The sole Christian member of Pakistan’s cabinet, and a vocal opponent of the country’s controversial blasphemy laws, was assassinated in the state capital of Islamabad Wednesday. Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti was shot dead by three men while on his way to work from his mother’s home. The assassins pulled his driver out of his vehicle before spraying the minister and his car with bullets.
Pamphlets reportedly dropped by the assassins were found at the attack site, containing anti-blasphemy material, including the statements, “The only fate of blasphemers is death” and “How dare the government make a Christian infidel the head of a committee reforming blasphemy laws.”
The pamphlet was signed by al-Qaeda and Tehreek-e-Taliban Punjab, a banned terrorist group also known as Punjabi Taliban that is behind a string of suicide bombings and terrorist attacks.
This is the second political assassination in Pakistan in two months, targeting the opponents of the country’s controversial blasphemy laws, which impose the death penalty for insults to Islam. On January 4, Provincial Governor Salman Taseer was gunned down by his own security guard for stating his opposition to the blasphemy laws after Aasia Bibi, a 45-year-old Christian woman, was sentenced to death for committing blasphemy. The minorities minister received several death threats during the Aasia Bibi case and after Taseer’s assassination. He told AFP he feared he was the “highest target.” His colleague, lawmaker Dr. Nelson Azeem, told Need to Know that Bhatti had repeatedly asked the president and the prime minister for a bulletproof vehicle
Many experts have observed that the government’s lack of political will to deal with extremism has brought the country to this point. Bhatti’s assassination exemplifies the increasing affinity of extremist forces to implement their agenda of radicalization by high-profile killings.
The religious minorities of Pakistan are ever more fearful of their lives after this attack, according to numerous individuals and members of human rights organizations interviewed there. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s council member Nadeem Anthony, said that “in the current circumstances, anything can happen to any minority member in Pakistan at any point in time.”
The general sentiment among the religious minorities is that of growing insecurity. Khalid Yaqoob, a 48-year-old daily wager in a government office is one such fearful man. A member of the Christian community, Khalid said, “If given the opportunity I think every Christian will leave Pakistan, it is our country but I don’t see a safe future for my four kids here.”
Rabia Mehmood is a Pakistani journalist currently working at Need to Know. You can follow her Twitter feed @Rabail26.