Evidently forced on to the back foot by two assassinations in quick succession over the issue of religious freedom, Pakistan on Thursday asserted that the assassination of federal Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti should not be “misconstrued as an example of persecution of Christians'' in this country.

With the assassination drawing strong reactions from across the world, the Foreign Office stepped in to make out a case for seeing the horrific crime in its proper perspective. “Unfortunately the impression created by some international reactions is exactly on the lines that these criminal elements wanted to portray of Pakistan,'' the Foreign Office statement said.

Though the statement did not refer to any one reaction, the refrain of the government since Wednesday reflects the concern within about the impact of this particular assassination in the comity of nations. Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani said as much when he told a delegation of the National Press Club that the assassination was yet another attempt of enemies of Pakistan to defame the country.

While condemnation from the international community was sharp following the assassination of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, it was sharper in this case and many in Pakistan see this as a response to the Minister being a Christian. In fact, the unspoken apprehension is that such a response itself could be counter-productive as was the case when the “religious” right wing rallied together to oppose the call from the Vatican to abolish the blasphemy law. The country's leadership has placed these killings within the rubric of terrorism; thereby drawing responses within that reiterated Pakistan's commitment to continue with the war on terror. Though bruised and beaten once again by this assassination, the civil society tried to keep afloat their hopes of reclaiming the Pakistan envisaged by the nation's founding fathers by holding protest meetings across the country. Apprehensive about the security of the former Federal Minister, Sherry Rehman — who has been facing threats for her bid to move a legislation to amend the blasphemy laws — they sought to raise their voice against the appeasement of extremists and the enabling atmosphere that allows such vigilante acts to be perpetrated.

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