The distance between the Muslim and Christian communities in Pakistan has been widening after the murder of former minorities’ affairs minster Shahbaz Bhatti and former governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer, said the slain minister’s elder brother, and advisor to the prime minister on national harmony, Dr Paul Bhatti.
Both men were killed purportedly for their criticism of the country’s controversial blasphemy laws.
The resentment of the Christian community appears to be mounting with every passing day since Shahbaz’s death, Paul said in an exclusive interview with The Express Tribune.
“Some families of our community feel insecure after the conviction of Aasia Bibi,” he added, referring to the Christian woman facing death penalty for allegedly committing blasphemy.
Taseer had lent support to Aasia, and asked the president to pardon her.
For Paul, the fear is not just communal though.
“My mother has been advising all her children to shift abroad after Shahbaz’s assassination,” Paul said.
“One of my brothers – Peter – is now living permanently in Canada for this very reason,” he said.
Peter is working to promote religious harmony, and raise awareness about the plight of minorities, especially in developing countries, he added.
As for the family in Pakistan, it still lives in fear, awaiting justice for Shahbaz’s murder. Paul expressed dissatisfaction over the pace of investigations in his brother’s assassination.
“The slow pace in investigations is an embarrassment,” he said.
“The investigators have spoiled my brother’s case and pushed it into a blind alley by changing their stance in every report they submitted to the interior ministry,” he added.
The elder Bhatti is not optimistic about any development in the investigation process in the near future either.
But he does believe that a joint investigation team is more effective than a judicial commission.
He has not given up hope though.
On the eve of the first anniversary of his brother’s assassination, Paul said his message is to promote peace and interfaith harmony.
“We stand united for peaceful Pakistan,” he said, adding that there was an urgent need to call representatives of all religions in Pakistan on a single platform and discuss issues which relate directly to laws of various beliefs.
“We can reach a consensus by following Quaid-e-Azam’s ideology about religions,” he said.
On his brother’s efforts for revision of blasphemy laws, that ultimately cost him his life, Paul said: “It’s a sensitive issue and should be carefully handled by the parliament. Politicians and clerics will have to arrive at a consensus on revision of such laws.”
To commemorate his brother’s struggle, the government is establishing a Shahbaz Bhatti University in Islamabad, Paul revealed.
“It will be a pioneering educational institution that will teach national harmony to its students,” he said. The project will cost over one billion rupees and will be funded by the United States through Shahbaz Memorial Trust, he added.
Meanwhile, the Christian community will host an international conference on national harmony in Islamabad next month.
Representatives of various religions, including the Imam-e-Kaaba and the Archbishop of Canterbury will be invited to this government sponsored conference, he added.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 2nd, 2012.