On 17th November Dr Paul Bhatti, brother of the assassinated Pakistani government Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, addressed Members of both Houses and supporters of the charity Aid to the Church In Need, and led a discussion on persecution issues in Pakistan. Other Speakers included Dr John Newton,Wilson Chaudhry, Rehman Chishti MP, and the Revd Rana Khan.
Dr.Paul Bhatti said:
It is a real pleasure to be here with you all today to talk about the situation of Religious Minorities in Pakistan.
Since almost the last two decades Pakistan has been facing a series of challenges with religious discrimination and persecution, sectarian violence, economic crisis, political instability and terrorism. Despite anti-terrorism reforms, promotion of religious freedom, support of the international community, and precious sacrifices that have been made, we still facing the cruel and harsh realities of violence against the weak and voiceless people of our community. We are losing precious lives along with their properties. Sadly Pakistan has lost more than 6000 of its law enforcement personal during this war against terrorism including high-ranking military officials. Further, we all have witnessed precious loss of human activists and democracy promoters like Benazir Bhutto, Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, and the attack on a young girl Malala, as well as false accusations of blasphemy against innocent victims. We have seen attacks on churches in Peshawer and Lahore, the incident in Gojra, and the recent act of violence against a poor couple who were thrown into a kiln as they were burnt to death. We have lost 145 of our school children that were gunned down in a military school in Northern Pakistan. The attack in Karachi on the Ismaili community resulted in at least 43 people being killed, and the murder of several innocent people form the Hazara community.
The culmination of these atrocities is beyond comprehension. It has left our entire nation shocked and discouraged raising many questions. Is Pakistan going in a right direction? Do we have a competent leadership to deal with such challenges? Is there an outside power manoeuvring all this against Pakistan? Do we a have the right governance or not? What is the root cause of all this? How we can overcome this reality? What is the future of our children in Pakistan?
Pakistan today is facing serious challenges on many different levels and with this in mind our approach has to be different than in the West. We are a nation that has suffered several atrocities after independence: the two wars with India over the disputed region of Kashmir; the previous fall out of the Russian invasion in Afghanistan and the presence of over 3 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan; and recently, being an ally to the Western world in its fight against terrorism and extremism, has created a specific mindset among some people who are continuously destabilizing the country promoting hate, discrimination and terrorism. Pakistan is confronted with internal and cross border terrorism, sectarian violence, religious extremism and discrimination. We have also lost well over 60,000 innocent citizens and as I shared earlier well over 6000 law enforcement personnel, further aggravating the situation of law and order in the nation.
I am convinced that religious freedom and education together can be the solution in the actualization of world peace.
In the context of Pakistan, we need to put all our efforts and support to overcome our major enemies of poverty, illiteracy, terrorism and extremism. Our weapon is love and by peaceful means influencing the future generations through good quality education, building unity in the country through ongoing dialogue and economical reforms jointly.
We can gain inspiration and courage by looking to those who have gone before us who stood for peace, justice and unity at such great cost.
I would take this opportunity to share with you my personal experience how I came in this scenario:
I am a Physician specialized in general and pediatric surgery with a Masters in plastic surgery and have spent most of my personal practice treating the needy patients in my country of Pakistan. In addition to my medical practice, I endeavored to support my late brother, Shahbaz Bhatti and to carry on his mission following his assassination while leaving my home in Islamabad in 2011.
Shahbaz was my younger brother. He dedicated 28 years of his life to vigorously foster the ideals of human equality, interfaith harmony, and mutual love. In his formidable struggle, in practicable terms with real outcomes, he forged a path of love and forgiveness cherishing the idea of interfaith harmony. He was a proactive man. An agent of change led by the Holy Spirit. He fearlessly and actively knit a network of friendships with individual souls reaching from the poorest of the poor to the highest echelons of our country’s Government. In doing so, he was able to effect huge political changes, bettering the lives of Religious Minorities in Pakistan.
Some of his achievements seem unfathomable in Pakistan, where many seek to impose a radical philosophy.
- He created prayer rooms for Christians and other religious minorities in several government institutions in Pakistan.
- He spearheaded establishing special quotas for the participation of Religious Minorities in government
- He established committees for inter-religious dialogue that led to the Pakistani Parliament approving four member seats for Religious Minorities. It is worth mentioning that not many years ago, representation of Religious Minorities in our government was utterly inconceivable.
- He promoted and fostered relationships between Muslims, Christians and other religious traditions by living out the Sermon on the Mount, the way of Jesus’ teachings in the Gospels. He stayed true to his faith in Jesus Christ to his last breath.
Immediately after his death, I was astonished to witness a tidal wave of deep grief and love not only from Christians but also Muslim and Hindu religious leadership, Pakistani politicians, diplomats, international human rights activists, and humanitarians. The Government of Pakistan expressly recognized my brother posthumously by awarding him one of the highest national honors, the “Hal al –e-shujat the “Moon of Courage” National Medal of Honour.
I eventually entered the political process to serve my countrymen under unexpected and extraordinary circumstances. I served as a missionary doctor in Pakistan for ten years, never dreaming I would become a Federal Minister working on behalf of Religious Minorities and the underclass in Pakistan. But it had been Shahbaz’ wish from the very beginning and Shahbaz my younger brother never took “no” for an answer.
Let me tell you the story of how I got here. When I was working as surgeon in Pakistan as a missionary doctor, I was forced to flee the country with my family after a violent attack on my residence by extremists. One morning, I awoke to find extremists trying to cut the steel security bars on the front windows of my residence. This was unsettling, to say the least.But for my brother, Shahbaz it was one of the most disappointing moments in his life. He tried to convince me not to leave. But the security risk to my family and me made it impossible to practice the profession I so dearly love. I followed my instinct and moved to Italy where I had received my medical and post-graduate training.
In a short period of time, God blessed me, and I was able to establish a thriving medical practice, building a new life for my family with a great deal of satisfaction. During this period, my brother and I clashed on opposite poles. He was trying to convince me to return to Pakistan because of the dire and pressing needs of the community, while I was arguing with him that he should move to Europe because his very life was in danger. Shahbaz was no stranger to authentic death threats by men who despised his existence, his religion, and his work on behalf of the helpless.
So, as brothers are prone to do, we argued. Looking back, I realize I was arguing from a rational and human perspective with a man whose gaze was fixed on heaven. I was begging him to leave Pakistan. He only responded that he had surrendered his life into Jesus’ hands and would follow Jesus until his last breath. My last conversation with him of this nature happened a few months before his assassination. Shabbaz strongly requested me to return home to Pakistan. I told him, “You are calling me to leave paradise for hell.” He immediately replied, “The road leading to paradise starts in Pakistan.” This was a dark and terrible time for me.
My pleas with him to leave fell on deaf ears, and I was absolutely convinced I was doing the right thing.
But on March 2nd, 2011, our world turned upside-down. The news of Shahbaz’ murder shook me to the core. I was devastated, crestfallen, disheartened and furious all at the same time. Of course I immediately flew to Pakistan to attend my brother’s funeral. It was my intention to retrieve members of my family and move them to safely in Italy and Canada, and say farewell to Pakistan forever. My conviction, at that moment, was that Pakistan was unworthy of the services of my family.
But when I landed In Islamabad, I found a heart-rending situation. There was a sea of people in attendance at his funeral, women, men and children, from all walks of life, politicians, diplomats, Christian, Muslim, and Hindu religious leaders, all desperately crying for Shahbaz, all crying, “Who will take his call for love?”
When I accompanied his body by helicopter to our native village of Khushpur, a throng of young and old people overwhelmed me, crying and sobbing; distraught they had lost their champion for freedom! It was impossible to console them. They were brokenhearted, struck with grief in the loss of Shahbaz. He was like a father to them; and they were now orphaned.
I was astounded by the lasting power of his sacrificial love, now living in the hearts of the people. I know that in reality, it was the love of God. And in the midst of this vast demonstration, many Muslim leaders were chanting, “Shahbaz your mission will continue! Shabbaz your mission will continue!” And then many of these people turned and looked at me saying, “Now what?” This was an extraordinary and defining moment for me.
Shortly thereafter, the Government of Pakistan officially solicited me to take Shabbaz’s Federal Ministry seat in the Government. Then the executive committee of his political party, All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA), asked me to take charge and elected me as their Chairman.
I remained incensed with my Government for its inability to protect my brother and stop the people behind his murder. But in this chaotic and intense moment something began to change in my heart. I began reminiscing about Shahbaz from his early childhood until his death. I kept seeing his smiling face, filled with love, forgiveness, and acceptance, in front of me. It was transformative.
There was a palpable sense of the love of God strengthening him through the difficult phases of his struggles, especially the battle with an ideology wanting to impose hatred, division, and discrimination, on the religious minorities of Pakistan. That same love of God began to strengthen me. My resentment against my government began to ebb, and slowly, perhaps with fits and starts, I began to see his murderers through eyes of forgiveness.
I then decided to continue his mission, realizing that though it appears contradictory, forgiveness and love were possibly the ultimate weapons of revenge.
While reflecting on these matters, I also started to think about my mother. She had lived with Shabbaz for the last 10 years of his life, and was deeply affected by his death. Her life with him primarily consisted of praying together at home, and praying for him when he was away while she waited for his safe return. Even in her advanced age, she would not let her sleep until he returned home late at night from his governmental duties. Tragically, she was an ear witness of his murder. The assassins targeted him as he was leaving her following morning prayers. He died only a few metres in front of their home. My mother heard the thunder of bullets killing my brother. Even today, it is impossible for me to imagine her anguish.
I worried that if I proposed my decision to continue Shabbaz’ mission to my mother, she would reject it categorically, and worse, that it would increase her suffering. But as my courage increased, I gathered the nerve to speak with her. This is the tradition of our family. Parental blessing and approval is held in high regard. Initially, when I approached my mother, I was hesitant and timid. But to my amazement, my mother told me, without hesitating, that Shahbaz’s mission should continue, and I was the right person for the job.
She then told me that it was Shahbaz’ will that I return to Pakistan, and that now it was God’s will, and her wish as well. So it was, there was no one left for me to argue with!
Then she said something remarkable. She told me that she wasn’t angry with Shahbaz’s killers and she was free from a desire for revenge or retaliation against them. She explained that she had forgiven the killers of my brother. Later, she reminded me that Shahbaz’s way of life was rooted in forgiveness and love, following the Way of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I was deeply moved and encouraged. More than that, I was being transformed by the love of God. In time, I too forgave my brother’s killers from the bottom of my heart. I was honoured and filled with joy in assuming the legacy of my brother. I desire to continue the work, full of hope and determination, and by the sheer grace of God, to love my brothers as myself, and to love and forgive my enemies.
My heartfelt wish is to continue the mission and vision of Shahbaz. He was a true follower of our Lord Jesus Christ, and it was his unwavering belief on Jinnah’s Pakistan where every citizen can freely follow his/her faith and live with dignity and without fear. It enabled him to dedicate 28 years his life to protect the weak and persecuted minorities of Pakistan. He had his heart fixed on the hope in to see Pakistan a role Model for the world where justice, human equality, and religious freedom are honoured and respected. I am committed to continue this struggle even if this ultimate goal requires my sacrifice too.
I am pleased to share with you that I feel and see that Pakistan is changing, Present military and civilian operation against terrorism is bringing fruits: all extremist organizations are banned, most terrorist groups are weakened, killers of my brothers are arrested and one was killed. The people of Pakistan are gradually coming out of oppression and fear, which has dominated them for many years. The Supreme Court recently upheld the death sentence of a police bodyguard who killed Salmaan Tazeer over his support for blasphemy law reform and other verdicts have given us great hope for the future of Jinnah’s Pakistan where everybody can live with peace, dignity and without fear, honouring the faiths of each other.
Recently Pakistani leadership participated in the celebrations of our Hindu brothers and sisters (Divali), giving a statement that there is no discrimination between majority and minority. Of course we welcome such initiatives hoping that this is coming from their hearts and not for any personal gain. We want this Pakistan, without any discrimination among people of diverse faiths, where weak and oppressed feel safe and respected, as the father of our nation Mohmad Ali Jinnah said, we are all citizens and equal citizens of one state. This is the path we are following indicated by Shahbaz to see our beloved country where there’s no discrimination between Majority and religious minorities (Shiites, Sufi Muslims, Isma’ili, Ahmadis, Christians, Sikhs, Hindus, Zoroastrians, Baha’i . . .)
Each of us is on a road, a religious path to a spiritual destination, a place of consequences and accountability for our choices and actions. I believe that God has given us clear eyes, deep and fearless hearts to courageously love and support each other. Herein is the holy key to rid our communities of hatred and discrimination.
Thank you for your kind attention. May God bless you and those you hold close.
Pakistan Zanda o Taibinda bad