My soul finds rest in God alone;
My salvation comes from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation;
He is my fortress, I will never be shaken.
By Brig Samson S Sharaf
While the choir of Catholic Nuns and Seminarians sang this Psalm of Prophet David in a slow chant, the casket of the slain minister draped in national colours slowly moved towards the alter. The mood inside the church was sad and sombre reflecting the misery that we Pakistanis go through each day inasmuch as the denial that cocoons us. The presence or absence thereof of the diversity of congregation in the church reflected both the empathy and fissures in our society and the insensitive obliviousness we live in day after day.
A tryst with Jinnah and living up to the traditions of Faisalabad to produce one outstanding Pakistani Christian after another, I was overtaken by emotions. Clement Shahbaz Bhatti was a Pakistani who envisioned Jinnah’s Pakistan and remained an ardent human rights activist for over two decades in the best traditions of pacifists and non violent social prime movers. He was a diehard Pakistani who happened to belong to a fringe minority of political activist who believed in the human dignity of equality, justice and law, his home turf both in terms of Pakistani nationalism and Christian values. Having risen from the ranks of a fringe community that lives in social exclusion, he was much above the social inbreeding that plagues fringed deprived groups and rose as a symbol of human dignity. In the past 25 years, he brought hope to bonded labour, kiln workers, child labourers and destitute, irrespective of religion; a devotion that earned him a prized appointment in the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.
He never was a politician who could construe two wrongs to make a right. To accomplish his mission, it was his decision fatale and inevitable that he someday walk into the mainstream politics as a lamb amongst wolves. His objective was to carve the best out of the worst.
Heading a nationwide movement of All Parties Minorities Alliance, he chose Benazir Bhutto as closest to his ideals. As destiny would have it, he was pre ordained to meet the same fate at the hands of similar intolerance and intrigue amidst the throes of a party that no longer lived by that spirit. Many friends requested him on security grounds to reject the ministerial portfolio offered to him in the new cabinet. Yet he made that fateful decision despite knowing that he was a Lamb marked for slaughter.
The speech of the Prime Minister was well short of pertraying the true mood of the nation. It also reflected his helplessness and sense of drift. His frequent reference to protection of MINORITIES was a slur and poor reflection of his knowledge of Pakistani society envisioned by Jinnah; a nation he had been elected and selected to lead. His demeanour suggested his innate perception that minorities indeed are extra terrestrial aliens. Rehman Malik’s stare at the dead body says it all.
Glimpse ahead and I saw Chaduary Shujjat Hussain of PMLQ wiping his eyes. Politics aside, at least this gentleman had the moral courage to be there on every occasion when Christians were grieved; enough to bust the dam in me. I wept as much for Shahbaz as for the plight that Pakistan was headed in. The foreign dignitaries outnumbered the government functionaries and politicians. Missing were all political bigwigs who chose to stay away for fear of branding or political apathy. For them it did not matter that Clement Shahbaz Bhatti represented the conscience of the nation and not the infidel Christian branded as such hpw by the extremist who killed him or those who refuse to sympathise his death. Leaders after all are a disposable commodity.
Bhatti was a soft and honest face of Pakistan. Internationally, he earned Pakistan a good name to the extent that the Canadian Government sent a special ministerial delegation to join his family in mourning. He was someone the world wanted to see in Pakistan. He was soft spoken, clear and persuasive. At every function of the Christian community I attend with him, he always emphasised Pakistan our Country, Jinnah our Leader and readiness to sacrifice his life for the vision of Jinnah’s Pakistan.
I had a first glimpse of him in 1992, when he was interviewed in GHQ for a ministerial post. His idealism was enough to convince the military panel that he was not one who would play second fiddle to a dictator. They viewed him as too young, immature and emotional; traits that are anathema to dictators and that were to endear him to Benazir and many parliamentarians of Pakistan.
When Gojra was gutted, he spent many a night at the compound of the local church tediously working through the political differences of PPP and PMLN, to secure the safety and compensation of his people. Throughout his tenure, he had to contend with a political minefield of PPP versus PMLN, sadly a time when most crimes against Christians were committed in Faisalabad, Rawalpindi, Gujranwala, Sialkot and Kasur.
Indeed, he had no security, a fact he had disclosed to his inner circles including me. When I questioned him three days before his death, he replied, “God is my Shepherd”. Despite being a Federal Minister, he slept his nights out at different places to evade his assassins. The government despite threats was reluctant to give him a house in the minister’s enclave. He went to the extent of calling Rehman Malik a liar over a question that a bullet proof vehicle has already been provided to him. While the blood was still oozing out of his wounds, the Interior Minister went on the floor of the Parliament to announce that there was no security lapse. It was all a déjà vu.
His funeral was a mass of emotions and the world saw it. The singing of the National Anthem during the High Mass must have embarrassed many Pakistanis and could serve an elixir to awake them from their slumber and denial. His memorial was a manifestation of grief, love of Pakistan and sadly, political bigotry.
The entire controversy over Blasphemy Laws was created with a purpose to coalesce the forces of extremism. The Private Bill of Sherry Rehman was not consulted with minority leaders. There never was a committee headed by Bhatti to review the law. In a press conference at Holiday Inn he distanced himself from the Committee and Sherry Rehman’s Bill and clarified that the minority communities were not looking for amendments. They simply wanted justice and rule of law. The media rather that grab the occasion for reconciliation never gave it the publicity it merited. Meanwhile, at one hand the government continued to fuel the issue and on the other deny it. There never was an explicit clarification tantamount to deliberate negligence.
Tough times lie ahead for sane, patriotic and charismatic political leaders of Pakistan. Assassination of national leaders will continue as will the widening of fissures, economic deprivation and rise in violence. It is time that the silent majority of Pakistan wakes up to the challenge. If they do not, Pakistan will continue the road to self destruction. Libya should be an eye opener.