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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.

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Some 50,000 people attended a rally organized by religious parties in support of Taseer’s killer, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, and the blasphemy laws in Karachi on Sunday. A day after Taseer’s death, 500 leading religious scholars from the Barelwi sect of Islam signed a petition praising the killer.

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Pope Benedict XVI, who demanded a repeal of Pakistan’s blasphemy law on Monday, was also criticized by powerful Islamist politician Liaquat Baloch. “The Pope's statement is an open invitation for clash of civilizations and a bid to plunge the entire world into a deadly war,” he told the Associated Press of Pakistan.

By contrast, liberal voices denouncing the killing and the blasphemy law have been limited to candle-light vigils and marches attracting numbers in the low-hundreds, mainly in Taseer’s hometown of Lahore. Liberals have also been active in the English-language news media and on Facebook and Twitter – media that do not reach the majority of Pakistanis.

Context of those comments

In such a caustic atmosphere, Bhutto Zardari’s comments are nothing if not brave, says Pakistani columnist Mosharraf Zaidi. “Bilawal’s family; his mother, grandfather and uncles have a 30-year history of not fearing death,” he says. Bilawal Zardari’s mother, Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated in 2007, his grandfather Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was hanged by former dictator General Zia-ul-Haq, and both his maternal uncles were murdered.

But, adds Mr. Zaidi: “It’s not a direct challenge to the Pakistani right wing, because to make that challenge, you have to be standing in Pakistan speaking in Urdu.”

Zaidi believes that the PPP leadership have abdicated their responsibilities by leaving the moral burden of responding to extremism on the shoulders of the 20-something Bilawal Zardari, currently a student at Oxford University.

A widening wealth and cultural gap between affluent and poor Pakistanis makes it difficult for opposing sides to communicate with one another, he adds.

“All of these things are wrapped in a broader class and cultural war of which [Taseer] was also a victim … the fact is, there is an echo chamber amongst English speaking Pakistanis who respond to events with moral outrage and express that moral outrage to each other and to what is largely a Western audience,” he says.

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