PENSIEVE: Shahbaz Bhatti and after —Farrukh Khan Pitafi - Tuesday, March 08, 2011

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As for the radicalisation of Punjab, there is no doubt about it. Seminaries across the province have developed a ragtag alliance on the issue of blasphemy creating an ideal opportunity for al Qaeda and other terrorist groups to exploit

I was busy writing a piece on the sordid affair of Raymond Davis when a ‘breaking news’ flashed on the muted television’s screen. Federal Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti had come under attack from armed gunmen and was critically injured said the news. By critically injured I surmised that his life had already been lost and that it was almost the rerun of the Salmaan Taseer assassination episode. But whatever it was, I was sure that the terrorists must have killed him with relative ease. There is no doubt in my mind that non-Muslims, including their ministers, in my country almost always have been treated as second-rate citizens. You may notice that I have clearly avoided calling them minorities because I firmly believe that religion should not be the criterion to identify the minorities. Christians, Hindus, Zoroastrians, Ahmedis and other non-Muslims born in our country are virtually of the same racial stock, are equally patriotic and hence cannot be identified as minorities. Nevertheless, my doubts were soon confirmed.

The government’s response to the assassination was callously slow. It took the government a day to declare three-day national mourning for its own cabinet minister. Likewise, the facts emerging were contradictory. The police and subsequently the Interior Ministry insisted that the minister had refused to be accompanied by his security detail. And yet we knew that after the fresh spate of death threats and dire warnings from everywhere the minister had himself requested for his security to be beefed up. Similarly, despite being a full-fledged federal minister and clearly a marked man he was neither given a bulletproof car nor an accommodation in the ministers’ colony. As usual the victim was blamed for the mishap stating that he had advised his security detail not to accompany him. And then there was the matter of the printed and unsigned leaflets found from the crime in which “Tanzeem al Qaeda and Tehrik-i-Taliban Punjab” claimed responsibility for the murder through extremely noxious language. Could it be considered prima facie evidence? And astonishingly while the media repeatedly mentioned Tehrik-i-Taliban Punjab in the news reports, hardly anyone has paid any heed to the first part, namely Tanzeem al Qaeda. Does it prove that the al Qaeda is also operational in Punjab?

Whether it was perpetrated by the said group or the letter mentioned above was fake, two things are absolutely clear. One, the characteristic Taliban and al Qaeda method of suicide bombing was abandoned in this case sparking speculations about the real motives of the assassins. We know now that the said minister was also involved in a row over the Evacuee Trust issues. Second, that no matter how you put it, it was security lapse of no mean proportion. Not only had the security detail of the minister abandoned him at the time of the assault for one reason or another, but three armed gunmen had managed to transport weapons and intercept him on his way killing him with the ease that left his driver virtually unharmed — that too in the broad daylight and in the federal capital.

When reportedly his own cabinet colleagues, his party members and the members from the opposition benches, Interior Minister Rehman Malik was defiant and refused to step down. He further insisted that it was not a security failure and the assassinated minister himself was responsible for the lax security. In his long tirade against his critics he claimed that he had managed to stop a host of terror attacks in the country. Ironically while he was delivering his bhaashan (sermon) in parliament, a bomb exploded at a shrine in Nowshera at the time of the Friday prayers. And yet the minister did not stop. After extolling the role of the ISI and the police, he also played the victim card by declaring that he too along with Sherry Rehman and Fauzia Wahab was under threat of the terrorists. So should we conclude that in order to preserve his precious life his stay in power should be endured? But wait a moment, is it not the same man who was responsible for Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto’s security when she was assassinated? Did Salmaan Taseer’s murder, Mumbai attack and Raymond Davis episode not take place while he has been in-charge of the Interior Ministry? Was he not the person who said that he would personally shoot a blasphemer present in front of him? Yet the minister who repeatedly failed to recite Surah Ikhlas (the shortest and the easiest of chapters in Quran) correctly when asked to read it from a printed copy in the cabinet meeting. And the same minister who declared Raymond Davis a diplomat on the floor of the House when even the western opinion makers are not convinced of it. Not that his personal religiosity matters even a bit here. What matters is his habit of running with the hare and hunting with the hounds. Somehow while within his party there are people who think that his presence is important in the cabinet, it is hardly appreciated that his ineptness may jeopardise the security of the very cabinet, his party and country’s leadership.

As for the radicalisation of Punjab, there is no doubt about it. Seminaries across the province have developed a ragtag alliance on the issue of blasphemy creating an ideal opportunity for al Qaeda and other terrorist groups to exploit. And that is precisely why I have been insisting that the PPP-led government should engage the PML-N so that the radical elements in the province are properly isolated. However, I am sure it is people like Mr Malik who convince the president and the prime minister against such cooperation. The second most important issue is to convince the country’s establishment and the mainstream political parties to sever their ties with any ideationally charged elements. This can only be achieved only when instead of appeasing the extremists any further the PPP-led government decides to take a clear stand on radicalisation. Also it needs to convince the US that any concessions on Raymond Davis matter will further radicalise our society.

In the end I must say that Shahbaz Bhatti was a brave soul who did his best to for the betterment of this country. In my humble opinion he is a martyr for a better Pakistan and his tragic demise, instead of frightening us, should make us fight more vigorously for an enlightened Pakistan.

The writer is an independent columnist and a talk show host. He can be reached at

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