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This time, murder of Pakistan minister spurs condemnation from Islamic clerics

Many Islamic clerics criticized the murder Tuesday of Shahbaz Bhatti, a Pakistani Christian who called for blasphemy law reform. Two months ago several hundred lauded the murder of another politician who strongly advocated reform.

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In Bhatti’s case, he blamed “international and national, internal and external conspiracies.” On the JI website, party chief Syed Munawar Hasan said the killing looked like an attempt to divert public attention from Raymond Davis, the CIA worker held in Pakistan, and that there may be a “CIA hand” behind Bhatti’s murder.

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Kharal also suggested America could be behind the killing “so that followers of different religions fight among themselves.”

Many Pakistanis routinely blame “foreign hands” when things go wrong.

President Obama expressed sorrow yesterday, saying: “I am deeply saddened by the assassination of Pakistan’s Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti today in Islamabad, and condemn in the strongest possible terms this horrific act of violence.”

Like Taseer, Bhatti had called for changes to the blasphemy law because it has been used to persecute religious minorities or as a pretense in personal disputes. The government considered forming a committee to suggest changes, but backed down in the face of religious party opposition. After Taseer’s killing, even independent reform efforts collapsed.

The different tone of the two men’s criticisms appeared not to matter to Bhatti’s killers who seem to view any speech against the law as a blasphemous insult. They dropped pamphlets at the scene accusing him of having “insulted the prophet” and warning “others who try to reform the blasphemy laws will meet the same fate.”

While the killers have received little praise, eyebrows in Parliament went up when three members of another religious party, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam led by Maulana Fazal-ur Rehman, did not stand up during a moment of silence for Bhatti yesterday.

A party spokesman says that eight MPs from the JUI-F were present. All eight remained silent, but only five rose. “These three [who] were not standing, they have some problems in the legs because they are aged, maybe. This is not party policy,” he said.

The spokesman added that Maulana Rehman condemned the killings of both men. But the cases differ, because Taseer’s killing at a time of public protest when the government position was not clear. But Bhatti was killed when “there is no movement and the government position was clear, so there is no space for these activities, so there is no reason for this incident.”

Responding to Bhatti’s murder, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani announced that he would consult with political and military leaders to “formulate a strategy to deal with extremists who are spreading hatred and defaming Pakistan in the world.”

He added: “This is a question of the country’s security, over which there can be no compromise.”

Murder of Christian lawmaker: Can Pakistan check Islamic extremism?


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