On Wednesday, Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Minority Affairs was shot dead in Islamabad. According to news agencies, Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian member of the Federal Cabinet, was on his way to work “when unknown gunmen riddled his car with bullets.” Al Jazeera English noted that Bhatti’s driver was also wounded in the attack, and correspondent Kamaal Hyder reported, “They asked the driver to get out of the vehicle and then peppered the minister with bullets…He was on his way to a cabinet meeting.”
Express reports that the Tehreek-e-Taliban had claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s attack, which reportedly took place outside Bhatti’s parent’s house in I-8/3. In leaflets left at the scene of the shooting, the militants “blamed the government for putting Bhatti, an ‘infidel Christian,’ in charge of an unspecified committee, apparently referring to one said to be reviewing the blasphemy law,” noted the Associated Press. The pamphlet emphasized, “With the blessing of Allah, the mujahedeen will send each of you to hell.”
Soon after Salmaan Taseer‘s assassination, Bhatti voiced fears that he was “the next highest target,” given his statements against Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Back in January, he told the AFP, “During this [Aasia] Bibi case I constantly received death threats. Since the assassination of Salmaan Taseer… these messages are coming to me even publicly.” Bhatti reportedly requested more security, and was provided four guards from the interior ministry. However, news agencies report that Bhatti’s security detail “were not with him at the time of the attack.” Although this fact raises significant concerns, Islamabad’s Inspector General (IG) insists this was not a security lapse because Bhatti “had apparently instructed his security to wait at the office in I-8/4.” Durrani told reporters, “The squad officer told me that the minister had directed him to wait for him at his office. He used to often visit his mother’s house without a squad…We are investigating the matter from different angles.”
If this is indeed the case, then Bhatti’s assassins were still well aware of when the minister wasn’t accompanied by his security detail. That is still a potential concern.
And of course, there can’t be an act of violence without some accompanying conspiracy theory. According to Express, after news agencies reported the Taliban claimed responsibility for Bhatti’s death, former MNA and chief of Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan, Sindh chapter Asadullah Bhutto told reporters the assassination “was an attempt by the CIA to divert the attention of masses from Raymond Davis.” In the statement, Bhutto further emphasized,
Accepting the responsibility of killing the minister soon after the incident by ‘Punjabi Taliban’, as reported by media, is ample proof that the CIA is behind this crime because the US spy agency had been staging such ‘dramas’ of ‘Punjabi Taliban’ after committing the crimes of same nature earlier.
Bhatti’s death today is an immense tragedy, another nail in the coffin for those willing to be truly courageous in this country. Both Taseer and Bhatti may have spoken out openly against the blasphemy laws, but just as this legislation has become a larger-than-life symbol, so has this type of bravery. After today’s assassination, Pakistani politicians issued the expected condemnations, but not one person even mentioned the laws. In fact, voices against the blasphemy laws have dwindled considerably. Political analyst Rasul Bakhsh Rais told the AP today that Bhatti’s death “further weakens a government already seen by many as corrupt and ineffective.” He emphasized, “They’re not interested in providing citizens with what they need. We don’t have good economy, good society, good education or good security.”
Bhatti was well-aware of the danger he was in, and taped a farewell message to be broadcast in the event of his death. Despite the threats he received, he said in the tape, he would not be deterred from speaking for “oppressed and marginalized persecuted Christians and other minorities” in Pakistan. “I will die to defend their rights. These threats and these warnings cannot change my opinions and principles.”
CHUP will provide further updates to this story as it develops.
UPDATE 1000 EST: Via @beenasarwar, there will be protests over the Bhatti assassination held today 5.30 pm [PST] Karachi Press Club, 3.00 pm [PST] Lahore Press Club.
The Christian Science Monitor quoted Mehdi Hassan, chairman of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, who said Pakistan’s political parties are so bitterly divided it makes it extremely difficult to unite against rising extremism. “Our political leaders do not view security as a top priority problem.” Thoughts?
Bhatti’s farewell tape/interview: