Archbishop of Canterbury calls upon Pakistani government to protect Christians

Writing in The Times today, Dr Rowan Williams voiced concerns over the level of security being provided to safeguard Christians after the murder of Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti last week.

Pakistan’s only Christian minister was assassinated by gunmen in broad daylight moments after leaving his parents’ house in the capital Islamabad.

The Archbishop said Bhatti’s death had taken Pakistan “a further step down [the] catastrophic road” to the breakdown of the country's legal and political order.

He criticised the Pakistani government for failing to do more to keep Bhatti safe and questioned the political will to resist extremists.

“Shahbaz Bhatti knew what his chances of survival were. He was not protected by the Government he so bravely served,” he said.

“How many minority Christian communities, law-abiding, peaceful and frequently profoundly disadvantaged, are similarly not protected by their government?”

The Archbishop said that a just Muslim state would provide for the rights of minorities and called for a “rational debate” on the blasphemy laws, which human rights groups say are being misused to harass Christians.

“If the state’s willingness to guarantee absolute security for minorities of every kind is a test of political maturity and durability, whatever the confessional background, Pakistan’s founding vision was a mature one," he said.

"The disdain shown for that vision by Bhatti’s killers is an offence against Islam as much as against Christianity in Pakistan.”

Protests by Christians have continued daily across Pakistan since Bhatti’s murder. Crowds of Christians have taken to the streets to demand amendments to the blasphemy laws and tougher action on terrorism.

In churches yesterday, Christians offered prayers for Bhatti, the second minister to be killed this year because of his position on the blasphemy laws.

The Governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer was murdered by his own bodyguard in January after he asked the Pakistani president to pardon Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy last November.