The assassination of Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti in broad daylight in the capital Islamabad on Wednesday, threatens to further destabilise the nuclear-armed U.S. ally where secular-minded politicians are imperilled by a rising strain of violent religious conservatism in the society.
“Mr. Bhatti’s brutal assassination has once again highlighted the fact that we are fast turning into a violent society,” the liberal Daily Times said in its editorial.
“This is not the time to be frightened into silence. It is time to implement the law and not surrender in front of extremists.”
Bhatti is the second senior official to be assassinated this year for challenging the country’s controversial blasphemy law, which sanctions the death penalty for insulting Islam or its Prophet Mohammad. Punjab provincial governor Salman Taseer was shot dead by his own bodyguard in January for calling for curbing abuses in the law.
“Terrorists silence another voice of interfaith harmony,” the daily Dawn ran a banner headline on its front page. “Shahbaz Bhatti silenced forever,” said The News.
President Asif Ali Zardari told a party meeting on Wednesday he would resist the slide towards extremism.
“We have to fight this mindset and defeat them. We will not be intimidated nor will we retreat the official APP news agency quoted him as saying. Reuters