Bhatti knew about threat to his life from Taliban, Qaeda

Bhatti had said he was the "number one target" of the Taliban after Punjab Governor Taseer was assassinated in January 4.

Last Updated: Mar 02, 2011, 19:58 PM IST

Islamabad: Minority Affairs Minister
Shahbaz Bhatti, gunned down by militants on Wednesday for calling for
changes in Pakistan`s blasphemy law, had often spoken about
threats to his life from the Taliban and extremist elements in
recent weeks.

Bhatti, the only member of the federal cabinet from
the minority Christian community, first received threats when
he spoke in support of Christians who were attacked by an
extremist group at Gojra in Punjab in 2009.

Fresh threats came his way when he spoke in support of
Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death last year for
alleged blasphemy.

"The forces of violence ? banned militant
organizations, the Taliban and pro-Al Qaida (elements) ? they
want to impose their radical philosophy on Pakistan.

And whoever stands against their radical philosophy,
they threaten them," Bhatti told BBC recently.

"I am a follower of the cross and I am ready to die
for a cause. I am living for my community and suffering people
and I will die to defend their rights. These threats and
warnings cannot change my opinion and principles.

I will prefer to die for my principles and for the
justice of my community rather than compromise (because of)
these threats," he said.

Bhatti, 42, was ambushed and killed by four gunmen a
short distance from his home this morning. The banned
Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the killing.

By a strange twist of fate, Bhatti`s 88-year-old
father Jacob Bhatti suffered a heart attack on January 4 when
he learnt that Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer had been
assassinated by a police guard for opposing the blasphemy law.

The minister`s father died seven days later.
"He knew that I was very close to Taseer and I am
also the target of extremists so he could not bear that,"
Bhatti said about his father in a recent interview.

A founding member of the All Pakistan Minorities
Alliance, Bhatti joined the ruling Pakistan People`s Party in
2002. He was elected a member of parliament from a seat
reserved for minorities and made Minority Affairs Minister in
2008.

He retained his portfolio during a recent shake-up of
the federal cabinet.

Bhatti earned the ire of extremists and militants in
November last year after he submitted a report on Asia Bibi to
President Asif Ali Zardari in which he said the Christian
woman had been wrongly charged for blasphemy.

Bhatti also recommended that Asia Bibi should be
pardoned. The slain minister referred to threats from
militants in several recent interviews.

"I have been told by pro-Taliban religious extremists
that if I will continue to speak against the blasphemy law, I
will be beheaded," Bhatti told the Catholic Herald during a
trip to Canada last month to raise awareness for his campaign
to reform the harsh blasphemy law.

In an interview with The Christian Post newspaper last
month, Bhatti said he was the "number one target" of the
Taliban after Punjab Governor Taseer was assassinated in
January 4.

"I received a call from (a) Taliban commander and he
said, ?If you will bring any changes in the blasphemy law and
speak on this issue, then you will be killed. And in the
protest processions, religious extremists burn the effigies of
the and mine.

And I have received a lot of fatwas of killing by the
extremist Talibans," he said.

Parliamentarian Akram Masih Gill, also a Christian,
told the media that Bhatti had never married as he was
committed to fighting for the rights of Pakistan?s religious
minorities.

The Christian community, which makes up about 1.
5 per cent of Pakistan`s 180 million population, was shocked
by the assassination.

Margaret D`Souza, a school teacher, said the killing
was aimed at creating fear among the country`s non-Muslims and
mistrust among people.

"Such attempts will not deter us and we are not
going leave our country," she said.

PTI