A bloodstained flag

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s remarks on Federal Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti’s assassination echoed what every sane Pakistani feels. “I was shocked and outraged by the assassination…I think this was an attack not only on one man but on the values of tolerance and respect for people of all faiths and backgrounds that had been championed by Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan,” she said. On Wednesday, Pakistan lost Mr Bhatti to the extremist forces. In two months, we have lost a serving governor and a serving federal minister. This is certainly not the Pakistan our forefathers dreamt of. It has been hijacked by the very same forces that were once against the creation of this country. Mr Bhatti’s assassination has been condemned worldwide and has sent shockwaves everywhere, especially in Pakistan.

The reaction to Governor Taseer’s murder was shocking for another reason as most Pakistanis were either ambivalent or glorified his murderer, Mumtaz Qadri. But Mr Bhatti’s murder has put most of those voices on the defensive. The religious parties are not condoning Mr Bhatti’s murder like they did in Mr Taseer’s case but are blaming it on an “international conspiracy” to take the focus away from the Raymond Davis case. This is too far-fetched to be taken seriously. Instead of shifting the blame, all those who are drumming up this theory should take a good look around this ‘land of the pure’ and they will get to see the evidence of an inside hand. The Punjab Taliban themselves claimed the responsibility for this callous attack on Mr Bhatti. In pamphlets left at the site of the murder, the ‘Taliban al Qaeda Punjab’ warned of sinister consequences for anyone who dared to raise their voice against the blasphemy laws.

It was surprising to see Punjab Chief Minister all riled up at Interior Minister Rehman Malik for ‘politicising’ the Punjabi Taliban issue and giving it a provincial angle. What Mr Sharif has obviously failed to understand is that Mr Malik is not fanning provincialism. The perpetrators themselves signed the pamphlets as such and later claimed responsibility as well. This is not the time for a tussle between the federal and Punjab government; it is time to stand united in order to root out the terrorist menace. All provinces and the federation have to pull together because the terrorists are now attacking political figures. It seems that the terrorists now have a hit list on the blasphemy issue. For once our politicians must rise above partisan politics and understand the gravity of the situation. The terrorists have the capability to inflict damage and pain by killing political leaders at will.

In another sad development, leading members of Pakistan’s Christian community have asked the Vatican not to give statements on their behalf. It shows the insecurity of our minorities who feel threatened that any international condemnation, especially that coming from the Vatican, might serve as fodder for the Islamist extremists who are baying for their blood in any case. The government needs to put its foot down and assure all minority communities that they are safe in Pakistan. This is as much their country as the Muslims’. President Zardari said, “We have to fight this mindset and defeat them. We will not be intimidated nor will we retreat.” Had the government stood up against the extremist forces earlier instead of trying to appease them, the terrorists would not have gained so much space. But as they say, better late than never. The government should now stand firm and challenge the extremist forces in order to defeat them. Our survival is on the line here.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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