This week, gunmen assassinated a Pakistani cabinet minister. It was the second killing of a Pakistani moderate in two months. A California congressman calls these developments "deeply discouraging."
The only Christian member of the Pakistani cabinet, Shahbaz Bhatti, was ambushed and killed outside his mother’s house on Wednesday. Gunmen left pamphlets that read, “the only punishment for blasphemy against the Prophet is death.”
In January, the governor of Punjab – another critic of Pakistan's anti-blasphemy laws – was assassinated by his bodyguard.
Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of Burbank, who sits on the U.S. House Intelligence Committee, says the two events are “incredibly" discouraging. He says, "not only were the assassinations so distressing, but the public response in Pakistan, particularly the first assassination of tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people marching in sympathy with the assassin."
Under Pakistani law, desecration of the Koran can mean a sentence of life in prison; blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad can bring the death penalty. Both assassinated politicians favored reforming the country’s anti-blasphemy laws.
Schiff also weighed in on pro-democracy developments in the Middle East, calling these “potentially very exciting times.” Schiff says the United States needs to use its financial and personal relationship in support of the people in Egypt and Tunisia.
He says we have a strong relationship with the Egyptian military. "We ought to use that relationship to make sure that they stay on track in transitioning to a democratic form of government. We don’t want one authoritarian regime replace by another. Similarly in Tunisia, we can play a role in helping to facilitate the transitional government and pave the way for real democracy. If democracy can be achieved in a place like Egypt, it would be a model for the Arab world that could have just seismic consequences in a very positive way."
Schiff says it’s harder to determine an appropriate U.S. role in Libya and Yemen. The risks are greater and the results are less certain. Nonetheless, Schiff says this country should “align our foreign policy with our highest ideals.”