Thursday, March 3, 2011

ANOTHER VOICE SILENCED: Minority Minister Shot Dead in I-8 Sector of Islamabad

Bhatti calls all religious factions to defeat violence, extremism
*Said I received threats but will not buy any bullet-proof vehicles, would continue struggling for peace
*Minorities sacrificed for Pakistan more than Mullahs who used to issue Fatwas to make situation worse and push solutions further out of reach
*Slain minister acknowledged slain governor’s assertion that blasphemy laws are man-mad, not divine, and are misused

By Mahtab Bashir
Before leaving Bhatti’s office while winding up my rendezvous with him, I stood up and whispered in Punjabi, ‘Theek ay Bhatti Sahib, tusi apna kam karo, (you please, do your work), thank you so much for your time. He raised from his seat, hugged me smilingly and asked me, ‘yar mahtab, ay interview kis din chapay ga’? (When this interview will get published? I said Saturday or Sunday are usually dull days and space is sufficient so these days are better to flash your interview. ‘theek ay’, Bhatti said in his low voice putting his hand on red tie. ‘Oh sorry Bhatti Sahib, “Every time I make promise to gift you a red colour tie, but I always forget to bring it for you. By the way, why you wear mostly red ties,” I asked final question while standing. Bhatti smiled again and said ‘pata nahi yar bus waisy e, red colour prominent ay na’. I nodded my head smilingly. ‘Beth ja, ki karna e jaa kay, I said bus sir kafi kam ikatha ho gia ay subha da, stories file karan da time ho gia ay, fair mulaqat hoi gi, insha allah, tay ais dafa ‘Red Tie’ zaroor lay kay awan ga. The minister smiled in response and I left Green Tower – where the ministry of minority affairs office located in.

This casual interview proved to be my last meeting with federal minister for minority affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti on Tuesday March 1, 2011, 15 hours before I heard the news of Bhatti was gunned down on Wednesday morning in Islamabad as he left his house (situated in sector I-8) to attend a cabinet meeting.

He surely was a down to earth creature, very hospitable and a rare breed among the federal ministers who always talked selflessly for underprivileged. During the meeting, when i asked Bhatti sahib, where is your security? I mean from coming up from the parking of this Tower till the up, there’s all open space and even in reaching the 6th floor there is hardly a security personnel deputed for you. Bhatti with his trademark smile said, ‘yar asi Saien log aan, sanu kisay nay ki kehna ay- Chaa pi tu’.

While sipping he asked me in Urdu, ‘Yar mahtab tum kahan sy parhay ho’? I said I have obtained Master's degree from Quaid -e-Azam University (QAU), Punjab University (PU), and now looking forward to get another degree in Mass. Communication from Allama Iqbal Open University (AIOU) as being a relevant subject to my profession. He smiled again and said, "Good... Achi bat hay yar. Acha jatay hoay bahir say meri aik passport size photograph le jana, wo interview kay sath laga lena, I smiled and said ok ok ... don’t worry bhatti sab.

And next day (Wednesday) it was my weekly off when in my sleep I got a text message from a friend about the brutal assassination of Bhatti. I hurriedly put away my quilt and tuned on news channels one by one- every channel was flashing the callous murder of the Minister. The next moment I was on my way to office. I filed the interview on the same day (Wednesday) well ahead of my promise of Saturday or Sunday! RIP minister!

Here is the swan song Bhatti sang to me!\03\03\story_3-3-2011_pg11_7

All religious factions in the country should get together and come forward to shun the religious extremism and violence, which is on the rise in recent years, and soon ministry will invite intellectuals from all segments of society to seek their advice to combat this menace of extremism, Federal Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti said this on Tuesday night hours before his voice was silenced forever by the bullets of extremists on Wednesday.

Sitting in his office, calm and composed wearing red tie- as his favourite, Bhatti said every religion conveys the message of love, tolerance, peace and brotherhood but unfortunately nothing is visible in our society because of rapidly spreading tentacles of extremism.

Talking exclusively in his last interview, the assassinated minister wished to take all religious, political, and academicians on board to eradicate radical elements involved in ruining the peace, stability and interfaith harmony in the country and bringing bad name abroad.

Terming the assassination of governor Punjab as an act of brazen timidness, that was sabotaging the peace in the country, Bhatti said the killer wanted to disrupt the peace of country and interfaith harmony as Taseer always tried to protect the minorities’ rights.

“The minorities in Pakistan have sacrificed more than these handful of radical forces members who made just Fatwas (edict) to aggravate the situation and exploit people rather going for the solution,” Bhatti said. “These hardliners are the one who destroy shrines, hospitals, educational institutions, and other worship places, whereas minority of Pakistan has produced a number of icons who made their names across the globe,” Bhatti, still a bachelor said.

Referring to murder of Punjab governor, Salman Taseer, Bhatti categorically said all Mullahs who made the Fatwas over blasphemy convicts firstly be arrested for initial investigation of Taseer’s assassination,” he said, adding Taseer was against the blasphemy laws, implemented in the country, as he termed this law as man-made and not divine that is being misused for political, religious and personal vendetta.

Bhatti, who was one of successful minister to reassigned the same portfolio after the resizing of federal cabinet few weeks ago, said slain governor was the person who consoled Aasia Bibi, who was wrongly involved in blasphemy law.

“She was innocent that is why governor met her and promised her to save her life requesting president Asif Ali Zardari to pardon her,” Bhatti said, adding nobody could change their views regarding the misuse of blasphemy law.

Lauding the role of minorities in Pakistan, Bhatti said minorities in the country had staunch faith in all Islamic teachings, Quran, Prophet hood of Muhammad PBUH, and all religious personalities. “None of those could imagine to think to convict blasphemy laws but here in the country radical forces are exploiting these laws for personal interests and we would not allow anyone to exploit these laws in their favour to spread a wave of fanaticism,” he maintained.

He said minorities had participated and struggled extensively in creation of Pakistan and through blasphemy law fanatics wanted to terrorise the country. “These extremists want nobody to talk about blasphemy laws and if someone talked about it, he is convicted for blasphemy,” minister said adding minorities in Pakistan do not want to achieve their rights gaining sympathy from others.

Condemning the role of large public for making Qadri a ‘Hero’, the minister said he condemned the members of legal fraternity for fighting Qadri’s case ‘free of cost’. “I will request again to heads of bar councils to take this decision seriously, governor murder was religiously motivated backed up by political actors with a planned conspiracy,” Bhatti said. “We will fight against it and we will not compromise on it,” soft-spoken Bhatti said.

Giving solution to counter the spreading fanaticism, Bhatti said confrontation is not at all the solution but negotiation and mutual talks are. “I have received a number of threatening text messages, telephone calls, emails and letters to stop raising voice for minority rights and misuse of blasphemy laws but this act could not deter my commitment. I don’t want security, I don’t need bullet proof vehicle- that’s what I am,” Bhatti said.

Talking about the recent steps taken by his ministry for safeguarding the rights of minorities in Pakistan, Bhatti disclosed that we have formed ‘District Interfaith Committees’ in all districts of the country with members belonging to all segments of society. “After this we will form 27 members ‘National Interfaith Council’ at federal levels and initiate the process of negotiation taking all religious groups on board. “Hope this would promote the interfaith dialogue and help projecting peace, tolerance and love among the people of all communities,” he said.

The slain minister said ministry is working on ‘3 E Agenda’ - Emancipation of minorities in Pakistan, Equality, and Empowerment. “Under this policy, we will work out bridge the gap, create an atmosphere of tolerance, and to counter extremism at local levels through dialogue,” he said.

Bhatti said in his recent foreign tour, he met with US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, a number of senators and Canadian Prime minister, who lauded our services for the protection and uplift of the minority communities. “Interfaith harmony is the need of the hour and only solution to counter ‘clash of civilization’, ‘prejudice’ and ‘zero tolerance’ for other religion. This is not a need of Pakistan it is global a need and international community has acknowledged us,” Bhatti said proudly.

I want to see Pakistan a liberal and progressive state as envisage by the founder of this nation, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and PPP slain founder Zulfiqar Ali Bhtto and Benazir Bhutto and under the leadership of president Asif Ali Zardari, we are making headway to make Pakistan a progressive state.

With the wishful thinking Bhatti sang his swan song requesting all liberal and progressive forces to come forward and join hands to eradicate all those forces that want to harm peace and ongoing democratic process in the country.

ISLAMABAD: The Catholic slain federal minister Shahbaz Bhatti, son of Jacob Bhatti was born on September 9, 1968 in Lahore, Punjab. Bhatti joined Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in 2002. Shahbaz Bhatti was elected Member of the National Assembly on reserved seat for minorities on the ticket of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). He was made Federal Minister for Minorities in year 2008. Shahbaz Bhatti was again included in the Federal Cabinet with same portfolio last month. He was one of the founding members of All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA) in 1985. He was Chairman of All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, Founder and President of the Christian Liberation Front, and the Executive Director of the Pakistan Council for Human Rights. Shahbaz Bhatti was the first parliamentarian who made history by assuming the Federal Minister for Minorities. Shahbaz Bhatti also received International Religious Freedom Award for rendering services to the community. He was the first ever Pakistani to receive this award. He was bachelor and have four brothers and one sister. His father died last month in Faisalabad. He was living in Sector I-8/4 Islamabad. As federal minister, Bhatti took stern measures to ensure the safety, rights and empower religious minorities while in office. He launched national campaign to promote interfaith and harmony through seminars, awareness groups, and workshop.


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