Minister Shahbaz Bhatti: Building the Nation Jinnah Envisioned
By Michael H. Posner
Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the U.S. Department of State
March 7, 2011
The January 4 murder of Governor Salmaan Taseer heralded a tragic start to 2011 in Pakistan. Since then we have seen more devastation, including infants and women killed by a car bomb in Peshawar, 31 soldiers killed by a teenage suicide bomber, and dozens of worshippers blown up in a mosque. The slaughter of Minister Shahbaz Bhatti as he left his mother’s house one quiet Islamabad morning is the latest episode of terrorist brutality in Pakistan, where thousands have been killed by assassins and suicide bombers. Our hearts go out to the families of all of these victims.
When I met with Minister Bhatti last month in Washington, he spoke with determination about the need for change, faith, and hope. He told me that he was working with his government to reform Pakistan’s laws on blasphemy, frequently subject to abuse. While he described the climate of fear brought on by the violence and his concerns about his personal security, he told me he was committed to continuing his struggle for the values of tolerance and diversity championed by Pakistan’s great founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah.
President Zardari and Prime Minister Gillani have decried the assassination and promised quick action. By making it clear to extremists that they do not have the final word, they can do much to ensure that Shahbaz Bhatti and the thousands of other victims did not die in vain.
Responsibility for positive change does not rest with the government alone, however. Civil society will be a critical part of any move forward. Pakistani civil society – teachers, activists, Muslim and minority religious leaders, politicians, journalists, and ordinary citizens from every walk of life – must act upon the call to peace if Pakistan is to stamp out extremism. While fanatics can easily turn out thousands of enraged demonstrators calling for the blood of any who dare to oppose their narrow views, the overwhelming majority of Pakistanis embrace Jinnah’s vision of a country where all are respected and valued. The challenge is mobilizing this force for good.
Recent events in the Arab world show how powerful civil society can be when mobilized for democratic and inclusive change. In this case, the Pakistani people must overcome a repressive, minority ideology, not a regime or dictator, working within their democratic system. This is not without danger. Extremists will take any measure to silence voices for tolerance, but unless the Pakistani people make clear that they are willing to oppose hate and violence in the name of religion, the very fabric of the Pakistani nation is under threat.
The people of Pakistan and their leaders will need courage and international support to stand up to extremism and focus their talents on building their nation through economic and political reform. I have the utmost respect and admiration for the sacrifices made to date by the Pakistani people. As Pakistanis move forward to push back against hate and build the nation Jinnah envisioned, the United States will stand by their side.