Pakistan Christians Losing Hope As Ballot Is Postponed After Assassination

Thursday, January 3, 2008

By Jawad Mazhar, BosNewsLife Special Correspondent reporting from Pakistan

RAWALPINDI, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife) -- Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf announced Wednesday, January 2, that Britain will assist in an investigation into the assassination of opposition leader and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto who Pakistani Christians described as "the only hope" to end religious persecution.

"Benazir Bhutto was the only hope for the Christians of Pakistan," said Ferhan Mazher, who leads the Rays Of Development (ROD) organization (, a major advocacy group. "She had repeal all discriminatory laws, including the controversial black blasphemy laws of the country," he told BosNewsLife.

Christians across the country are facing long prison terms and potential execution for allegedly insulting Islam, charges human rights groups say have often been misused to settle personal scores or in land disputes. In an interview with BosNewsLife last year, Bhutto made clear she wanted to reach out to all Pakistanis, including Christians, who besides blasphemy laws have been the target of attacks carried out by Islamist militants.

Tensions have remained high in the army town of Rawalpindi, where Bhutto was assassinated just about 15 meters (16 yards) from a BosNewsLife reporter, who survived the attack unharmed.

The shooter apparently shot her three times when she waved to the crowds from her vehicle. Soon after, he blew himself up with what investigators said was four kilograms of explosives and 2.5 kilograms of pellets and iron nails.


The blast and subsequent riots killed dozens of people and injured many more. Offices, banks, railway stations and other buildings as well as vehicles were destroyed. Protesters accused the Pakistani government of involvement in the assassination, but authorities blamed the militant al-Qaida group. Al-Qaida has denied involvement in the attack.

Speaking in a televised address to the nation Wednesday, January 2, President Musharraf said he had asked Britain’s police organization Scotland Yard to participate in a commission of inquiry to dispel any confusion about the circumstances of her assassination - which he called a great tragedy for Pakistan.

He also said parliamentary elections, delayed until February 18, will be free, fair and peaceful, adding that troops would be deployed to ensure security during the elections.

Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) says it will participate in the rescheduled elections, but has condemned the delay as a tactic by the pro-Musharraf party to bolster its standings. The opposition party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif says it will also take part in the February ballot.


Christian activists are now closely watching the future direction of the PPP. Over the weekend, Benazir Bhutto’s eldest son, 19-year-old Bilawal, took over as chair of the party, prompting celebratory outbursts among supporters. BosNewsLife witnessed people dancing at the beat of drums, displaying fireworks and distributing traditional Pakistani Sweets called 'Mithaiee'.

He changed his name into Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, in a symbolic move to assert his right to lead the Bhutto dynasty. As he is still studying history at Oxford University, his father, Asif Ali Zardari, is expected to run the day-to-day affairs of the party. The young man reportedly said in a message to people who left condolences on social networking Web site Facebook that he was still just a student who enjoyed eating junk food and watching television, but added that he would try to learn.

"I am not a born leader. I am not a politician or a great thinker," he wrote in the message, which, his first public statement since a few brief words when he was appointed party leader. "I'm merely a student. I do the things that students do like make mistakes, eat junk food, watch Buffy (a reference to a US television series) but most importantly of all... learn," he said. Yet he made clear: "My time to lead will come but for now I'm the one asking questions, not the one answering them."

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