Church leaders in Pakistan have joined the widespread strong condemnation of the recent assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who they saw as a voice for gretaer equality and freedom - including religious freedom.
In a statement issued yesterday, the president of the Pakistan Christian Congress (PCC), Mr Nazir S. Bhatti, recalled a meeting with Ms Bhutto - who held office twice, but was removed on both occasions following accusations of corruption which mired her attempst to be a political spokesperson for social justice.
Bhatti said Ms Bhutto had expressed concern about Pakistani Christians and vowed to “pull them into mainstream politics” in terms of rights and responsibilities for both minority and majority communities.
He also pointed out that Benazir Bhutto had a Catholic nun as a home teacher in Pakistan. She was also a friend of Anglican Bishop of Rochester Michael Nazir Ali, a former Bishop of Raiwind.
“Benazir Bhutto was a great leader, a symbol of moderate Islam and a challenge for the militants,” declared Mr Bhatti following her murder on Thursday 27 December 2007.
He added: “Pakistani Christians express [their] grief concerning the death of Benazir Bhutto and demand the immediate arrest of culprits and justice.”
As with the death of other family members, the identity of those behind Ms Bhutto's killer may be difficult to establish. The Pakistani government has so far offered three different explanations as to how she died, eliciting both confusion and cynicism.
They have most recently attributed Ms Bhutto's death to a skull fracture occasioned by hitting her head on the lever on the sunroof of her vehicle following the force of an explosion.
Previous explanations said that she died from shrapnel from the suicide bomb or that she had died from a bullet wound to the neck.
Ms Bhutto’s Pakistan People's Party has refuted official versions of the incident and accused the government of concocting “a pack of lies”, say new agencies.
The dynastic leadership of the PPP is now likely to be reaffirmed, which those arguing for more democratic participation are disappointed by. The 8 January 2008 general elections are also very likely to be postponed.
The death of Benazir Bhutto is a "body blow for freedom and democracy in Pakistan" said the Bishop of Rochester the former Bishop of Raiwind Lahore.
Bishop Michael Nazir Ali told Times Online in the UK: "Benazir Bhutto has been a personal friend for many years. Her murder by extremists is a body blow for freedom and democracy in Pakistan. It raises serious questions about the government's ability to provide security for its citizens when even one as eminent as she can be killed in this way."
He continued: "I do hope the general elections can still be held and that the cause of democracy can survive this catastrophe."
The Bishop added: "My prayers are for her husband, children and family that they will be comforted at this time of grief. She will always be remembered for her commitment to Pakistan and her courage in public life."