Murder of Shahbaz Bhatti reveals Talibanisation of Pakistan
I am horrified to learn of the murder of Mr Shahbaz Bhatti, the Minister for Minority Affairs in Pakistan, and the only Christian in the Cabinet. I knew him well and saw him last December when I visited Islamabad.
This is yet another instance of the Talibanisation of the country. Within two months two leading figures in the secular-minded Government have been killed (the Governor of the Punjab, Salman Taseer, was killed a few weeks ago). Extremists are now operating with impunity in every part of the country.
The constant teaching of hate in the text books, in sermons and devotionals in radicalised mosques and madrassas and on the streets is the background to this situation.
Moderate Muslim opinion has been cowed by the ever-present threat of violence and the non-Muslim communities are helpless in the face of unwillingness by the Government and the army to really tackle extremism.
The Christian community, which has contributed out of all proportion to its numbers in the fields of health and education, is feeling very insecure. It is already excluded from much of public life and there is discrimination in education and employment - leading to unemployment or being forced to take jobs no one else wants.
The immediate task must be to protect Christians and churches from attack by those who have murdered Mr Bhatti but, ultimately, the answer lies in tackling the gun-culture, which has grown up around extremist movements and putting an end to their activities. Only the armed forces are capable of doing this - but have they the will to do it? We shall have to see.
The way ahead must lie in revising text books, reforming madrassas and regulating mosques so that people are not continually being drip-fed with extremist ideology and the conflict it creates in cities, towns and villages.