Minority Rights Group International: Jared Ferrie
The assassination of Pakistan’s Minister of Minorities, Shabaz Bhatti, who was brutally killed Wednesday on the streets of Islamabad, was described as an attack on “the values of tolerance and respect for people of all faiths and backgrounds” by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. As the only Christian member of the Pakistani government, the Vatican also considered it timely to comment, calling his death an act of “violence against Christians and religious freedom”.
While it is true that for decades Hindus and Christians, along with Shia, Sufi, and Ahmadi Muslims have suffered persecution in Pakistan, it is necessity to delineate these statements. After all, Bhatti’s death not only speaks to the obvious and continued stranglehold that Islamic extremism has on the Pakistani government, but also, the consequences of its continued influence on the country’s educated middle-class, judiciary and military.
In a claim of responsibility, Taliban spokesmen stated that Bhatti’s murder was a message to Pakistanis of all backgrounds who oppose the country’s long-standing blasphemy law. Introduced in the 1970s, the controversial law makes insulting Islam, the Qur’an, or the Prophet Mohammed a crime punishable by death. Critics claim, however, that it is often used to justify the persecution of minorities.
The real problem facing the Pakistani government over the last forty years is that, while radical Islamic groups enjoy periods of safe haven in the northern tribal regions of the country, they have also proven to be something the country’s ruling elite just cannot rid themselves of internally. Bhatti’s murder joins what has become a tradition of extremists killing liberal politicians at will, and follows the January murder of liberal Punjabi governor, Slaman Tasser, who was killed by his one of his own bodyguards.
Though Islamists have done very poorly in Pakistani elections, the country’s moderates do very little to publicly criticize these types of violent crimes. Further, while Pakistan’s military and intelligence community (ISI) claim to be rigorously hunting down terrorists domestically, Afghan Taliban groups continue to enjoy permanent operating residency in the notorious border region of North Waziristan.
With so much US military financing benefitting Pakistan, the epicenter of the global confrontation with radical Islam, the question remains: has terrorism in these countries become a cash crop? And if so, to what extant is the incompetence, indifference and corruption that allows it to continue to flourish there become an exploitable resource for its leaders?
Trevor Westra is a graduate of Canada’s Laurentian University in Religious Studies. He writes frequently on politics, globalization and the intersections of religion and history at his blog The Theo Log.