Islamabad, March 2 (IANS) Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian, was shot dead Wednesday as left his mother’s house in the heart of Islamabad. It was the second high-profile assassination in less than two months over a controversial blasphemy law.
Bhatti, 42, was leaving for office after meeting his mother in the posh I-8 sector, when a white vehicle intercepted his official car.
Two — some accounts said three — men sprang out of the car and opened fire at the stunned minister, giving him no chance to escape.
The Pakistani media quoted a horrified witness as saying that the men moved close to the minister’s car and fired first from the side and later from the front.
“Then they had a look at him to make sure that he will not survive and (escaped in their) car,” the witness said.
Inspector General of Police Wajid Durrani said Bhatti took 10 bullets in his head and chest that proved fatal. “He died on the spot.”
A passerby who rushed to the bullet-riddled car and opened its door found Bhatti still breathing. He requested the driver to rush him to doctors.
Samaa TV added that although the driver was injured, he drove off to the nearby Shifa hospital. But the minister, from the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), died before receiving any medical aid.
Bhatti, the only federal minister from the Christian community in the Muslim majority country, met the same fate as Punjab governor Salman Taseer who was gunned down by his own bodyguard Jan 4.
Both men had been seeking a reform in the country’s blasphemy law. Both sought presidential pardon for Aasia Bibi, a 45-year-old Christian farmhand sentenced to death on charges of denigrating the Prophet. Both were also from the PPP.
Bhatti had visited a prison along with Taseer to meet Aasia Bibi.
Minorities make up barely five percent of Pakistan’s 170 million people. Christians are the second largest minority after Hindus.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Interior Minister Rehman Malik went to the hospital after hearing of the attack.
Bhatti’s grieving relatives told the media that he had been receiving death threats for some time but was not provided adequate security.
Durrani, however, said that the minister had two police vehicles with official guards but he did not take them along while going to his mother’s house — which for him was a morning routine.
A pamphlet left near Bhatti’s car vehicle apparently by the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the well-planned assassination.
Bhatti had been advocating for changes in blasphemy laws on grounds that it was being used to victimise minorities in the country.
Aasia Bibi had begun facing problems in June 2009 in her village, Ittan Wali, in which hers was the only Christian household. She had a row with a group of Muslim women while picking berries.
The women alleged she insulted the Prophet. She was then pursued by a mob that attempted to kill her.
Aasia Bibi, a mother of five, was later sentenced to death. Under Pakistan’s penal code, anyone who defiles the Prophet can be punished by death or life imprisonment.
President Asif Ali Zardari called up Bhatti’s family and expressed his condolences. A cabinet meeting was held in his memory, with the ministers observing two minutes silence.
Born Sep 9, 1968, Bhatti was chairman of All Pakistan Minority Rights Alliance and was elected a member of the national assembly in 2008 on PPP ticket.