The Pakistani Taliban have said they are behind the assassination of the country's minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti in Islamabad on Wednesday.
A soldier examines the damaged car of the slain Pakistani minorities minister
Bhatti's murder comes less than two months after the governor of Pakistan's largest province Punjab was shot dead by his own security guard. Both had openly campaigned for a reform of Pakistan's controversial blasphemy law.
Shahbaz Bhatti had reacted to the killing of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer in January. "I appeal to my government that investigations must be conducted against the people who issued a fatwa against Salman Taseer in order to save those people who remain on their hitlist," Bhatti had openly said, as he felt threatened by Muslim extremists.
Bhatti had received letters threatening him with death
Bhatti himself had received letters threatening him with death for campaigning against the blasphemy law. On Wednesday, Bhatti was shot dead after visiting his mother in Islamabad.
Reforming the blasphemy law
Both Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti were in favor of reforming Pakistan's blasphemy law. Under the law, blasphemous remarks can be punished with the death penalty. Nobody has actually been executed, but suspects have been killed by mobs. Critics say the law is being abused to settle personal scores, and particularly members of Pakistan's small Christian minority are being targeted.
Radical Muslim groups even regard those questioning the blasphemy law, such as Taseer and Bhatti, as blasphemers and justify killing them.
Ali Dayan Hasan, a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch in Pakistan blames the state for appeasing the militant extremists, who have also been used by the establishment to fight in Kashmir and Afghanistan, for example.
Mumtaz Qadri, center, the accused killer of Punjab's Gov. Salman Taseer, was praised for the killing
"This has to do with the fact that the Pakistani state - not so much the government, which only came into power in 2008, but the Pakistani state - its military, the military's intelligence agencies and also of course the ruling bureaucracy, including the judiciary, has historically acted in concert with and in sympathy with extremist groups."
Lawyers showered the killer of Salman Taseer with flowers when he appeared in court. Tens of thousands of Pakistanis demonstrated in the streets supporting the killer, whereas demonstrations for Taseer were much smaller.
'Political cowardice' But Ali Dayan Hasan remains convinced that the majority of the Pakistani people are not extremists. "Most people did not feel that way. It's a pity that the political cowardice of the Pakistani government and the ruling party meant that they failed to take on that challenge," Hasan told Deutsche Welle.
He added that the Islamists have never done well in elections. "If the Pakistan People's Party, which after all controls the government, decided to hold a rally of 200,000 people tomorrow, it could."
Continuing business as usual does not seem to be a viable option for the government after this latest murder, but it remains to be seen if the moderate People's Party will and can really mobilize the masses against the extremists.
Both Salman Taseer (in the picture) and Shahbaz Bhatti were in favor of reforming Pakistan's blasphemy law
After Taseer's assassination, many liberals in Pakistan started to openly express their doubts whether there really is a moderate "silent majority" in the country.
The Christian minority certainly feels threatened. "The non-Muslims are no longer safe in Pakistan. If the prime minister and the government don't act, Pakistan's minorities will have to think themselves about a strategy to deal with this," said Christian parliamentarian Akram Masih Gill.
Shahbaz Bhatti was the only Christian minister in the cabinet and headed the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance.
Author: Thomas Baerthlein
Editor: Sherpem Sherpa