Bhutto’s death ‘devastating’ for Pakistan Christians

02 January 2008

by Bill Bowder

On the alert: above right: Pakistani troops in Islamabad, where activists held a protest rally on Tuesday to condemn the killing of Benazir Bhutto; left: Christian women at mass in Islamabad on Christmas Day

On the alert: above right: Pakistani troops in Islamabad, where activists held a protest rally on Tuesday to condemn the killing of Benazir Bhu...

BENAZIR BHUTTO, the leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), an opposition party in Pakistan, and the country’s former prime minister, who was assassinated in Rawalpindi on 27 December, had been the best hope for Pakistan’s Christians, charities representing religious minorities in Pakistan said this week.

Ms Bhutto, who was campaigning for her party and a seat in parliament after her return from exile, was accompanied at the rally by senior representatives of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, it was reported. The group brings together Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, and other religious minorities to campaign for equal rights and religious freedom.

Nasir Saeed, the director of the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement, based in Pakistan and the UK, said that the assassination of Ms Bhutto was “devastating news” for the Christian population in Pakistan.

Mr Saeed said Ms Bhutto had promised to end the persecution of the 3.5 million-strong Christian minority in Pakistan, once she was back in parliament. “The Christian minority in Pakistan has suffered a great loss, and now fear that they will never be able to replace Ms Bhutto, of whom they held great hopes for an end to fundamentalism and persecution.”

The chief executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Mervyn Thomas, said Ms Bhutto “was viewed as one of Pakistan’s best hopes for a secular, progressive democracy in which the rights of all religious communities are respected.”

Release International said the turmoil that followed the assassination would make Pakistan even more dangerous for Christians.

The Bishop of Bradford, Dr David James, wrote last week to the Pakistani bishops and to the Pakistani consul in Bradford, encouraging them to put their trust in God. Quoting from Psalm 56, he called on them to remember the psalmist’s words and not be afraid.

“May these words sustain and encourage you and your congregations and the peoples of Pakistan at this time of disorientation and dismay. Christians and Muslims in Britain — not least those with relatives and friends in Pakistan — share your nation’s pain and shock at the brutal assassination of Benazir Bhutto, a woman of whose exemplary courage all Pakistanis can be proud,” the Bishop wrote. The Dean of Blackburn, the Very Revd Christopher Armstrong, said on Monday that a vigil candle had been lit in the Cathedral. “Special prayers were said at the end of the Sunday eucharist, and we hope this will also have sent a message to our neighbours in the Pakistani community, both locally and in the region.”

On Wednesday, the chief election commissioner in Pakistan, Qazi Muhammad Farooq, announced that the election would be postponed until 18 February. Detectives from London are to assist in the murder inquiry, President Musharraf announced in a televised speech.

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