Thursday, March 3, 2011

Shahbaz Bhatti.....Fiddling with enormity

Fiddling with enormity
Right in Islamabad, the seat of the national state power, was murdered not long ago Punjab governor Salman Taseer in broad daylight by his own security guard. And there now has been shot to death Shahbaz Bhatti, federal minister for minorities affairs, by unknown gunmen, again in broad daylight. And yet Islamabad’s hierarchs are just fiddling with an enormity of grave dimensions, playing the flute and harping customary condemnations and lofty vows not to bow down before terrorists or get cowed down by their vile trade of murder and mayhem. This has been their constant refrain all through since their advent three years, unchangeably and unabashedly. Every time thugs strike, they sing this hymn, probably thinking chanting of a mantra is enough to frighten away the merchants of death and destruction and nothing more is needed to put them out of their evil business. Three years is no little time. It is quite a period to impart a crippling dent on such thuggery, provided a thoughtful strategy is worked out and then worked on intently. But this Islamabad hierarchy has demonstrated this capability to be none of its forte. A counter-terrorism strategy that it had hammered out at a high-level inter-provincial conference under the prime minister long time ago, it has, by every indication, consigned to the official rut to rust. No letup is in evidence in thugs’ wickedness. They are on prowl; the state is gasping to hobble them. They come blithely, attack civilian and security targets alike bloodily and return to their lairs safely. Internal security czar Rehman Malik claims terrorism suspects do get caught but are let off by courts. But he is still to plug off the holes in the anti-terrorism law, enabling the suspects to wriggle through in the courts, although we are hearing of this tightening up of the law from him since long. If reports doing the round in the capital are to be believed, a draft of the amended anti-terrorism law to this end is merely shuttling between the interior and law ministries routinely, leaving one shuddering about the disinterest of their ministers-in-charge in a matter of such a great urgency that should receive their fullest immediate interest. But if a higher hierarchy is so tardy and dawdling in vetting this crucial law and bring it up to the parliament for its quick approval, what could one expect from it in providing security to judges, prosecutors and witnesses of terrorism cases, which the people who are in the know contend accounts no lesser for terrorism suspects’ easier release by courts? There are widespread suspicions too that for the thugs’ fear and threats, even state investigators evade to probing terrorism cases so meticulously as to stand in the court. There indeed is an imperative need to give a penetrating look to the whole issue so that at least the suspects that are caught are brought to justice and do not walk away laughing merely for the anti-terrorism law’s debility, a slipshod probe or lack of protection of judges, prosecutors and witnesses. But this could only be a tall order for a hierarchy that is so sportively toying with the establishment of a national counter-terrorism authority. Months have passed since the prime minister had announced the setting up of this authority to act as a nodal agency to fight out terrorism and extremism from the country. And as yet it has not come into existence even in embryonic form. A mere proposal on the paper is travelling from one official table to the other in just a raw form, one knowing not if ever will it get a final shape and land on the ground to become a functional reality. The latest on it is that it is now resting on the cabinet’s table, getting one postponement of deliberation on it after the other, with a section of ministers suggesting its reference first to the provincial governments for their views and recommendations. If it is to be that, and which certainly is a very sane proposal, why is this dilly-dallying? Why doesn’t the prime minister immediately convene a conference of chief ministers, who may come along with their home ministers and other relevant top officials, and have the issue of this counterterrorism authority settled in just one sitting? At least now, the Islamabad hierarchy must come alive to the bestial enormity of terrorism, playing havoc with our people’s lives and blood so grievously. For once, it must pull up its socks and jump into the ring to grapple with this monstrosity manly and effectively. The military, it must understand, can take on and vanquish organised terrorist outfits in their strongholds. But fighting urban terrorism is primarily the civilian security apparatus’s job. And so is the hounding and dismantling of extremist outfits preaching hate and practising hate crimes.

Pakistan announces three days of mourning for Bhatti

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Thursday announced three days of official mourning for Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, who was assassinated by Taliban militants for opposing Pakistan's controversial blasphemy law. Gilani further announced that the national flag would remain at half mast on Friday.
"The white portion of the flag represents minorities, which shows Pakistan's commitment for their rights and welfare," Gilani said in a brief statement issued by his office.
Bhatti, 42, was shot dead by at least four militants, a short distance from his home in Islamabad on Wednesday.
The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the assassination, saying Bhatti was killed for calling for changes in the blasphemy law.
The killers left pamphlets at the site of the attack that warned others opposing the blasphemy law would be killed too.
Bhatti was the only Christian member of Gilani’s cabinet and a vocal campaigner for the rights of the country’s minority communities.
He earned the ire of militants and religious hardliners last year after he called on the President Asif Ali Zardari to pardon Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for allegedly insulting the Prophet Mohammed.

Shahbaz Bhatti. A brave man like you will surely be missed.


Federal Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti was gunned down on Wednesday morning in Islamabad as he left his house to attend a cabinet meeting. According to reports, Mr Bhatti was ambushed by unknown assailants who shot him several times. Mr Bhatti succumbed to his injuries while he was being taken to hospital. No group initially took responsibility for the assassination but pamphlets left by Mr Bhatti’s body were attributed to the Pakistani Taliban. Later in the day, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility and issued a statement that “those proposing amendments in the blasphemy law will meet the same fate”. President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani have strongly condemned the incident and ordered an inquiry into it. Within two months, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has lost two of its prominent members. Mr Bhatti’s assassination comes almost two months after Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer’s murder in Islamabad. Being a member of the minority community, Mr Bhatti was vocal about the misuse of the blasphemy laws. In an interview to the BBC, Mr Bhatti had said: “I was told that if I was to continue the campaign against the blasphemy law, I will be assassinated. I will be beheaded. But forces of violence, forces of extremism cannot harass me, cannot threaten me.” Mr Bhatti’s brutal assassination has once again highlighted the fact that we are fast turning into a violent society.

Governor Taseer’s assassination and now Mr Bhatti’s murder by religious zealots should serve as a wake up call for the government. If the terrorists can kill the governor of Punjab and a federal minister in broad daylight in the capital of Pakistan, the government should not rest till the perpetrators are nabbed and brought to book. The extremist groups feel that they have a free hand to do as they please, to silence voices they disagree with. The PPP was pussyfooting around Mr Taseer’s murder. It is because of the PPP government’s spineless response to Mr Taseer’s assassination that the religious right was further emboldened.

Mr Bhatti had asked for more security in the face of additional threats following Mr Taseer’s murder on January 4. Officials have so far denied that there was a security lapse in this case. Inspector General Islamabad Police Wajid Durrani said that two squads were provided to Mr Bhatti but he himself had asked that no squad be provided at his residence. Even if Mr Bhatti had made that request, in the light of the grave threats given to him, the security officials should not have entertained his request and should have insisted against it. The terrorists who killed Mr Bhatti were not met by any resistance because there was no security detail to protect him. It is also astonishing that even though the debate on any amendment or repeal of blasphemy laws died with the death of Mr Taseer, the religious right continues to play this card to justify violence.

Religious intolerance is increasing while dissident voices are being silenced in Pakistan one after another. All those who have raised their voice against the extremist mindset are being threatened or harassed. The government must not let the terrorists challenge the writ of the state anymore. This is not the time to be frightened into silence. It is time to implement the law and not surrender in front of the extremists. Our founding fathers did not wage a struggle for an intolerant society. They wanted equal rights for all human beings regardless of their caste, creed and religion. We must reclaim our tolerant heritage. Pakistan cannot let the blood of Mr Taseer and Mr Bhatti go to waste. RIP Shahbaz Bhatti. A brave man like you will surely be missed. *

Arabs oppose West military intervention in Libya: experts

(Xinhua) -- Protests sweeping the Middle East and North Africa are not expected to be faced with silence by the West, but Syrian analysts on Wednesday warned against a military action in Libya launched by the United States and its allies.

Ahmad al-Haj Ali, a Syrian political analyst, told Xinhua that Arabs reject the U.S. intervention in states of the region. "Arabs are capable to solve their own problems without any foreign intervention," he said. "It is the oil, not Arab blood, that Washington and its allies care about.

Arab League (AL) opposed on Tuesday the military intervention in Libya and urged the international community to adopt diplomatic and peaceful means before resorting to force. The step came in response to reports that the United States and other Western states were considering the military option against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's regime.

On Tuesday, U.S. warships sailed toward Libya as Washington expressed its concerns that the oil-producing North African country could fall into chaos unless Qaddafi gave up power.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Wednesday "we have to think about frankly the use of the U.S. military in another country in the Middle East."

Syrian political analyst Omran al-Zoubi said the United States is considering repositioning its forces in the region and finding a pretext to interfere in Arab affairs. He hailed the Syrian call for the AL to hold an urgent session to reject the military intervention in Libya.

"Arab states are not expected to do much, but an urgent meeting will be a good step," Zoubi said. "The violent power unleashed by Gaddafi loyalists against the Libyan protestors should not provide an excuse for military interference by other countries."