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Bhutto's son: Pakistanis who praise Taseer assassination are 'covert blasphemers'

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari appears to be the first mainstream Pakistan leader to defend Christians and minorities after the assassination of liberal Gov. Salman Taseer. But he spoke in English from London.

By Issam AhmedCorrespondent / January 11, 2011

Chairman of the Pakistan People's Party, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, speaks at a memorial meeting for the slain governor of Punjab Province, Salman Taseer (seen in portrait), at the Pakistani High Commission in London, Monday, Jan. 10.

Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP


Islamabad, Pakistan

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of slain former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has called those who celebrated the murder of a liberal politician who sought changes to the country’s blasphemy laws “the real blasphemers.”

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His fiery remarks, which were made at the Pakistani High Commission in London on Tuesday, mark the toughest stance yet taken by the leadership of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in response to the assassination of Salman Taseer last week.

But the fact that the speech was given in English by a politician abroad may limit its impact at home. More broadly, say experts, it highlights the dwindling avenues of communication between liberal, often foreign-educated Pakistanis and the increasingly conservative majority.

Mr. Taseer, the governor of Punjab, had personally campaigned for the release of Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman awaiting the death penalty on charges of insulting the prophet Muhammad, and had called the blasphemy law a “black law.” Following his death, People’s Party leaders had come under fire from liberals for not doing enough to champion the cause for which Taseer lost his life. No other mainstream PPP leader, including Bhutto Zardari’s father, President Asif Ali Zardari, has pressed for reform of the law.

Leaders appear more confident condoning the blasphemy laws. Indeed, in what observers feel was an effort to underscore his own religious credos, Interior Minister Rehman Malik went as far as to say he would shoot any blasphemer himself.

RELATED How Pakistan views the assassination of Salman Taseer

Zardari's fighting words?

In his speech, Bhutto Zardari, who is co-chair of the PPP, showed no such equivocation, and added a touch of bravado. “To the Christian and other minority communities in Pakistan, we will defend you,” he said, adding: “Those who wish to harm you for a crime you did not commit will have to go through me first.”

In response to clerics who warned Muslims not to mourn Taseer’s death, he offered a stark warning.

“Those who attack my religion, specially [sic] those who corrupt its peaceful message, you are what I call covert blasphemers and you will be defeated,” he said, adding: “This will be our jihad.”


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