Assassinated federal Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti was buried at his native village in Faislabad district on Friday evening amid reports of growing differences within the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) about its "soft’’ policy towards the 'religious’ right wing forces.
The PPP along with the entire political class of Pakistan had gone into retreat mode on the blasphemy issue after the assassination of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer in January. Besides fearing that other parties would make political capital out of the issue, the PPP leadership was also mindful of further violence if amendments were made in the blasphemy law as per its own election manifesto.
However, with the assassination of the federal minister this past Wednesday, questions are being asked about the benefits of this defensive strategy which has not only disappointed and disenchanted PPP’s support base but also failed to bear fruit in terms of stopping the killings. According to local media reports two federal ministers even threatened to resign over the failure of the government to contain the extremism.
While there was no official word on what transpired in the cabinet meeting where these resignations were supposed to have been offered, an indication of the fireworks was evident in the intervention made by Interior Minister Rehman Malik in the National Assembly during a discussion on the assassination. Evidently under fire but insisting that there was no security lapse, the minister said if there was any evidence of failure on the part of even the police to do its duty properly in this case, then he would resign.
Further, Mr. Malik disclosed that he himself was top-most on the hit list of terrorists followed by PPP legislators Sherry Rehman and Fauzia Wahab. Death threats have been issued to Ms. Rehman for drafting a bill to amend the blasphemy law to prevent its misuse. Ever since Taseer’s assassination, Ms. Rehman has stayed away from public glare as the threat perception increased.
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani sought to assure the Christian community that the assassins of the minister would be brought to book. He made these remarks at the funeral service for Bhatti at Our Lady Fatima Church in Islamabad. A number of diplomatic personnel turned up for the service after which the minister’s body was flown to his native village Khushpur where huge crowds followed the mortal remains to its final resting place.
Slogans promising more sacrifices in the fight for minority rights rent the air at both venues as members of the community and civil society sought to keep their spirit from flagging in the face of growing intolerance and shrinking space for public discourse.