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Blasphemy charges abused in Pak

world Updated: Feb 11, 2011 00:43 IST
Imtiaz Ahmad

Tucked in the leafy and upscale Karachi neighborhood of Clifton is the house of Sherry Rehman, former information minister of the Gilani government. Rehman is now a pariah for the ruling party. She also fears for her life. There stands a lone guard outside her house.

Her crime? Moving a bill to amend the country's controversial blasphemy laws. Threats have been issued against Rehman by various religious parties.

These threats, earlier brushed aside, are now being taken seriously after the death of Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer, shot dead by a zealot because he chose to questions the black laws. Now Sherry Rehman feels that she is the next target.

Meanwhile, the government has backtracked. Without consulting her, the Prime Minister has withdrawn the bill.

"It is sad and disappointing for me at a personal level but tragic at a national level," she comments.

By and large, Pakistan ruling elite is backing down from a stand off with rightist parties. The government has conveniently joined the chorus that says there will be no changes in the blasphemy laws.

"Over my dead body," says Prime Minsiter Gilani today. Two months back he was in favour of making the changes.

Analysts say that every backtracking move by the government emboldens those who equated amendment of the man-made law with blasphemy.

Parties like Imran Khan's PTI, Nawaz Sharif's PML-N have become actively engaged in street protests organised by the religious right. This is cause for concern, say analysts, for not only Pakistanis but also countries in the region. Mainstream parties are now pandering to every whim of extremists, the say.