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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Another Assassination in the Land of the Purest

Assassination is so common in Pakistan that anybody of any importance in the Land of the Purest must be wondering every day when it would be his or her turn. It was only on January 4 this year that Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri pumped in 27 bullets into Governor Salman Taseer (who also happens to be the nephew of one of Pakistan's greatest poets, Faiz Ahmed Faiz) to avenge the blasphemer and within two months we have another blasphemer, Shahbaz Bhatti, being 'taken care of' by the true and blue-blooded Believers.

So, what was Bhatti's crime ? He was appointed by the President Asif Ali Zardari to investigate the blasphemy charges under which a Christian mother of four kids, Ms. Aasia Bibi, is held in a Pakistani prison. His investigations found the charges to be false and he demanded her release. He also criticized the misuse of the Blasphemy Law (more about this in a while) in Pakistan. These are sufficiently incendiary demands for the frothing-at-the-mouth-corner jihadi Islamists who mill around every every conceivable space of Pakistan. Under the simple but effective expedient that anybody who speaks for a blasphemer is also a blasphemer, Mr. Bhatti became a marked man.

Governor Salman Taseer was killed by his own security guard but Shahbaz Bhatti was killed by the lack of a security detail. Bhatti's requests for enhanced security, like shifting of his residence to a more secure place or access to a bullet-proof car were 'not entertained' eventhough everybody and his uncle as well as aunt knew that he was a prime candidate in the hit list of the Islamist jihadi terrorists. In any other country, such a person would have been protected much better, but not in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. This assassination reeks of a similar one that took place in Rawalpindi on December 27, 2007. The similarity was not in the execution but in the way the 'Deep State' enabled such an event to take place. The State knew that Ms. Benazir Bhutto was the highest in the hit list of the terrorists. How can one be sure that the State knew ? Well, it was the State that sponsored the assassination in the first place after all. In order to facilitate the murderers, the State thinned out the security cover for Ms. Bhutto that evening.

In Bhatti's case, there are two versions. One speaks of Bhatti demanding a much enhanced security for himself following repeated death threats and the other quotes the Inspector General of Police, Islamabad claiming that Bhatti actually discarded his security cover. Obviously, both cannot be true at the same time. As in the case of Ms. Bhutto's assassination, when the 'Deep State' announced that she died because of her head hitting the heavy lever of the sun-roof of her SUV, one can expect to hear in the coming days various excuses being proferred by the Islamic Republic. In the case of Governor Taseer, the Deep State deliberately allowed a known extremist with links to a well-known outfit, and who was found unfit for police work, being given the job of a bodyguard to protect a man who was again high on the hit-list. Apparently, Qadri had informed the fellow bodyguards in the squad of his plan and asked them not to shoot him down, a request to which the others agreed. So, he emptied the full magazine into Governor Taseer without let or hindrance. It shows the extent of the spread of extremism within the police. The military is no better. The general society can be assumed to be equally afflicted with this extremist and jihadi mindset because the police and the armed forces are nothing but a microcosm of the much larger society. In fact, if the more disciplined armed forces are that bad, the society must be even worse. It is said that “First the gods make crazy those whom they wish to destroy”. The Deep State first makes such persons 'sitting ducks'. The end result is the same in both cases.

When Governor Taseer was murdered, there were some anguished Pakistanis. This time around, that number will be far less because Bhatti was after all a kafir. More importantly, those minuscule number of Pakistanis who may feel genuinely anguished, would be more immune now to a shock like this and might also feel intimidated. They should be because the State looks on helplessly as these things unravel. But, what else can one expect in a country after such medieval laws as the Hudood or Blasphemy etc were passed ? As usual, it was Gen. Zia-ul-Haq who takes the blame for this black law though it must be understood that it was after all the 'Socialist' Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto who irrevocably set the Islamization process in Pakistan.

Gen. Zia decided to introduce Nizam-e-mustafa, which required all laws to be based on Islamic injunctions. This resulted in the introduction of such abominable laws as Hudood (the only other Islamic country to have that law is Saudi Arabia), just to please the Saudi monarchy which was bankrolling Pakistan including its nuclear weapon project. He also introduced sections 295-B & C in Pakistan Penal Code that comprise what is more popularly known as the Blasphemy Law (Tahafooz-e-Namoos-e-Risalat). Section 295-B states “Whoever wilfully defiles, damages or desecrates a copy of the Holy Quran or of an extract therefrom, or uses it in any derogatory manner or for any unlawful purpose shall be punishable with imprisonment for life.” This has come very convenient and handy for implicating non-Muslims in blasphemy cases. {Under the Hudood Laws of Pakistan, a raped woman has to produce four male witnesses of pious standing who can testify to the actual act of penetration. If not, the woman will be arrested under adultery.}

In circa 1991, the Federal Shariah Court struck down a provision of the Blasphemy Law that allowed life imprisonment instead of death for acts of blasphemy and opined that only death was permissible under the Islamic shariah. When Ms Benazir Bhutto criticized this ruling, a fatwa was issued in 1992 by the then Religious Affairs minister of Pakistan, Maulana Abdul Sattar Niazi, who was also an Islamic cleric as his title suggests, calling her a kafir for acting in an unIslamic way. Many Pakistanis have taken this law into their own hands to settle personal issues, especially with the minorities. Such people are never arrested or punished. Usually, the blasphemy cases result in the award of death sentence for the accused in lower courts and there will be relief only in the highest court. The lower courts generally award death because of the fear that the judges of the lower courts have of the frenzied mobs which intimidate them. Usually in the lower courts, on the day of the judgement, the courts are pasted with banners and posters demanding death and warning against leniency invoking the Quran in support and there would normally be a super charged environment. In c. 2008, a Hindu factory worker in Karachi was killed by his Muslim colleagues for alleged blasphemy even as the police remained as mute spectators. Any non-Muslim should be really insane to blaspheme in a country where 97% are Muslims and where death is the only punishment for that crime. Later enquiries revealed that the Hindu worker did not blaspheme but was simply qurelous in nature. Blasphemy came handy to get rid of him once and for all. How easy ! In c. 1997, a judge of the Lahore High Court, Arif Iqbal Hussain Bhatti (what a coincidence of the name) , was assassinated in his chambers for releasing two prisoners, young Christian boys, accused of blasphemy. Later, in April 2009, the Federal Shariat Court confirmed again that only death sentence was possible in cases involving blasphemy, dismissing an appeal against death sentence for blasphemy.

The Human Rights Council of Pakistan (HRCP) estimates that the number of blasphemers booked in Pakistan under the infamous Blasphemy Law far exceeds those punished for the same crime in the entire 1400 year old history of Islam. In addition, the Blasphemy Law has become convenient for settling private scores with the members of non-Muslim community as well as rob them of their valuables and property. Once somebody accuses another of blasphemy, life becomes miserable for the accused. He or she is sure to be hounded out and killed even if eventually freed by the Supreme Court. For the other members of the family, life turns upside down immediately.

So, when a leading member of the ruling Pakistan Peoples' Party, Ms. Sherry Rehman proposed meaningful changes that would prevent such incidents, one naturally felt sorry for her bravado. Even the Great Dictator Gen. Musharraf at the peak of his power could not change these Laws. He had to beat a hasty retreat from such an attempt that would have even then only made cosmetic changes. Ms. Rehman's proposal was therefore not expected to even scratch the surface leave alone making a dent. So, when she introduved a Private Member’s Bill calling for amending the death sentence provision in the Blasphemy Law, the infuriated right-wing politico-religious parties and extremist organizations called for a nationwide strike, and the nervous Religious Minister, Syed Khursheed Shah, firmly announced that no change would be made to the Blasphemy Law and affirmed government’s commitment to the Law on the floor of the National Assembly. The Prime Minister, Mr. Gilani, confirmed the Minister's assertion a few days later to cool down the tempers. Ms. Rehman's bill was later withdrawn, on her own volition or not we do not know.

Thus the issue of Blasphemy remains a crowning glory on the much blotted face of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Certainly, a nuclear Pakistan is heading for severe radicalization and is a grave threat to countries in the region and beyond, especially India.

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