Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Assassination of Pakistani minister is another example of the countryís radicalisation

2nd March 2011

The assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistanís minister for minorities, yet again exposes the countryís apparent inability to rein in home-grown extremism, Dr Charles Tannock, European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) Group foreign affairs and human rights spokesman, said today.

Mr Bhatti, a Christian, was gunned down by unknown assailants in Islamabad as he left home with his niece on his way to a cabinet meeting. The killers left behind pro-Taliban propaganda at the scene.

Dr Tannock said the murder was similar to that of Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, who was killed by one of his own bodyguards two months ago.

Dr Tannock, an author of a European Parliament resolution condemning the assassination of Salman Taseer, said the death of Shahbaz Bhatti exposed the precarious situation of Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan.

Dr Tannock said that there was little doubt that Mr Bhattiís courageous calls for reform of Pakistanís draconian blasphemy laws cost him his life, and that the killing underlined the alarming radicalisation of Pakistani society.

He called on the EUís High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, to raise this issue with President Ali Asif Zardari of Pakistan and to call on him to do more to speak out against the terrorists who are destabilising his government.

He said that the EU should press the Pakistani government to root out individuals within Pakistanís intelligence services who are supporting extremists.

Dr Tannock also said the European Parliament should hold an urgent debate on Mr Bhattiís assassination next week during the plenary session of the European Parliament.

He said such a debate was important in order to hold the Council and Commission to account for their handling of the EUís relationship with Pakistan, which has recently benefited from major trade concessions in the wake of last summerís floods.

Dr Tannock said:

"I was shocked and saddened to hear of the death of this courageous and principled man.

"One by one, the lone voices in Pakistan brave enough to advocate tolerance, moderation and reform are being silenced.

"This looks to be an almost identical killing to that of Salman Taseer, who was another enlightened and progressive figure.

"Itís clear to me that Mr Bhatti was killed because he was a Christian and because he supported reform of Pakistanís blasphemy laws, which are routinely used to persecute the countryís Christian minority.

"Once again we have seen an example of the growing radicalisation of Pakistani society and the apparent inability of President Zardari to crack down on home-grown terrorists.

"As we know, part of the problem is the link between certain elements of Pakistanís intelligence establishment and violent Islamist groups. I would also like to know why this high profile at risk figure was not given more trained police close protection to deter such an attack.

"The EUís High Representative should not be afraid to press the Pakistani government on this issue.

"I am pressing for an urgent debate in the European Parliament next week on this latest assassination.

"Itís important that the Council and Commission explain how the murder of Mr Bhatti will impact on the EUís approach towards Pakistan."

Peter Van Dalen MEP, leader of the ECR's Dutch delegation and Christian Union MEP, said:

"This is incredibly sad news.

"I have been particularly involved with the case of Asia Bibi who has been sentenced to death for blasphemy. The loss of a beacon of tolerance such as Mr Bhatti will make her situation and the situation of many other religious minorities in Pakistan much worse.

"We need to know what consequences this sad and cowardly act will have on the EU's relationship with Pakistan."
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