A few years ago, Shahbaz Bhatti confided in a friend: “I don’t want to get married, because I know that sooner or later an assassin’s bullet will find me; it will only be unfair to that woman and my children.” That friend, a Pakistani origin Christian, now lives in exile in Sweden.
The last time I met Bhatti, it was at the eve of a diplomatic farewell to Jan De Kok, the EU Ambassador to Pakistan. He wore his usual smile that often reminded me of Jagjit’s ghazal*:
Kyun itna tum muskara rahay ho,
Kiya ghum hay jisay chupa rahay ho?
(Why do you smile so much? What hurts so much that you need to hide?)
We spoke briefly about the assassination of Punjab governor Salman Taseer, the blasphemy laws, our inability to create a political consensus to reform them and his caution to appear on TV programs due to mounting threats. I also told him that his heading the Parliamentary Committee that was supposedly reviewing these laws was a political mistake; for this gave an excuse to obscurantist elements to block all progress on this issue.
This soft spoken, quiet gentleman paused and reflected and surprisingly agreed with me. Little did I realize that the shadowy assassins would soon cite this as a cause to puncture his torso 30 with bullet holes.
It is only natural when people compare this with Taseer’s murder. Yet there are chilling differences that should not be missed. Mumtaz Qadri’s act -he was supposed to be her bodyguard — in the end, represented the state of mind of an impressionable individual.
An amateurish media that often reported, without critically analyzing, added to the enabling atmosphere in which Qadri could derive justification for his tragic actions.
But Bhatti’s murderers, irrespective of who they really are, have done a conscious calculated attempt to shift back the Pakistani political field away from nationalistic sentiments generated by the Raymond Davis affair.
But there is yet another difference. Religious parties like JUI-F and JI were trying to gain space at the expense of the mainstream political parties for in the end they see their future inside the parliamentary democracy. However, these terrorist whose nature we can endlessly debate are now trying to extract ground from these established religious parties of Pakistan.
Through this brazen act, the terrorists are now trying to squeeze more milk out of an issue that was first irresponsibly handled by the PPP, mainstream religious parties and the liberal intelligentsia. It is an issue that was effectively displaced in the agendas of religious parties and public consciousness by the more worldly Raymond Davis affair (an American charged in a double murder case).
* Ghazal is a poetic form consisting of rhyming couplets and a refrain, with each line sharing the same meter. A ghazal may be understood as a poetic expression of both the pain of loss or separation and the beauty of love in spite of that pain.
Rodrick Samson is a freelance journalist based in Pakistan.