Lord David Alton of Liverpool has urged the UK to press Pakistan on how it uses UK aid money to address the injustices many minorities face in the country.
The Catholic peer’s call came as he marked the 10th anniversary of the assassination of Clement Shahbaz Bhatti by paying tribute to “one of the most compelling and outstanding, courageous political figures of recent years”.
Lord Alton has marked the murder of Bhatti every year since his assassination a decade ago.
Bhatti, Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Minorities, was gunned down on 2nd March 2011 after he said he would seek the reform of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws to stop the laws from being misused to persecute innocent Christians.
Bhatti’s murder demands our attention to the “gross violations of human rights” that take place in the country, said Lord Alton. He questioned almost £3billion provided to Pakistan in UK aid funds in the decade since Bhatti’s death.
“Shahbaz Bhatti’s memory demands that we keep demanding to know how that money is being used to address the injustices against which he stood,” he said.
Reiterating his “profound admiration” for Bhatti, who was also a Catholic, Lord Alton recalled how his murder had “robbed Pakistan of a dedicated, honest and able politician”.
He noted how his murder also “threw into sharp relief the plight of Pakistan’s minorities, whose fearless champion he had become”.
“Bhatti gave his life trying to make a reality of the constitution of Pakistan’s enlightened founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who insisted that minorities should be given respect and treated as equal citizens,” he said.
The peer recalled how in 1947, at the time of partition, Muhammad Ali Jinnah gave a speech to the New Delhi Press Club, setting out the basis on which the new state of Pakistan was to be founded.
In this speech he forcefully defended the right of minorities to be protected and to have their beliefs respected.
However, Lord Alton highlighted the cruel treatment many minority communities continue to face in Pakistan to this day, as he pointed out that they still do not enjoy the rights Muhammad Ali Jinnah had envisioned for the country.
“How a country treats its minorities is a litmus test,” said Lord Alton. “Pakistan simply needs to re-examine its own foundation principles to see that it is failing the minorities who face discrimination and outright persecution.
“The white in the flag of Pakistan is there to represent the country’s minorities but as those minorities suffer and Pakistan’s law enforcement agencies and frightened leaders fail to speak out or to act justly, its flag has been dragged low and for too many it has become streaked in the red of blood.”
Noting that no-one has been brought to justice for Bhatti’s murder, Lord Alton asked what chance do the country’s persecuted minorities have if that country can’t bring to justice a killer of one of its government ministers in a decade since the assassination.
“Pakistan was founded on principles of equality and justice. What has been done to its own citizens, and done with impunity, makes a mockery of those high ideals,” said Lord Alton.
“Failure to act jeopardises the country’s future and it undermines the prospect of a diverse and respectful society.”
Picture: Christian women hold pictures of Shahbaz Bhatti, the slain Pakistani minister of minorities, as they demand a sentence for his killers during a protest in Karachi, Pakistan, on 6th April 2011. (CNS photo/Athar Hussain, Reuters).