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Pakistan: Citizens In Action After Minority Minister's Assassination

Citizens for democracy letter signing campaign- Photo Credit Abro Khudabuksh

On the 2nd of March, an unknown gunmen shot and killed Pakistan's Federal Minister For Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti. His body was riddled with bullets, as his assassins flew the crime scene leaving behind a pamphlet stating his death was justified. This is the second high-profile killing after the assassination of Governor Salman Taseer. Bhatti was the only christian member of the cabinet and his death is a huge setback not only for minorities but also for the entire nation. Upon hearing the news of his assassination Pakistanis on twitter reacted with horror and grief. On Gawaahi.com I wrote about the initial reactions and urged people to stand up against the violence.

There is no hope for Pakistan”

“RIP Pakistan”

“The Country has gone to the dogs”

Rest in peace Pakistan. It was the first message I read on my twitter feed this afternoon. It didn’t take much time to scroll down, and read the tragic news. Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s minority minister and the only Christian member of the cabinet, had been shot dead. Shock, horror, fear — it’s difficult to pinpoint what came first.

Kalsoom Lakhani at CHUP described his death as an immense tragedy, another nail in the coffin for those willing to be truly courageous in this country. Ahsan Butt expressed his hopelessness over the assassination that left many Pakistani's pessimistic about the future.

I’m increasingly reconciling myself to the notion that it may be too late to do anything about the mess that is Pakistan. I don’t mean in a state failure kind of way; I’m sure the state will continue to survive for a long time. Remember Adam Smith’s line about there being  “a great deal of ruin in a nation”?

So no, I’m not talking about state collapse. I’m talking about the form state and society take — increasingly ugly — and whether there’s a damn thing any of us can do anything about it.

Both Taseer and Bhatti were assassinated for their stance on the blasphemy law. Although reactions after Bhatti's death are fairly different than Taseer–no widespread celebrations. A post on Cafe Pyala points at the widespread culture of justifying murders in the name of religion.

I take personal issue with every man, woman or adolescent who says ‘but’ when debating whether dissension merits death.

Mosharraf Zaidi asks Paksitanis to shed their political differences and unite in grief to honor the memory of  Bhatti. Yasir Lateef Hamdani on Pakteahouse describes Pakistan after Bhatti  at ideological crossroads. Amid all the gloom and despair, two remarkable women Naveen Naqvi and Beena Sarwar spoke of courage and resilience.

On her blog  Naveen Naqvi wrote a poignant account of Bhatti's death titled  Your silence can mean more murders :

Please step up with me. Do not think it will not make a difference. It will. There are precedents for it, and we must have the will to set new precedents, or let me reiterate — there will be nothing left for us to fight.I ask you to step up with me on March 12. Join the letter campaign to the Government and Judiciary against religious intolerance on Saturday, March 12 from 11am to 7pm. I hope to see you then.

In addition, Naqvi also attended and posted pictures of Shahbaz Bhatti's memorial in St. Patrick's Cathedral, Karachi. Human rights activist, Beena Sarwar published her e-mail correspondence with Gwynne Dyer, dismantling the perception that there is a deathly silence after the assassinations. The letter writing campaign, Naqvi spoke of in her blog, gathered over 15,000 people from different walks of life. Video shot by Sabeen Mehmud, from the event shows people showing up in great numbers.

Despite the over-whelming response many have criticized and raised questions on whether petition could help solve Pakistan's problem.  On my own blog I tried to reason with this growing pessimism:

Criticism is inevitable. In this case, it is the question of a petition being the solution to our arduous problems. It’s true, a petition is not the only solution. It is, however, an initiation point for a much bigger action plan. These 15,000 people defied all labels and cliches. It was not about the liberals or the conservatives, but about Pakistanis uniting against violence and fear. It is symbolic of the fact that, contrary to popular perception, we are not a nation of vigilantes. The atmosphere of intimidation can only be countered by courage.

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