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In danger of going under

Bhatti’s murder shows Pakistan is unwilling to stem the tide of Islamic fundamentalism.

india Updated: Mar 06, 2011 21:00 IST

A clerical tsunami is heading towards Pakistan, in the words of a liberal writer in that country. It is clearly coming dangerously close as the killing of the Christian minister for minorities Shahbaz Bhatti last week shows. How terrifying this tsunami is can be gauged by the fact that barring Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, no minister attended Mr Bhatti’s funeral. The interior minister, Rehman Malik, who was in charge of Mr Bhatti’s security, has come out with a statement that he will be the next to go. This is a stunning admission of the ineffectiveness of the federal government to contain the tidal waves of fanaticism which claimed Mr Bhatti’s life, and earlier that of liberal Punjab governor Salman Taseer who was assassinated by his own bodyguard. Both men were opposed to the medieval blasphemy laws which are being espoused by the Taliban elements as a necessary precondition for a pure Islamic state.

With Bhatti’s death, the space for liberal discourse in Pakistan has been severely restricted. The blasphemy laws have been a very handy weapon in the hands of the fundamentalists to impose their harsh, medieval interpretation of the Sharia law. How deeply religious conservatism and intolerance has permeated Pakistani society is clear from the fact that

Mr Taseer’s assassin is hailed as a hero by many, including educated people. While the jasmine revolution in countries like Egypt, Tunisia and Libya seems to be for liberal democracy, Pakistan seems to be going in the opposite direction, one in which to speak for justice could invite brutal retribution.

Pakistan’s descent into lawlessness and radicalism is all the more frightening considering it is a nuclear State. It has long been the dream of fundamentalist outfits like al-Qaeda to get its hands on a nuclear bomb, howsoever crude. If Pakistan’s government abdicates its responsibility and the US carries on with business as usual, there is a very real possibility of the country being overrun by fanatical Islamicists. Pakistan’s army is supposed to have an iron grip on the country, but its inaction suggests that it is either complicit in this radicalisation or that it is unable to take on the extremists. Army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has allegedly said that many within his ranks are sympathetic to the killers of Mr Taseer and Mr Bhatti. Pakistan’s elite no longer seems to have a stake in the country. As Taseer’s daughter put it, Pakistan does not need a revolution, it needs evolution. But the killing of Bhatti and the weak-kneed response from the government does not suggest that it is capable of finding a way out of this mess. Pakistan keeps talking about how it is in the forefront of the fight against terror in the region. This would be a good time to demonstrate how serious it is. Otherwise, it will be swept away by the tsunami which is now approaching with thunderous speed.