09/20/2021, 14.42
PAKISTAN – AFGHANISTAN
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Paul Bhatti: minorities in Pakistan will pay the price for the Taliban in Kabul

The brother of Shahbaz Bhatti, the Christian minister of Minorities assassinated ten years ago, looks at the repercussions of the situation created in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s priority will be to defend itself from terrorism. The region is unstable and the problems of Christians are likely to take a back seat. Interfaith dialogue can be a way. “We want to involve like-minded Muslims,” he said. “And the majority of Pakistan must support them, not the West.”

Islamabad (AsiaNews) – Pakistan will be one of the countries to suffer the most from the consequences of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. 

Islamabad will have to defend itself against terrorism, but this “risks overshadowing the country’s domestic problems, including the protection of religious minorities,” said Dr Paul Bhatti, brother of Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s Religious Minorities Minister, who was murdered by extremists on 2 March 2011. 

After his brother’s assassination, he replaced him in the government holding the post until 2014 when he returned to Italy where he lived before.

When Shahbaz Bhatti took office in 2008, he was the only Catholic in the government led by Asif Ali Zardari. His cause for beatification is underway. 

“Religious minorities have always had problems in Pakistan,” Paul Bhatti explained. However, “The country’s economic and political instability has fed these problems.

“Now, under the guise of the fight against terrorism, they risk taking a back seat because Pakistan will have as a priority to defend itself from attacks.”

Over the past 10 years, Christians and other minorities have seen an increase in violence against them. What is now worrying is the situation in the whole region.

Pakistan already hosts nearly one and a half million Afghan refugees. In recent days there have been clashes and attacks on the border, which runs for over 2,000 kilometers. 

The Taliban victory has galvanised extremist movements as well as the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, the Taliban of Pakistan, who have carried out a series of attacks in recent weeks against Pakistani security forces.

Yesterday in Islamabad, the Lal Majid (Red Mosque) again hoisted the Taliban flag on its roof. The city administration removed it, but Mullah Abdul Aziz who runs the mosque, threatened policemen with a rifle, saying the Taliban would make them pay.   

“In Kabul we were under the illusion that things could be different, but Afghanistan has not changed," Bhatti said. Several mistakes were made.

“Afghans must be given the chance to gain real independence. We need a strategy that allows them to be educated and the population must be given alternatives to the opium trade. 

“We must support a different Afghanistan, without intervening militarily,” says the doctor who attended university in Italy.

“All these years, such groups have been nurtured by hatred of the United States and the freedom enjoyed in the West. The Taliban believe in a different kind of Islam from that of all other countries.”

All the countries surrounding Afghanistan have their own interests and are trying to reposition themselves in relation to the new government, but Pakistan (along with India) is a nuclear power. This is also why it is a country that cannot be overlooked.

Shahbaz Bhatti had set up an organisation, the All-Pakistan Minorities Alliance. As a member of the Pakistan People's Party, he had called for the separation of state and religion. Immediately after his murder, his family had to keep a low profile. 

“The extremists wanted to silence the movement," Bhatti explained. “Eventually, we were able to protest more openly. We believe that basic rights should be guaranteed to everyone, regardless of religious affiliation.”

For this to really happen, concrete initiatives are needed, involving the most authoritative voices in Islam.

“Interfaith dialogue cannot be just something fashionable. We want to involve like-minded Muslims. And it must be the majority of Pakistan that supports them, not the West.”

To explain how things should go, Dr Bhatti points to the flag of Pakistan as an example.

“The green part represents the Muslim majority, the white one the minorities. For the formation of the country both are needed: Christians, Hindus and other communities are fundamental. But for this system to work, religion should not be mixed up with politics.” 

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