EDITORIAL: Shahbaz Bhatti: a great loss - Thursday, March 03, 2011

Source : http://dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2011\03\03\story_3-3-2011_pg3_1

Federal Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti was gunned down on Wednesday morning in Islamabad as he left his house to attend a cabinet meeting. According to reports, Mr Bhatti was ambushed by unknown assailants who shot him several times. Mr Bhatti succumbed to his injuries while he was being taken to hospital. No group initially took responsibility for the assassination but pamphlets left by Mr Bhatti’s body were attributed to the Pakistani Taliban. Later in the day, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility and issued a statement that “those proposing amendments in the blasphemy law will meet the same fate”. President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani have strongly condemned the incident and ordered an inquiry into it. Within two months, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has lost two of its prominent members. Mr Bhatti’s assassination comes almost two months after Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer’s murder in Islamabad. Being a member of the minority community, Mr Bhatti was vocal about the misuse of the blasphemy laws. In an interview to the BBC, Mr Bhatti had said: “I was told that if I was to continue the campaign against the blasphemy law, I will be assassinated. I will be beheaded. But forces of violence, forces of extremism cannot harass me, cannot threaten me.” Mr Bhatti’s brutal assassination has once again highlighted the fact that we are fast turning into a violent society.

Governor Taseer’s assassination and now Mr Bhatti’s murder by religious zealots should serve as a wake up call for the government. If the terrorists can kill the governor of Punjab and a federal minister in broad daylight in the capital of Pakistan, the government should not rest till the perpetrators are nabbed and brought to book. The extremist groups feel that they have a free hand to do as they please, to silence voices they disagree with. The PPP was pussyfooting around Mr Taseer’s murder. It is because of the PPP government’s spineless response to Mr Taseer’s assassination that the religious right was further emboldened.

Mr Bhatti had asked for more security in the face of additional threats following Mr Taseer’s murder on January 4. Officials have so far denied that there was a security lapse in this case. Inspector General Islamabad Police Wajid Durrani said that two squads were provided to Mr Bhatti but he himself had asked that no squad be provided at his residence. Even if Mr Bhatti had made that request, in the light of the grave threats given to him, the security officials should not have entertained his request and should have insisted against it. The terrorists who killed Mr Bhatti were not met by any resistance because there was no security detail to protect him. It is also astonishing that even though the debate on any amendment or repeal of blasphemy laws died with the death of Mr Taseer, the religious right continues to play this card to justify violence.

Religious intolerance is increasing while dissident voices are being silenced in Pakistan one after another. All those who have raised their voice against the extremist mindset are being threatened or harassed. The government must not let the terrorists challenge the writ of the state anymore. This is not the time to be frightened into silence. It is time to implement the law and not surrender in front of the extremists. Our founding fathers did not wage a struggle for an intolerant society. They wanted equal rights for all human beings regardless of their caste, creed and religion. We must reclaim our tolerant heritage. Pakistan cannot let the blood of Mr Taseer and Mr Bhatti go to waste. RIP Shahbaz Bhatti. A brave man like you will surely be missed. *

SECOND EDITORIAL: Human rights activist killed

On Tuesday, human rights activist and Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) coordinator for district Khuzdar, Balochistan, Naeem Sabir was shot dead by unknown assailants in his home town. This was the latest in the series of targeted killings of those raising their voice for the rights of the Baloch. Naeem Sabir was also a writer and chairman of an NGO, Health and Rural Development of Balochistan, and defended the rights of the disadvantaged, particularly handicapped persons. His crime was his outspokenness and consistent reporting of human rights abuses in his district. Khuzdar area has been particularly volatile, with news of demonstrations, clashes with security forces, abductions, and the discovery of bullet-riddled bodies, and search operations consistently emanating from this district during the past few years. Baloch Students’ Organisation-Azad has a strong presence in this district, which is home to Balochistan University of Engineering and Technology. The strategic location of the district on the border of Sindh, through which Pakistan National Highway linking Pakistan to Iran and Turkey passes, might be another reason why security forces are rattled by the fear of expanding insurgency and unleashed brutal repression in the district. Anyone who was actively involved in regularly exposing human rights violations by the security forces was an obvious target.

In recent months, the tactics of state agencies have changed, which are now abducting and killing dissidents, instead of keeping them in custody or killing them secretly. Earlier, such persons were disappeared without a trace. As a result of protests by their relatives and pressure by the Supreme Court to produce the missing persons, now tortured, disfigured bodies of abducted persons reappear a few days after their disappearance. The victims are invariably those who raise their voice for the rights of the Baloch through peaceful means, not those who are conducting the armed insurgency. Naeem Sabir was one such person. He was not even a political activist. Instead of improving the law and order situation, the brutal repression of moderate Baloch will further alienate them and force many of them to choose the option of violence. *

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