10/13/2015, 00.00
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Paul Bhatti: in combating extremism and fighting for equal rights, Pakistan "is changing"

Former minister and leader of APMA judges confirmation of the Supreme Court of the conviction of the murderer of Salman Taseer as positive. It confirms the "will" to combat and eliminate terrorism. The battle must encompass the monitoring Koranic schools, higher education for minorities, economic and social development. Hopes for the release of Asia Bibi.

Rome (AsiaNews) - In Pakistan "something is changing," not only at the government level but also within the top military and "the desire to eliminate terrorism is clear. Of course, we Catholics are against the death penalty, but terrorism must be eradicated from the country", although it will take time.

These are the reflections of  Paul Bhatti former Federal Minister for National Harmony and leader of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA), commenting  to AsiaNews on the confirmation of the death sentence for Salman Taseer’s assassin  and efforts to combat the Islamic fundamentalist fringe . A struggle that must encompass the monitoring of madrassas, greater participation of religious minorities in political life, changes to the electoral law, economic and social development of the country, justice and rights, and to improve the level of education in the Christian community.

Last week the Supreme Court upheld the death sentence of Mumtaz Qadri, who murdered in cold blood the Punjab Governor Salman Taseer. The Court thus confirmed the Islamabad High Court judgement of February 2015, that "nothing can justify the murder of the victim" and the first instance of the anti-terrorism Court in October 2011.

The assassin’s lawyer had appealed to the highest judicial authority in the country, justifying the act of his client as "legitimate", because Pakistan is an Islamic country and not secular.

"The ruling - Paul Bhatti told AsiaNews – clearly shows that the Supreme Court wants to do justice, in transparency and to protect the rights of all citizens." In the past, lawyers close to the extremist movements, he recalls, "were able to influence the decisions, even to the point of threatening authorities and people  to keep silent."

People, he said, were taking justice into their own hands, especially "in cases of blasphemy, were extra judicial murders went unpunished".  Now the ruling makes clear that "if you falsely accuse someone under the blasphemy laws, he faces a life sentence ... a step that shows great courage."

The APMA leader, alternating work and commitments between Pakistan and Italy, speaks of a nation that "is changing" due to the efforts "of people of good will" both within the government and between the military leadership and who are "in need of international support ".

Only then, he adds, it will be able to "bring peace, peaceful coexistence in the country and become a model for other situations, such as in the Middle East, and become inspired to fight extremist movements like Daesh [Islamic state]."

The former minister also confirmed that for the Asia Bibi case the Supreme Court  should “review the case" and there is real hope "of a release in the near future. However - he adds - we need to find for her a situation that guarantees security ", to avoid the danger of reprisals by fundamentalist movements.

The fight against terrorism "is a difficult struggle" that will require "time, because we are facing - he says - not a group, but a whole generation that grew up in hatred, the ideology of death, killing ... However, I'm pretty confident. "

This moderate optimism, says Paul Bhatti, is confirmed by meetings with many imams and Muslim scholars "who wish to start a dialogue with Christians and the Vatican itself, and others who may contribute to the defense of minorities and Christians".

Messages of harmony, dialogue and coexistence between religions are just  as important to unite efforts for the development of the Christian community and other minorities in Pakistan. "First - he says - it is essential that there is no discrimination in the Constitution, and non-Muslims have the right to become president or prime minister. Not for power, but because it is a question of equality and justice. "

In this education is an essential tool for growth and social redemption. "Schooling - explains the APMA leader - is important not only to combat illiteracy, but also to strengthen an education that contrasts hatred. Christians are to enhance their education, and for this we have created the ' Shahbaz Bhatti Mission ' offering scholarships and opportunities to learn arts and crafts, because work is the only way to emerge from poverty and marginalization. " To this must be added the fight against extremism in Islamic schools, whose offices "should be registered and their curriculum approved."

With a population of more than 180 million people (97 per cent Muslim), Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world, the second largest Muslim nation after Indonesia.

About 80 per cent of Muslims are Sunni, whilst Shias are 20 per cent. Hindus are 1.85 per cent, followed by Christians (1.6 per cent) and Sikhs (0.04 per cent).

Scores of violent incidents have occurred in recent years, against entire communities (Gojra in 2009, and Joseph Colony, Lahore, in March 2013), places of worship (Peshawar, September 2013) and individuals ( Sawan Masih, Asia Bibi, Rimsha Masih and Robert Fanish Masih, who died in prison), often perpetrated under the pretext of the country's blasphemy laws.

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