Pakistan's Minorities Minister Shahbazz Bhatti, a Christian, was assassinated today in Islamabad. Punjab Governor Salman Taseer met the same fate in January.
They were both murdered for supporting the amendment of Pakistan's blasphemy law which makes insults to Islam punishable by death. Critics of the law say it is used to persecute religious minorities in the country.
Pakistan is one of those countries that put security before development, the result being that the poor got poorer and the hardliners more extreme.
In the 1980s, with the acquiescence of the West and finance from Gulf petro-dollars Pakistan became the staging post for operations against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The fighters against the Soviets became mujahideen, warriors in the name of God and fresh youthful recruits poured in from hundreds of newly-established religious schools, madrassas.
The Arabs weren't far behind and Afghanistan became a magnet for Arab fighter. It's a long and complicated story that culminates with Osama bin Laden and the situation in Afghanistan today. In 1995 I went to Afghanistan on assignment for the BBC and met a couple of Arab POWs in Ahmed Shah Massoud's jails. One of them, an Egyptian, told me "it's alright if innocent people are killed for the sake of establishing God's religion on the ground."
I remember meeting the former UN special envoy to Aghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, for an interview on his his Arab League efforts to resolve Lebanon's civil war in (1989-1992). We discussed Afghanistan before beginning the interview and he said, "Afghanistan's problem is Pakistan, Pakistan, Pakistan and then India or Iran or whoever."
Extremists were encouraged in Pakistan by the country's all-powerful military intelligence, ISI.
In Pakistan a saw a splendid capital city with grandiose buildings and less than 20 minutes away saw the rampant poverty in Rawalpindi which is incidentally the headquarters of Pakistan's armed forces. I witnessed teenage marshals brandishing sticks and beating people to drive them into the mosque for Friday prayers.
So when a government minister is murdered in broad daylight by several gunmen it tells me something isn't right. In January Bhatti said he received messages threatening him with beheading but insisted he would not be intimidated. He paid the price.
Following Taseer's murder by one of his bodyguards, who was feted as a hero, I did a search online and discovered this page on which someone posted private photos of his family. One photo of the man with his family seemingly in Europe states, "All the ladies are wearing skirts." Another is of one of his sons on a beach with female friends in swimwear and the caption reads, "On a beach with more naked women. This family is an example for muslim [sic]??... there are hundreds of naked pictures... which can be seen of this family." Yet another one shows the late governor holding a glass and posing for a picture with his wife and the captions tells us that he is "drinking", the implication being that it's alcohol. The fact that the glass looks empty and no liquid can be seen in it doesn't deter the sick minds who posted these pictures from character assassination.
I guarantee you that there isn't a single "naked" picture of the Taseers.
Basically the implication is that this is a wayward, immoral family and the father deserved to die.
The person who posted these pictures and wrote the captions is a classic example of the dark-age mentality that dominates these extremists' minds. How can one's dress code determine their virtue? What guarantees are there that those who adhere to the appearance of compliance with stringent standards of religious observance are virtuous and pure won't appear "naked" in private mobile phone videos shared via Bluetooth and on the web? None.
The solution to Pakistan's problems isn't in massive doses of US aid where the military gets the lion's share. Without development and real education and courage on the part of Pakistan's politicians to speak out and take real action in defence of tolerance, dignity and freedom this country is in a state of lawlessness and headed nowhere good anytime soon.
A man on a long journey through a perpetual desert.
The opinions expressed in this blog are mine and mine alone. They do not represent the views of any of my employers, past, present or future.