Pakistan Being 'Blackmailed' by Extremists, says Anglican Head

The head of the global Anglican Church has voiced his opinion on the recent killing of Pakistan's Minister for Minorities, saying that the country is being "blackmailed" by radical extremists.

"The widespread and deep desire for Pakistan to be what it was meant to be, for justice to be guaranteed for all, and for some of the most easily abused laws on the statute book to be reviewed is being paralysed by the threat of murder," said the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams in an opinion piece in the London Times.

Noting the case of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani woman who is awaiting a death sentence by hanging for committing blasphemy, and the murder of the Governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, who publicly defended Bibi and criticized the blasphemy law, Williams said that it is "crystal clear that there is a faction in Pakistan wholly uninterested in justice and due process of law, concerned only with promoting an inhuman pseudo-religious tyranny."

Williams' remarks come about a week after the murder of Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan's former Minister for Minorities and the only Christian in the country's federal Cabinet, who was gunned down last Wednesday by al-Qaida and Taliban gunmen.

According to leaflets left at the crime scene, the motive for the killing was religious, with the Taliban accusing the government of placing Bhatti, an "infidel Christian," on a committee to review the country's blasphemy law. The government denies that such a committee exists.

Williams, who knew Bhatti personally and met with him last year at Lambeth Palace, called the minister's killing "an offence against Islam as much as against Christianity in Pakistan," and said that a "rational debate" about the country's blasphemy laws must take place.

"Most Muslim thinkers are embarrassed by supposedly 'Islamic' laws in various contexts that conceal murderous oppression and bullying," Williams said. "Their voices are widely noted; they need to be heard more clearly in Pakistan, where part of the problem is the weakening of properly traditional Islam by the populist illiteracies of modern extremism."

He added: "And there needs to be some credible proof of the Government of Pakistan's political will not only to resist blackmail, but also to assess realistically the levels of risk under which minority communities and the individuals who support them live."

Meanwhile, Pakistani Christians are still grieving Bhatti's loss, as prayers and services in his honor were offered on Sunday.

On Tuesday, Pakistan President Asif Zardari paid tribute to Bhatti, commending him for his work in promoting interfaith harmony in the country.

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