Islamabad (AsiaNews) - "A kind of mafia" dominates Pakistan, one that holds the country hostage and "destabilizes the name of religion", it "is very important" to fight this criminal organization but it is equally important to "think about how to fight it," by strengthening schools and the education level, Fr Bonnie Mendes tells AsiaNews. The priest, a leading figure in the Catholic Church of Pakistan, says that "militant extremists" linked to organized movements "killed Salman Taseer, Shahbaz Bhatti and David Qamar”. These murders, also, "have generated fears" that might bring down any debate on amendments to the blasphemy law.
Salman Taseer, Governor of Punjab and staunch opponent of blasphemy laws, was killed Jan. 4 by one of his bodyguards for his defense of Asia Bibi, a 45 year old Christian mother of five children, sentenced to death because of the "black law" and pending appeal. Shahbaz Bhatti, Minister for Minorities, was murdered by an armed commando on March 2 last, government and police blame each other for the death of the Catholic politician, but the culprits are still at large. David Qamar, 55, died in prison in Karachi, where he was serving a life sentence for blasphemy. The prison authorities have spoken of a cardiac arrest, but the family suspects that the man was poisoned.
Fr. Mendes, from 1986 to 1999 Executive Secretary of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) of the Episcopal Conference, said that the mafias operate "under the cloak of religion" and "cause suffering for the whole nation”. After the death of Catholic minister for minorities, "the situation of Pakistani Christians will be as it has always been" because "other leaders will emerge and things will continue." "Maybe not high profile personalities like Shahbaz Bhatti - he adds - but there will be others."
For Father Mendes, currently regional coordinator of Caritas Asia, sees the appointment of Paul Bhatti - brother of the assassinated Catholic minister - as chairman of All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA) is very significant, because it shows that "the group does not want internal divisions”. Fr. Mendes makes it clear that it is too early to assess whether Paul "will be a good replacement for Shahbaz, but it is fundamental that" there are no divisions in the group, partly because Shahbaz Bhatti "was not formed in one day, but took time ".
The most urgent objective is to "eliminate discrimination against religious minorities in Pakistan and for this “we need to sit down and discuss” issues. He invites greater attention on the widespread problem of discrimination, "not only on a particular law" (a reference is to the notorious blasphemy laws, ed.) In this way, he explains, “we will avoid offending" the Muslim majority, by not offering excuses to the extremist fringe and "be able to do more for the persecuted Christians in Pakistan".
After the death of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, the priest says, "people do not want to talk about the blasphemy laws because they are afraid", but the organizations for the protection of human rights "also seek to combat discrimination in the country." Fr. Mendes sees no "short-term solutions”, but rather thinks that it is necessary to look at “the long term, promoting education, eliminating discrimination from the ground up, even in schools and for this reason I feel the need to encourage the emergence of Catholic institutions. ""On a personal level - the priest said - I think study is fundamental for young people" even if it is "very expensive" today in Pakistan. Young Christians have talent and ability, but they have no incentives to tackle and qualify for the most challenging courses of study, because access to higher level and the most prestigious occupations is closed to them”. In this sense, he adds, " the help of international partners is essential." The Pakistani Christian community, says Father Mendes, "is strong and determined, with the help of the universal Church it will be possible to build a strong Church in Pakistan."