After the assassination yesterday in Islamabad of Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s minister for minority affairs, a supporter of changing the country’s controversial blasphemy laws, and the only Christian in the federal cabinet, by as many as four gunmen, Pakistani police have released a sketch of one of the alleged attackers and reportedly arrested 20 people in connection with the shooting (BBC, ET, AFP, ET, Reuters, Geo, Pajhwok). Bhatti had reportedly dismissed his 10- to 15-man security detail, ordering them to stay at his office and not follow him home (Bloomberg, Post, ABC, ET, Geo). An initial autopsy report shows 25 to 30 bullets in Bhatti’s head and chest, and a more detailed autopsy will be available within 48 hours; Bhatti’s funeral is scheduled for tomorrow in his native village of Samundari, near Faisalabad.
Hundreds of Pakistani Christians protested against Bhatti’s death in Multan, Rawalpindi, Sialkot, and other cities, and Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari condemned the killing, asserting that Pakistan is in an "ideological war" (AP, ET, Geo, Tel, AFP, Reuters, AP, Guardian, WSJ, Independent). Pakistan’s interior minister, Rehman Malik, ordered increased security for other cabinet ministers, and prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani announced three days of official mourning (Daily Times, Reuters, The News, NYT). Bhatti had reportedly requested a bulletproof car, but had not received it. Sherry Rehman, a Pakistani MP who had proposed a bill to amend the blasphemy laws but withdrew it and faces death threats, said that Bhatti’s assassination "is a reminder to us all that we have not acted enough to protect our minorities" (Dawn). A trio of analyses on Bhatti’s assassination from the AfPak Channel: Madiha Sattar on Pakistan’s blasphemy laws (FP), Huma Imtiaz on the cost of cowardice (FP), and Wajahat Ali on political parties’ reactions (FP).
The Lahore High Court has postponed the trial for murder against Raymond Davis, the American CIA contractor who shot and killed two Pakistani men he said were trying to rob him in late January, until March 8, to give his lawyers more time to prepare (ET/AFP, NYT, Reuters). On March 14, the LHC is set to rule whether Davis qualifies for diplomatic immunity, as the U.S. asserts.
Earlier today, a suicide car bomb targeting a police van in Hangu killed at least 9 people, and gunmen killed 6 Pakistani policemen in Khyber (Geo, AP, AFP). And a strike by public transportation workers protesting a recent fuel price hike has crippled Karachi (AP, Dawn).
General David Petraeus, top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, has offered a rare personal apology for the deaths of 9 Afghan boys who were gathering firewood, mistaken for insurgents, and killed in a NATO airstrike in the eastern province of Kunar earlier this week (NYT, LAT, WSJ, CNN, Pajhwok, Post, Reuters, AP). Afghan president Hamid Karzai condemned the attack as "ruthless." Karzai also stated that the Afghan government is increasingly channeling contacts with Taliban insurgents through the High Peace Council, and advised the West not to intervene militarily in Libya (Reuters).
Carlotta Gall has today’s must-read describing the ordeal of Abdul Khaliq Farahi, the Afghan consul general in the northwest Pakistani town of Peshawar who spent two years as a captive of Arab members of al-Qaeda in Pakistan’s tribal areas (NYT). Farahi’s detention overlapped with that of Heshmatollah Attarzadeh, the Iranian consul in Peshawar who was kidnapped two months after he was, for around a year.
Jolie’s journey to Afghanistan
American movie star Angelina Jolie, also a UNHCR goodwill ambassador, made a surprise trip to Afghanistan to visit refugees earlier this week (AFP). This was her second trip to Afghanistan.