In January this year liberal Pakistan mourned the loss of one of its saner voices – that of Salman Taseer. With the governor of Punjab assassinated by Mumtaz Qadri, many questioned the state where the nation of Pakistan was heading towards. Was Pakistan heading towards failure or was it already a failed state. Were people trying to prove that no, things can get better – and that, things could be different? Or had they lost all hope? There were a myriad of questions and unfortunately, no answers.
With the death of Shahbaz Bhatti – the first Christian parliamentarian who was offered and took oath as Federal Minister of Minorities Affairs in Pakistan, the remaining dregs of sanity in the country, are fast disappearing.
Shahbaz Bhatti was born in late 1960s and his work speaks for itself. He was the founding member of All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, the APMA as well as the first Christian parliamentarian who was offered the ministry of Minority Affairs on a Federal level.
Screen captures from media outlets in Pakistan show a bullet ridden car with the relatives of the minister surrounding it. From the reports that are surfacing, it was the minister’s habit to go to his mother’s house without guards – and it is this, at the end of the day, which caused his demise.
Newspapers from the country are quoting the IG Police, Islamabad: “The squad officer told me that the minister had directed him to wait for him at his office. He used to often visit his mother’s house without a squad,” He further added: “We are investigating the matter from different angles.”
The Minister had been receiving regular death threats and had asked the government for additional security. This was directly connected to his support for the revisions of the Blasphemy Law towards the end of last year.
A PPP politician since 2002, he worked hard for the minority groups and fought for their rights. He took various steps to safeguard the rights of minorities that include several campaigns to promote interfaith harmony, repeal discriminatory laws that affected minority groups, proposed comparative religion courses, reserved seats for minorities in the senate as well as making 11th August the Minority Day in Pakistan.
How sad and telling it is then to realize that the very foundations which resulted in the birth and formation of Pakistan are now being challenged by ‘rouge’ factions. Very sad and telling indeed that while pockets of Pakistanis condemn the killings of both Salmaan Taseer and Shabaz Bhatti – that there exist many more who rejoice in the loss of these lives.
The role of media in this regard has been pivotal. The news of Shabaz Bhatti’s death is being treated like a stat. The man that was murdered fighting for the rights of his people has become nothing more than just a stat followed by weather reports and preceded by sports news.
These are trying times for Pakistan – sad, but trying. Where the nation goes on from here, how it picks itself up is a question that’s on everyone’s mind. With the gulf between liberal extremists and religious extremist being widened with every passing moment, the question of moderates is left hanging in the middle.
However, the most important questions on every moderate Pakistani’s – the ones who believe in equality and justice are very simple: Is this their future fate? Would they be hunted down and murdered in broad daylight if they expressed an opinion? Would they be killed by radicals because they believed in equal rights for all?
If the answers to all the above questions are yes, then all of them including former Information Minister Sherry Rehman should fear for her life too – after all she was the one who proposed the Amendment Bill for Blasphemy Law.