Politicians should be able to reach a cross-party accord to end misuse of the blasphemy law, based on proposals made by Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said on Friday.
The comments by Malik were the clearest sign yet of the government’s attempts to reduce tension over the blasphemy law, which has become a bitterly divisive issue in the country.
Former Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and Minister for Minorities’ Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti, were assassinated this year after they called for amendments to the blasphemy law.
Malik told Reuters in an interview party leaders would meet and try to reach a consensus on the law, as proposed by Fazl.
“Its misuse is being, of course, taken into account and the party leaders are going to sit together as proposed by Maulana Fazlur Rehman … and I hope this matter can be thrashed out, whenever this meeting takes place,” he said.
Fazl has been a vocal defender of the blasphemy law. However, a local newspaper quoted him as saying last week that “if a law is being misused against minorities, we are ready to discuss this.”
Malik declined to answer a question on whether politicians would discuss amendments to the law, or simply introduce measures to prevent its misuse, saying this would be a collective decision and he would abide by the consensus.
He added Fazl’s proposals are likely to gain support, without giving details. “Everybody, I think, will follow him in this connection.”
Asked whether this meant the PPP had resolved its differences with him, Malik said, “he has always favoured and taken the side of the Pakistan Peoples Party … He is a great friend of mine, he is a great friend of the president, he is a great lover of democracy so you can draw the inference that there is nothing wrong.”
The PPP-led government has been accused of appeasing the religious right after Taseer was shot by his own bodyguard in Islamabad. The man who confessed to his killing was celebrated as a hero, and the religious right organised large protests to insist there could be no change to the blasphemy law.
The government responded by promising the laws would stand, while Malik was quoted by the media as saying that if someone insulted Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), he, too, would shoot him.
Asked about that comment, Malik said, “Nobody would like to show disrespect to our Prophet. I said the bullet of law should be utilised for such actions. I was misinterpreted in that particular statement.”
He said the government condemned the assassination of the two men. “Nobody has the right to take anybody’s life.”
Published in The Express Tribune, March 13th, 2011.