06/23/2011, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Doubts and surprise among Christians over the first arrest in the Shahbaz Bhatti murder case

by Jibran Khan
After a long period of silence, it is “odd” that the one person who is arrested is an employee of the slain minister who worked for him for ten years, the bishop of Islamabad noted. A Catholic activist finds the direction of the investigation “surprising” and full of oddities. The job of the minister’s brother Paul is at risk, but for the latter it is “premature” to say anything about the probe, urging everyone to wait for the end of the interrogations.
Islamabad (AsiaNews) – “It is very strange that after a long period of silence the police arrests someone who has worked with Shahbaz Bhatti for over 10 years and claims that he had a personal grudge against the late minister,” said Mgr Rufin Anthony, bishop of Islamabad. Speaking to AsiaNews, the prelate could not hide his disappointment and displeasure over the arrest of Hafiz Nazar Muhammad on Sunday (cf “Islamabad: first (odd) arrest for the murder of Catholic Shahbaz Bhatti,” in AsiaNews, 23 June 2011) who is the only person so far implicated by police in the murder of Pakistan’s Minority Affairs minister. Other Pakistani Christian leaders have voiced similar doubts and “surprise”. For them, the chain of events that led to the murder as described by police leaves many questions unanswered.

Originally claimed by Muslim extremist group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, the responsibility for Shabbaz Bhatti’s murder now appears to be elsewhere, downgraded to squabbles within the Christian community. This is further sign that Christian minority is ever more marginalised, the bishop of Islamabad said, especially if we consider the fate of Paul Bhatti.

“Dr Paul Bhatti himself is not clear of his current and future status in the government,” the bishop said. “He has been given a ceremonial role of advisor to the PM, but the PPP government is abolishing the Ministry of Minority Affairs, in which case the advisor loses his portfolio. We have not heard a single word from him to condemn the step."

At the same time, it is “surprising” that only now, Tahir Naveed Chaudhry, a lawyer and activist connected to Bhatti’s All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA), is saying that he “received letters mentioning Nazar Muhammad’s involvement in the murder.”

Equally odd is the fact that Chaudhry, a former member of the Punjab Provincial Assembly, was never questioned about it before now.

At present, law enforcement officers are interrogating Hafiz Nazar Muhammad, who was taken into custody after his movements were traced via mobile phone.

The suspect was arrested last Sunday, locked up in Islamabad’s I-9 police station, and charged under Article 302 /34 of the Pakistan Penal Code.

According to the police report, which has raised eyebrows and many questions, Nazar worked closely with the Catholic lawmaker for at least ten years during which he came to nurse a grudge against his employer.

Speaking about the matter, Paul Bhatti confirmed that Chaudhry told him about “anonymous letters saying that Nazar Muhammad had played a role in the assassination.”

Chaudhry “contacted the police who, after a thorough investigation arrested Nazar Muhammad,” the brother of the slain minister said. Now, we are “waiting for the results of the interrogations.”

The prime minister’ special Minority Affairs advisor noted that all we have to go on at this point time is some suspicions” and that “it would be premature to say anything”.

Yet, APMA members had started trading odd accusations from the beginning.
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