Lahore (AsiaNews) – In a statement issued yesterday, Lahore Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha, President of Pakistan Bishop’s Conference expressed the Catholic Churches “deep shock and grief” over the assassination of Pakistan’s opposition leader and former premier Benazir Bhutto Benazir Bhutto, defined “a courageous, liberal and progressive leader”. He also strongly condemned the extremist elements that took her life, two days ago during a campaign rally in Rawalpindi.
“We pray for her departed soul – continues the statement - and offer our heartfelt condolences to her grieving family. May her soul rest in peace!”.
“She was a voice of the voiceless” he said. “She was immensely popular among the minority Christina community”. “We express the hope that her struggle for peace and justice, democracy and freedom for the common man may be continued by all like-minded people of Pakistan. Let us work together to relive her dream for a just and prosperous Pakistan”.
“Deep sorrow” was also expressed by Benedict XVI, in a message sent to Msgr. Saldanha and addressed to Bhutto’s family and the entire nation (see AsiaNews December 28).
In a separate statement on Dec. 28, the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), a human rights body of the Catholic Church in Pakistan has also condemned the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and workers of Pakistan Peoples Party at Rawalpindi , calling the tragic incident “a national loss”.
The statement, issued by the Chairperson Archbishop Lawrence John Saldanha and Executive Secretary Peter Jacob of NCJP, said that while the incident has deeply anguished the nation, it also raised questions about the effectiveness of so called war against extremism. NCJP demanded that the policies regarding governance and political participation should be reviewed thoroughly, because it is not possible to face the challenge of extremism without giving the civil society its due freedom. This goal - the statement added - is achievable only through establishing a rule of law.
The reoccurrence of suicide bombing manifests the impunity available to terrorists to take lives of the innocent people. This tragedy demands that the incident should be properly investigated without delay and the culprits behind this should be brought to justice.
“We extend our deepest condolences to Benazir Bhutto’s family and her party and we wish them courage and perseverance in these trying times. We also resolve that the civil society of Pakistan and NCJP will stand united against abuse of human rights and work together till the rule of law and democracy is established in the country. We call upon then people of Pakistan to remain peaceful and united to pay respect to a soul who fought courageously to bring down hatred and division”.
Across the country Catholic communities are offering prayers and masses for Bhutto and the nation. In Toba Tek Singh, closet o Faisalabad, circa 400 Catholics participated in a prayer vigil while countless others were unable to attend because of transport problems; the faithful participated in processions through the streets of the town, singing hymns. Fr. Bonnie Mendes, who led the service told AsiaNews at this sad moment the January 8 elections are out of question adding that he felt it is the responsibility of the government to provide security to its citizens. “Last night – he added - I was personally at Peoples Party camp in Toba, People were hugging me and crying asking me to pray for us and do something for Pakistan”.
Fr Aftab James Paul, director interfaith dialogue Faisalabad noted that Bhutto was a symbol of hope for Pakistanis and especially for the women. She was on such a high position and a respected woman who was a big source of inspiration for Pakistani women, as such it is a grave loss for the nation. It was the murder of a world known and educated political leader which no doubt has led to yet more violence within the country. Finally, he observes that once again Pakistan is in the grip of extremists who are blocking the journey towards democracy that seemed not too distant only days ago.
At least 33 people, including four policemen, have been killed since former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was murdered on Thursday. Scattered incidents of violence and rioting still continue all over the country. Internet and telephone services were suspended in many big cities of the country yesterday after an attack on the optical fibre cable near Nawabshah.
Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) Punjab Chairwoman Hina Jillani termed Benazir Bhutto’s assassination “the darkest hour in Pakistan’s history” and said the general elections should be postponed.
She said the circumstances of the assassination reflected a “serious security failure” by the government and security agencies. “There were no policemen or security forces near or around Benazir’s vehicle at the time of attack,” she said. “These are questions on serious security lapses for which the government must provide answer to the people of Pakistan and also to the world”. She said people had started raising serious questions, such as, “how does the government manage to provide foolproof security for President Musharraf and other officials?”.
In the interim questions are abound regarding who was behind the attack. Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema yesterday claimed to have intelligence intercepts indicating that al Qaeda leader Baitullah Mehsud was behind Bhutto's assassination. Mehsud is one of Pakistan's most wanted militant leaders and is based in the South Waziristan region on the Afghan border. However, a spokesman for Mehsud denied the claim. “Tribal people have their own customs. We don't strike women”. Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party also rejected the government's version. A spokesman said the government must show solid evidence.
An official version of the attack is also lacking. Cheema denied that former premier Benazir Bhutto was killed by bullets that were fired before a blast in Rawalpindi on Thursday, adding that, “the lever of the sunroof of her vehicle hit her skull, probably when she tried to get inside the car”.”.