Today is the fourth death anniversary of Pakistan’s Federal Minorities Minister, rights activist and leader of Pakistan’s persecuted Christian community, Shahbaz Bhatti. Bhatti was a senior leader of Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party. He was the first Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs from November 2008 until his assassination on 2 March 2011 in Islamabad. Bhatti, a Roman Catholic, was an outspoken critic of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and the only Christian in the Cabinet.
As a student, Bhatti founded and served as head of Pakistan’s Christian Liberation Front, which he formed in 1985. He later helped to found the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA) in 2002 and was unanimously elected as its chairman. Bhatti joined the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in 2002.
Bhatti was appointed as Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs on 2 November 2008, when, for the first time, the post was elevated to cabinet level and an independent ministry created. At the time, he said that he accepted the post for the sake of the “oppressed, down-trodden and marginalized” of Pakistan, and that he had dedicated his life to the “struggle for human equality, social justice, religious freedom, and to uplift and empower religious minorities’ communities.”
During his time as federal minister, he took numerous steps in support of religious minorities. These included the launch of a national campaign to promote interfaith harmony, the proposal of legislation to ban hate speech and related literature, the proposed introduction of comparative religion as a curriculum subject, the introduction of quotas for religious minorities in government posts and the reservation of four Senate seats for minorities. Bhatti also spearheaded the organisation of a National Interfaith Consultation in July 2010, which brought together senior religious leaders of all faiths from across Pakistan and resulted in a joint declaration against terrorism.
Bhatti had been the recipient of death threats since 2009, when he spoke in support of Pakistani Christians attacked by Deobandi miitant outfit ASWJ in the 2009 Gojra riots in Punjab Province. ASWJ militants are a political ally of Nawaz Sharif’s PMLN. These threats increased following his support for Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian sentenced to death in 2010 for blasphemy.
Four years ago, Bhatti was killed in Islamabad by Deobandi militants of Sipah-e-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP aka ASWJ). His only crime? He raised voice against persecution of Pakistani Christians and other religious minorities. In particular, he had criticized the role of Deobandi militants (Taliban and SSP-ASWJ) in attacks on Christians, Hindus, Sunni Sufis and Shias.
A few weeks before Bhatti’s murder, Tahir Ashrafi, a controversial Deobandi hate cleric made a fiery public speech against Shahbaz Bhatti in which he threatened Bhatti with physical violence if he did not refrain from his opposition to the anti-blasphemy laws. Ashrafi also played a key role in the release of a known terrorist Malik Ishaq Deobandi (of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi ASWJ) from jail.
A militant of ASWJ, Abdullah Umar Abbasi Deobandi, was arrested by the police in connection with Bhatti’s murder.
Four years after Bhatti’s murder, police and government have taken no action against Tahir Ahsrafi Deobandi. Shahbaz Bhatti’s real murderers and those who incited to violence against him roam free in this Deo-Nazi Rpublic of Pakistan.