President Asif Ali Zardari has called the slain Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti, and the former governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer, victims of increasing intolerance and polarisation in Pakistani society.
In a letter published in The Washington Post on March 6, Zardari said the “assassinations serve as a warning that the battle between extremism and moderation in Pakistan affects the success of the civilised world’s confrontation with the terrorist menace.”
Calling the increasing intolerance an existentialist threat, Zardari said “a small but increasingly belligerent minority is intent on undoing the very principles of tolerance upon which our nation was founded in 1947.”
He resolved, however, the nation “will not be intimidated, nor will we retreat.” “It is not only the future of Pakistan that is at stake but peace in our region and possibly the world,” he added.
Admitting that extremism threatens to unravel the country, Zardari said “the religious fanaticism behind [the] assassinations is a tinderbox poised to explode across Pakistan. The embers are fanned by the opportunism of those who seek advantages in domestic politics by violently polarising society.”
Rebuking Pakistan’s allies for “[losing] patience and [piling] pressure on those of us who are already on the front lines of what is undeniably a long war,” Zardari said, “some well-meaning critics tend to forget the distinction between courage and foolhardiness.”
Singling out the United States in the letter, he said both countries “must avoid political incidents that could further inflame tensions and provide extremists or opportunists with a pretext for destabilising our fledgling democracy.”
Commenting on the Raymond Davis case, Zardari said the individual’s folly has single-handedly jeopardised the image of the United States amongst Pakistanis. Assuring that the case would be adjudicated in accordance with the law, he sternly states “it is in no one’s interest to allow this matter to be manipulated and exploited to weaken the government of Pakistan and damage further the US image in our country.”
He also thrashed any proposition of cutting down development aid to Pakistan, saying such a threat is written “out of the playbook of America’s enemies, whose only result will be to undermine US strategic interests in South and Central Asia.”
“In an incendiary environment, hot rhetoric and dysfunctional warnings can start fires that will be difficult to extinguish,” Zardari concludes.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 6th, 2011.
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