to his asylum file, agents accosted him in airports and hotels, detained and questioned him, and repeatedly threatened to “teach me a lesson.”

Malik acknowledges that as an advocate for the Baluch nationalist cause, his journalism is hardly neutral. The ethnic minority movement, which seeks autonomy from the central government, includes armed groups. Malik claims that he does not condone them, but he describes their stance as a “defensive” response to official abuse.

Still, his case for protection was bolstered by reports from human rights groups and letters from university officials in Arizona, who called him “nothing short of brave.” In a July report, Human Rights Watch described a “practice of enforced disappearances” of Baluch leaders and intellectuals, often by security agencies, and listed 45 abductions or killings since 2009.

Activists including Malik assert that more than 5,000 Baluch have vanished in the past decade, but the issue has never been seriously addressed, while the government has both co-opted and persecuted Baluch tribal chiefs. In 2007, Pakistan’s military president fired the head of the Supreme Court, who sought to probe the disappearances. In 2008, a civilian government took office and an investigative commission was established, but little action has been taken.

“The authorities have no answers because there is no accountability,” said one Pakistani diplomat, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the subject. He suggested that Malik had exaggerated his fear of persecution as a “ploy” to remain in the United States, but he also called disappearances “the tip of the iceberg” in a society where security forces hold sway behind the scenes. Even a chief justice, he added, “knows there are lines he cannot cross.”

Driven to speak out

Najam Sethi, a newspaper publisher and titan of Pakistan’s liberal media establishment, was Malik’s boss from 2006 to 2010, when he worked as a correspondent in Quetta. For the past few months, Sethi has been on his own sabbatical at the New America Foundation in Washington, partly to escape the pressure he faces at home.

At a public forum here last week, Sethi described Pakistan’s news media as free to snipe at politicians and expose financial scandals but said it remains cautious about reporting on military and intelligence institutions, partly out of respect and partly out of fear.

“The media are scared, because there is no one to protect them,” Sethi said.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, more than 40 Pakistani journalists have been killed since 1992. In May, a well-known investigative reporter, Saleem Shahzad, was abducted and found murdered. Shahzad had received threats after writing about al-Qaeda infiltration of the military, and a senior U.S. military official said his killing had been “sanctioned” by the government.

Asked about Malik, Sethi said he thought his former staffer had been too aggressive and outspoken. As Malik’s editor, he said, he had intervened several times with military authorities to protect him. “I wish he hadn’t gone so far,” Sethi said. “He crossed too many red lines.”

Malik, however, said he felt “betrayed” by such liberal media leaders, saying they have avoided speaking out against oppression in Baluchistan. He recounted how Baluch groups had been galvanized by the 2006 army slaying of the legendary tribal chief Nawab Akbar Bugti.

“For us, the killing of Bugti was Pakistan’s 9/11,” Malik said. After that, he said, he stepped up his exposure of the violence and abuses. His activities drew increasing attention from government agents, who, he said, called him a “traitor” and threatened to kill him if he did not stop.

Instead, Malik persisted. In early 2010, he attended a conference in India and denounced the disappearances. From his fellowship perch in Arizona last winter, and then while working briefly at the Center for Public Integrity in Washington in the spring, he wrote and spoke out at every opportunity.

But as the deaths of other Baluch journalists and friends began to mount, Malik said last week, he began to hesitate about returning.

“Baluchistan needs a messenger to the world,” he said, itching to get back to his reporting. “Here in the United States, I don’t have an office or money, but at least I can stay alive and get the message out.”

Pakistan, Islam & Radicalism

By Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi for The Huffington Post

I was in Kasur, a small town near Lahore, Pakistan, where the celebrated mystic poet Bulleh Shah is buried. Thousands gathered for the 254th anniversary of his death. Slogans chanted on that occasion would be branded ‘blasphemous’ by extremist organisations in Pakistan.

Neither Hindu nor Muslim,
Sacrificing pride, let us sit together.
Neither Sunni nor Shia,
Let us walk the road of peace.

Bulleh Shah penned these verses challenging religious extremism and orthodoxy that plagued Muslim society hundreds of years ago. He was exiled from his home town and, history has it, he was denied a burial in Muslim cemetery. His advice has clearly gone unheeded as my country is still yet to find peace. Not even the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah has been spared being labelled ‘the great infidel’.

Incidentally, the same ilk of religio-political parties who now manipulate public discourse were at the forefront of using religious narrative for political point scoring before Pakistan came into being.

4 January 2011 is a day I cannot forget. Salmaan Taseer, the Governor of Pakistan’s biggest province Punjab, was gunned down by his bodyguard. He was killed for supporting a Christian woman accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad. He was shot twenty six times.

For the entire week after the killing, I was scared. I don’t remember being in that state of mind since Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. It’s not a very heartening sight to see fellow ‘educated’ countrymen glorifying a murderer and justifying his actions based on ignorant rhetoric. Scores of fan pages popped up on Facebook, many of my friends changed their profile pictures to one of the killer, Mumtaz Qadri, exalting a murderer as hero.

Very few turned out to pay homage to the slain governor in days to come, as ‘liberals’ arranged vigils in his remembrance. Yet thousands poured on to the streets to defend Mumtaz Qadri, his assassin. The media, which has been a primary tool in fanning conspiracy theories in public, had again played a pivotal role in enticing ‘religious’ emotions on this issue.

The killer of Salman Taseer had confessed proudly. The brave judge who sentenced him to death has gone into hiding and will not be re-appearing anytime soon.

7 March 2011. The start of another week of gloom and, if I’m honest, I was ashamed to be a Pakistani. We had arranged a protest to condemn the killing of Shahbaz Bhatti, the Federal Minister for Minorities who was brutally assassinated on 2 March. He was an outspoken critic of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and the only Christian in the cabinet. Only a few youngsters turned up.

When it comes to numbers, we can gather thousands but the ’cause’ has to be against India, Israel or America. Not many will show up if the demonstration is against radical organisations, or asking for introspection within.

Many who rallied for Gaza in early 2009 were not seen in protests condemning Taliban atrocities in Swat at the same time. Many who burnt down shops in anger at the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad never stood up for Parachinar, a small town near the border of Afghanistan where thousands have been killed in sectarian violence between Sunni’s and Shia’s.

9 October 2011. I was stuck on the Islamabad Highway, the main road that connects Islamabad with Rawalpindi as it was blocked by flash mobs protesting for the release of Mumtaz Qadri.

Two decades and 40,000 deaths later which includes top politicians, generals and clerics – not many things have changed when it comes to checking radicalism within Islam.

Many attacks on places of worship of minority sects within Islam, recurring violent brawls between followers of different schools of thought, reaction to the murder of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, recent acts of violence in Baluchistan and the tale of Parachinar are chapters in recent history which expose the extent of radicalisation in Pakistani society.

Soon, we as citizens of a country founded because a minority felt discriminated against and followers of the great religion of Islam, need to face up to the challenge of the radical minded and their extremist ideology.

This is a war of ideologies and is inevitably a war that must be fought with opinions and ideas; it must encourage discourse and exchange of reason. It is a war that must form the basic pillar of a new and improved national paradigm for Pakistan

We as a society cannot ignore an emerging threat from radicalism within our ranks, because if it gets too late, there might be no ‘music’ left to face.

In Ahmadis’s Desert City, Pakistan Closes In

By Myra MacDonald for Reuters

At the office of what claims to be one of Pakistan’s oldest newspapers, workers scan copy for words it is not allowed to use — words like Muslim and Islam.

“The government is constantly monitoring this publication to make sure none of these words are published,” explains our guide during a visit to the offices of al Fazl, the newspaper of the Ahmadiyya sect in Pakistan.

This is Rabwah, the town the Ahmadis built when they fled the killings of Muslims in India at Partition in 1947, and believing themselves guided by God, chose a barren stretch of land where they hoped to make the Punjab desert bloom.

Affluent and well-educated, they started out camping in tents and mud huts near the river and the railway line.

Now they have a town of some 60,000 people, a jumble of one- and two-storey buildings, along with an Olympic size swimming pool, a fire service and a world class heart institute.

Yet declared by the state in the 1970s to be non-Muslims, they face increasing threats of violence across Pakistan as the country strained by a weakening economy, an Islamist insurgency and internecine political feuds, fractures down sectarian and ethnic lines.

“The situation is getting worse and worse,” says Mirza Khurshid Ahmed, amir of the Ahmadi community in Pakistan. “The level of religious intolerance has increased considerably during the last 10 years.”

The town, renamed Chenabnagar by the state government since “Rabwah” comes from a verse in the Koran, is now retreating behind high walls and razor wire, awaiting the suicide bombers and fedayeen gunmen who police tell them are plotting attacks.

Last May, 86 people were killed in two Ahmadi mosques in Lahore, capital of Punjab; others were attacked elsewhere in the province. Many fled to Rabwah where the community gives them cheap housing and financial support.

Among them is 15-year-old Iqra from Narewal, whose shopkeeper father was stabbed to death last year as the family slept. “I was sleeping in another room when my father was attacked,” she begins in a small voice, pulling a black scarf across her face to cover her mouth in the style of Ahmadi women.

“The attacker wanted to kill all the Ahmadis in Narewal,” her brother Zeeshan continues. “My elder brother tried to help my father and he was stabbed and wounded too.”

Later police found the attacker hiding in a mosque. He had believed the mullahs when they told him that all Ahmadis were “wajib ul qatl”, or deserving of death.

BATTLEGROUND FOR POWER
The Ahmadis follow the teachings of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who in the town of Qadian in late 19th century British India called for a revival of a “true Islam” of peace and justice. His teachings were controversial with Muslims and Christians alike.

He argued that Jesus did not die on the cross but escaped and travelled to India and was buried in Kashmir. And he claimed to be the metaphorical second coming of Jesus, destined to put Muslims back on the true path.

Many Muslims were offended by the suggestion he had come as a prophet, breaching a basic tenet of Islam that there can be no prophet after Mohammad, whose teachings are believed to be based literally on the word of God, perfect and therefore final.

Yet his call for peace, hard work, temperance, education and strong community bonds resonated, and over the years the proselytizing movement acquired millions of followers worldwide.

At home, however, their history has been intimately bound up in Pakistan’s own descent from its relatively optimistic birth.

Lacking a coherent national identity, it has become a battleground for competing political, religious and ethnic groups seeking power by attacking others.

“The mistake of the Ahmadis was that they showed their political strength,” said an Ahmadi businessman in Lahore.

Better education he said, meant they obtained good positions in the army and civil service at first; strong community bonds made them an influential force in politics up to the 1970s.

But they also made an easy target for the religious right who could whip up anti-Ahmadi sentiment for political gain.

Ahmadis follow two different schools of thinking, but will argue, often with detailed references to the Koran in both Arabic and English, that they do not dispute the finality of the Prophet Mohammad. Their erudite theological arguments, however, had little chance against the power of the street.

After anti-Ahmadi violence, they were declared non-Muslims in 1974. In the 1980s, their humiliation was completed when legal provisions barred them from associating themselves with Islam, for example by using the call to prayer or naming their place of worship a “masjid” or mosque.

“You can say you don’t consider me to be a Muslim but you can’t force me to also say I am not a Muslim,” complains Ahmed, the amir, the pain clear in his voice.

Yet in the newspaper office in Rabwah, a white board displays the words they are not allowed to use — they could be accused of blasphemy, which carries the death penalty.

SPREADING TO OTHER SECTS
Many Pakistanis, if you ask about treatment of the Ahmadis, shrug it off — it’s an old story, they say, dredged up by westerners who do not appreciate the importance of the finality of the Prophet.

Yet there are signs the attitudes first directed toward Ahmadis are spreading to other sects. In a country which is majority Sunni, and where insurgents follow Sunni Islam, Shi’ites and even Sufi shrines have been bombed.

A 2010 study by Pakistani analyst Ayesha Siddiqa of students in elite colleges found that while 60 percent said the government was right to declare Ahmadis non-Muslims, a sizeable 18 percent believed Shi’ites were also non-Muslims.

These and other findings led her to conclude that radicalism was growing even among the educated youth — it is often, wrongly, blamed on poverty — which in its extreme form could lead people into violence.

Their tendency, she wrote, to see different groups with an unquestioned bias, she wrote, “especially coated with religious overtones or padded with religious belief prepares the mind to accept the message from militant organizations.”

In the nearest town to Rabwah, the central square as been renamed “Khatme Nubuwwat” Chowk, meaning the finality of the Prophet. Beyond, low jagged hills spike up above the dusty land, the summits of much bigger rock formations below the surface.

Many of the Ahmadis had been active supporters of the movement which created Pakistan and when they first came here they were inspired by a verse in the Koran, describing “an elevated land of green valleys and springs of running water.”

Now they are surrounded by a very different country.

Rabwah itself is open to the outside world — despite the high walls guarding individual houses, it is not a walled town.

“Under the circumstances we try to take the best measures we can to protect ourselves,” says the amir. “But what we can do is very limited. We don’t have a mindset or training for that.

And in any case, he adds, “How many people can leave Pakistan or Rabwah?”

Uniting Pakistan’s Minority and Majority

By Mohsin Hamid for The Express Tribune

There’s a nurse I know in Lahore. She’s tall and stocky, middle-aged. She is on call 24 hours a day and works six days a week. She’s also a freelance headhunter, placing cooks and drivers and maids. She sleeps little. She has five children she hopes to give better lives. Last year, she donated time and money to flood victims.

She is a Pakistani Christian. And on Wednesday, I saw her weep.

She was staring at a TV set. It was reporting the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s federal minister for minorities, a Roman Catholic. “What’s going to happen to Christians in this country?” she asked me.

I had no answer. But her question is searingly important. A country should be judged by how it treats its minorities. To the extent it protects them, it stands for the ennobling values of empathy and compassion, for justice rooted, not in might, but in human equality, and for civilisation instead of savagery.

Pakistan ought to be exemplary in this regard. After all, ours is a nation of minorities: A patchwork of cultures, ethnicities, languages and sects. Since independence, we’ve tried to use Islam to bind us together, to undo our inherent and pervasive minority-ness. After the country split in 1971, these appeals to religion expanded under ZA Bhutto and reached previously unimaginable extents under Ziaul Haq. They have continued to intensify ever since.

One problem with this approach, of course, has been that our religious minorities, a twentieth of our population, have been left out of our grand national narratives. Five per cent may seem like a small proportion, but in absolute numbers it includes almost 10 million Pakistanis, which equals everyone in Tunisia, or one-and-half times all of Libya. If Pakistan’s religious minorities were a country, they would be more populous than half the members of the UN.

So how have they been treated by Pakistan? Shamefully. They are looked down upon, discriminated against, physically threatened and not infrequently killed. They are second-class citizens in every sense. Nor has our state offered them much support. Indeed, our state has been actively involved in their oppression.

None of this is new, of course. So, for those of us fortunate enough to belong to the religious majority, does it even matter?

Yes. Desperately. Minority relations are a microcosm of society. Each individual human being is, after all, a minority of one. And, as Pakistan becomes a country at war with its minorities, it is becoming a country at war with its individuals, with itself, with you and with me, with the human desire to be allowed to believe what we believe. In this direction lies Orwellian Newspeak, an inability to say what we mean, a condition of external dishonesty that inevitably leads to internal dishonesty. Orwell imagined the result of this to be something he called doublethink: People holding “simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them.”

I find it difficult to imagine a better description of many of our TV talk show hosts — or much of our public discourse — today.

There are three main political positions we hear over and over in Pakistan, and all three are suffused with doublethink. There is the national security position: ‘America is our enemy; America should give us more aid.’ The privileged liberal position: ‘There should be equal rights for all; I should not have to share my riches with the poor.’ And the (remarkably similar) ambitious cleric position: ‘Religion makes us all equal; only I decide what religion says.’

It is unsurprising that the privileged liberal position is the one most often associated with attempts to protect the rights of religious minorities in our country. It is also unsurprising that it has been largely unpersuasive.

The good news, from a religious minority standpoint, is that the other positions are equally incoherent. (The bad news is that they are much more willing to resort to violence in support of their arguments.)

What Pakistan’s religious minorities need, therefore, is a new position, a position that champions equality while, and this is the tricky part, also championing equality. In other words, a position that dispenses with the illusion that equality can be enhanced in a society prostrate before either its rich or its clerics.

Such a position would also be to the benefit of the country’s economic majority, its poor. For they, too, are looked down upon, discriminated against, physically threatened and not infrequently killed. They, too, are second-class citizens. They, too, have been actively oppressed by our state.

At its heart, our country’s toxic treatment of its religious minorities is intertwined with its toxic treatment of its impoverished majority. Both groups suffer from the denial of our common humanity. And that, paradoxically, offers great hope. For we can reject false dichotomies between our clerical and our liberal positions, between our minorities and our majority. We can begin the search for common ground that has eluded us as a nation thus far.

We might, for example, shift from disputes over blasphemy laws to actually delivering due process of law, from arguments over curbing radical madrassas to actually building a high-quality state education system, from alternately buying off and fighting tribal chieftains to actually empowering local tribespeople.

Our problems are not insurmountable. Pakistan is, simply put, a land that mistreats its minorities and its majority. It is ripe for a revolution, except that it already has many trappings of democracy: Elected assemblies, free media, independent judges. A revolution in our thinking and behaviour, brought about by sustained pressure from below, is what is really called for.

Let us be clear: The messy but effective compromises we require can only come about through the dramatically improved functioning of our democracy. But a better-functioning democracy is feared by many with vested interests who benefit from the impaired system we currently have. They must be convinced otherwise.

Above all, we must convince our powerful national security state. Rationally, it is clear that under our current policies, Pakistan is becoming ever less secure. The stability and growth that a well-functioning democracy could bring is our country’s best chance of escaping from its ‘eagerly-dependent-on-enemy-America’ strategic incoherence. Unless, that is, our national security doublethink really boils down to this: ‘I will protect you; you are the threat.’

For the sake of our vulnerable, which is to say, in different ways, just about all of us, I hope this is not the case. Too much Pakistani blood has already been shed and too many Pakistanis have already gone to bed hungry.

Obama Condemns Assassination in Pakistan

As reported by The Associated Press

President Barack Obama on Wednesday condemned the assassination of the only Christian member of Pakistan’s government, calling the slaying of Shabaz Bhatti a “horrific act of violence.”

Republicans and Democrats in Congress echoed Obama’s outrage, hours after Bhatti was gunned down outside his mother’s home. His slaying came just weeks after the killing of liberal politician Salman Taseer. The two men had pushed to change laws that impose the death penalty for insulting Islam.

“He is literally a modern-day martyr,” said Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., at a Capitol Hill news conference.

Bhatti, a campaigner for human rights causes, had been aware of threats to his life. Obama said Bhatti “fought for and sacrificed his life for the universal values that Pakistanis, Americans and people around the world hold dear” — including rights to free speech and religious freedom.

Assailants from al-Qaida and the Pakistani Taliban Movement in Punjab province claimed responsibility, calling Bhatti an “infidel Christian.”

Obama said that whoever committed the crime should be brought to justice, and people who share Bhatti’s vision of tolerance and religious freedom should live free of fear.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who recently met Bhatti, called him “a patriot and a man of courage and conviction.” She said in a statement that the United States remains committed to working with the government and people of Pakistan “to build a more stable and prosperous future for all — a future in which violent extremists are no longer able to silence the voices of tolerance and peace.”

More than half a dozen lawmakers, many of whom knew Bhatti, called on the Pakistan government to change the laws. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., who said he prayed with Bhatti, said the events need to be a “game-changing moment.”

“No matter what your religion, his murder is an affront to God,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass.

They showed a videotaped message from Bhatti in which he said he received death threats and was “ready to die” for the country’s often persecuted Christian and other non-Muslim minorities.

Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., said Bhatti’s death reflects the growing climate of intolerance in Pakistan and urged all Pakistanis to stand united against violence and intolerance.

What motives led to Shahbaz Bhatti’s murder in Pakistan?

By Aamer Ahmed Khan for BBC

It is hard to find an immediate motive behind the murder of Pakistan’s Minorities Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti.

The courageous battle he had vowed to fight against the country’s draconian blasphemy laws had already been abandoned by the government in the wake of Punjab governor Salman Taseer’s murder.

In fact, the final surrender had come from no less a person than Pakistan’s prime minister who had only last month pleaded with a large gathering of religious personalities to believe him when he said that his government had no intention of reviewing the blasphemy laws.

And unlike the slain governor – a veteran politician, a high profile socialite and one of the president’s many billionaire friends – Mr Bhatti neither had the status nor the political clout to influence the state’s agenda.

Some evidence of that also comes from the eerie silence on social media, from the extremists’ side.

All that one sees are some anguished rants from some of Pakistan’s best known liberals, many of whom are not even resident in the country.

Even hours after the assassination, we have seen none of the fierce onslaught against free speech that erupted on social media within minutes after Mr Taseer’s murder.

Nor have we seen eulogies of his killers mushrooming on Facebook as they did after Mr Taseer’s murder. It is a silence smug in the knowledge that their agenda is not at risk.

So why kill a man who considered himself – and was indeed considered by the world around him – to be so ineffective that he had not even bothered to seek proper security for himself, despite being constantly threatened by Pakistan’s millions of faceless fanatics?

The answer perhaps lies in the difference between the commitment of the government and the extremists to their respective agendas.

Politics v ideology

The government had unambiguously decided to lay off the blasphemy laws after Mr Taseer’s murder, its ministers hinting privately that it was a hornets’ nest best left untouched.

The country’s liberal political and social leadership had meekly followed suit and perhaps understandably so.

In their silence had rested a hope that by abandoning their agenda to rationalise any legislation-feeding extremism, they would perhaps be able to keep the extremists quiet.

It was never about any ideological commitment, just hard, cold politics that made tactical sense.

For the extremists though, it is all about ideology. It didn’t matter if Mr Bhatti’s battle had proved to be a non-starter or if he was an ineffective and powerless minister.

What mattered was that he had spoken against blasphemy laws in the past and was likely to do so again if a situation arose. That made him a legitimate target, not to be tolerated, not to be ignored.

Mr Taseer had said that he would continue to fight against blasphemy laws even if he was the last man standing. He could not stand for long.

And the ideology that led to his assassination has now sent another determined and deadly message to the state – that it will continue to fight till the last liberal falls.

This is how different the two commitments are. And for the liberals in Pakistan, this is how hopeless the situation seems to be.

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