Born - 9th September 1968
Murdered - 2nd March 2011
I feel this needs to be written. Even if its been two weeks since Minister Shahbaz Bhatti was murdered, and I know everybody feels the same way I feel, but this needs to be said loud and clear. I want to apologise to his family and friends and express my grief and regret. The sadness at this murder breaks my heart and runs over into my soul at the spectacle of murder my country at large has become a stage for. I once used to take solace in the fact that it was only Karachi that partook in large scale murder in this day and age. But with Pakistani imperial ambitions blocked in Afghanistan, and an insane Al Qaeda turning its strategic violence industry on Pakistan, the mad radicals have decided to exploit to the hilt, every faultline, every difference, every frayed nerve ending to get their message of vengeance across to the larger Pakistani public at large. This includes exploiting the fact that for some strange reason I still have difficulty fathoming, a section of Punjabi Pakistanis get more worked up on insults to the prophet, rather than sticking to their religious mandate to worship no God but Allah. Or maybe if they want to get worked up it could be over non-reporting teachers or raped and murdered children in the province of the serial killer Javed Iqbal. But no, it’s a law passed by Zia that is used to victimise people, steal their property or destroy their reputation, the preservation of which’s abusive nature is more important than any other social ill that plagues Pakistan.
And so it’s with regret that I write that another in a long list of Pakistanis has been felled by the fanatics nurtured by our society and its government. Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti was killed 12 days ago on his way to work by Taliban gunmen. They were surgical about it, stopping the driver, telling him to get out of the car and then assassinating the Minister. He had not been given police guards, and simultaneously, an intelligence call came to him to inform him that his life was in danger. Allah. Yes geniuses at Pakistan’s intelligence agencies, we know Bhatti sahib’s life was in danger. What you people at the Jasoos Adda could have done would be to find the name of his killers, or maybe lodge cases and file for arrest warrants against everybody who had verbally or in writing made a threat against a sitting minister of the state.
My anger is overcome with sadness. The PPP should rabidly pursue the killers of their party member the way General Musharraf rabidly pursued those officers who tried to murder him, overturning entire careers if necessary. Yes I know that is a blasphemy, for civilians to challenge the careers of those in the government defence/intelligence sector, but I think it is necessary because too many high profile terror attacks have occurred for an example not to be made of in the government security bureaucracy.
This is part of the policy angle, and maybe some progress has been made. But I think more important is to speak about the human angle of the murder of Mr Shahbaz Bhatti, and this is painful to write. Mr Bhatti was a citizen of Pakistan. The community he belongs to, Pakistani Christians, are no less citizens of Pakistan, whether they are in Lahore, Pindi, Karachi or the insurgency hit Khyber district. In this day and age, with mass produced powerful weapons, more miniaturised, more sophisticated and more lethal in smaller doses, human thinking has to evolve beyond the barbarism of the 1940’s that it still seems stuck in. Mr Bhatti in his death has become a champion and symbol of victimisation for his community, against a policy instrument of persecution, of Muslims, Christians, Hindus and other human beings. His death placed the champions of the blasphemy law in a dark place, with Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman coming out and saying that maybe the law might need to be amended.
A dark way to get change.
Mr Bhatti was a brave Punjabi. The last post I wrote before his murder, I wrote in jubilation at Pakistan winning against Sri Lanka with our notoriously unreliable Cricket team. In it I wrote that Pakistan needs Brave Punjabis and smarter, wiser and more mature Pathans. In explanation I wrote, “A little more heart and soul in some brainy corners” in reference to Pakistan needing some bravery amongst its Punjabis. What more could I have possibly meant? That the smart Punjabis who have made their way up the corporate-bureaucratic ladder in Pakistan did so by staying silent about obvious displays of bigotry amongst Pakistanis and how these culturally normative prejudices were tolerated and accepted over decades. A time has now come to address these unspoken prejudices and hatreds. Mr Shahbaz Bhatti spoke about these and paid what can be described as the ultimate price for it. For that I salute him.
And I still want the Blasphemy Laws repealed. I asked for a brave Punjabi, and God dammit we got them. We need more brave living Punjabis, and not dead ones, but now I ask for the repeal of those instruments of abuse, the Blasphemy laws.