Talibanism is on the rise in Pakistan and the government is helpless about it, Wednesday's ruthless assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, the nation's only Christian lawmaker to hold a cabinet rank, has confirmed.
Bhatti, who was recently re-appointed as Pakistan's minorities affair minister, was gunned down on Wednesday by unidentified gunmen. The gunmen left behind pamphlets, saying they owed allegiance to Al-Qaeda and the Talibans.
Bhatti was the only Christian lawmaker in Pakistan's parliament and one of the few public figures in Pakistan, who strongly condemned the assassination of Punjab governor Salman Taseer. Taseer was shot dead by his own bodyguard. Both Bhatti and Taseer were moderate leaders and opposed the nation's anti-blasphemy law, which is increasingly being used to silence and oppress the religious minority communities. Both were passionately committed to the rights of minorities in Pakistan and displayed great personal courage in the face of opposition. Both had opposed the death sentence given to Christian woman Aasia Bibi last year after being found guilty of blasphemy. Both were ambushed on the road and were shot dead in their cars.
As in the case of Taseer's assassination, Bhatti's assassination has also triggered condemnation worldwide. People are questioning why Bhatti was alone and not with his security guards when the gunmen surrounded his Toyota sedan this morning. Tributes are also flowing in.
However, condemnations and tributes have no meaning unless Pakistan's government does something about it. Though the government has taken an open stand against religious fundamentalism, especially talibanism, yet, there is no clear sign that it is winning the battle.
The U.S. government has always been busy supplying arms and money to its counterpart in Pakistan with the hope that the latter can win its fight against the Talibans, terrorism and extremism. However, the billions of dollars pumped by the U.S. in Pakistan has failed to prevent the ugly head of religious extremism from rearing.
Could this assassination have been prevented? Perhaps. If the security for Bhatti was beefed up, perhaps, he would be alive now. Reportedly, Bhatti had discussed his concerns about lack of security with fellow minority lawmakers several times. He made these concerns known to the prime minister and president, but they did nothing about it, The Christian Science Monitor cited Dr. Nelson Azeem, one of two remaining Christian lawmakers in parliament, as saying.
Meanwhile, the U.S. government has come under scanner because many people feel that had it intervened strongly and raised its concerns with its counterpart in Pakistan after Taseer was killed, Bhatti would be alive today. Unfortunately, the U.S. government has now directed its attention to the 'Jasmine Revolution' in the Middle-East. Perhaps, that has emboldened the Talibans to strike back in Pakistan on Wednesday and tell the world that it has not lost its relevance in global politics and socio-religious issues.
Meanwhile, Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari has said that Bhatti's death has failed to intimidate the government and it will continue to wage its war against the Talibans. We have to fight this mindset and defeat them. We will not be intimidated nor will we retreat, Zardari said. Hope Zardari carries out his promise because religious intolerance has no place in the 21st century and it stands against the fundamental principles of human rights. Especially in Pakistan.