05/03/2011, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Bin Laden’s death could spark a conflict between Christianity and Islam

by Jibran Khan
A Pakistani editorial writer warns that a “religious war” is a real possibility. Minority affairs adviser Paul Bhatti says the death of the al Qaeda leader “first step towards eliminating extremism.” For Mgr Rufin Anthony, no one should rejoice at the death of a man. Anglican bishop calls for greater protection for Christians against possible attacks.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) – Osama Bin Laden’s death might radicalise a conflict and lead to open warfare between Christianity and Islam, something Pope Benedict XVI strongly opposes. For Aoun Sahi, a Muslim journalist and expert on religion and politics in Pakistan, this “is a real danger.” In his view, the al Qaeda leader killed yesterday by US Special Forces “was not an Islamic leader, but his followers are all Muslim”. Pakistan’s Christian minority might be the first victim of revenge. Many Catholic leaders share this fear. Although they agree that his death was a “success” in the fight against terrorism, they are also adamant that Christians in their demand for greater protection. Indeed, they insist that Bin Laden’s death should not be the cause of any rejoicing, as the Vatican said in a press release yesterday, because no one’s death should be source of celebration.

A “war of religion” remains the worst fear, stoked by fundamentalist groups bent on avenging Bin Laden’s death, this according to Aoun Sahi, a Muslim and editorialist at The News International, as well as an expert on religion and politics in Pakistan.

Minorities, including Christians, are an easy target of radical groups, he said. Whilst “Osama Bin Laden was not an Islamic leader, his followers are all Muslim” and will probably react to his death with attacks. Pakistan could see this because it is a softer target than the United States or Europe. Its Christian minority (unfairly associated with the US and the West) is a privileged target.

People are “shocked and surprised” by the death of the al Qaeda leader, but the consequences of the US operation are the most serious problem. So far, “no serious act of violence has occurred,” Aoun Sahi said, “but the death of the organisation’s leader might lead to a reaction” that could end in a conflict between Muslims and Christians.

“Christians are potential objectives” but today “extremists are vulnerable,” said Paul Bhatti, special adviser to the prime minister on religious minorities. Speaking to AsiaNews, he explained, “The northern areas of the country have been the safe haven for extremists, but” Bin Laden’s death “is a turning point. It is a first step towards eliminating extremism”. For the brother of the late Shabbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s Minority Affairs minister who was slain last March, the War on Terror has reached a peak, and the protection of Christians is a problem.

Mgr Rufin Anthony, bishop of Islamabad/Rawalpindi, said that the US Security Forces operation carried against the “most wanted man in the world” cannot be a source of rejoicing, as the Vatican spokesman, Fr Federico Lombardi, said yesterday.

The action, the prelate said, has caused a split between the government and its allies, in view of the protection offered to Bin Laden, and between the central and provincial governments. All this raises questions about Pakistan’s territorial sovereignty.

“Terrorists should not be allowed to use Pakistani soil,” Fr Habib Paul said. The fact that Osama Bin Laden was allowed to live here in peace”, just “a few kilometres” from an important military academy, in an area of “maximum security”, is another “source of concern that must be addressed as soon as possible.”

Anglican Bishop Alexander Maik is worried about how extremists will react. “The security of Christian institutions has been beefed up due to potential threats,” but “many Christians are hesitant to publicly talk about Osama Bin Laden`s death.”

Founder and leader of al Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden was killed in a military operation led by US Special Forces in Abbottabad, about 60 kilometres from Islamabad. He died from gunshots to the head. Four more people were killed during the assault.

The Dawn, one of Pakistan’s main newspapers, claims that Bin Laden might have been shot by one his bodyguards to prevent capture.

In Pakistan, the controversy is fierce because US Special Forces, acting on orders of US President Barack Obama, intervened without informing Pakistani government authorities.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari rejected claims that Bin Laden’s death marked the failure of his government’s commitment to the struggle against terrorism. On the contrary, he said that his country was “perhaps the world's greatest victim of terrorism".

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