* Interior minister says need to end misuse of law
* Says religious leader "a great friend"
* Condemns assassinations of governor and minister
By Myra MacDonald
LONDON, March 11 Pakistani politicians should be
able to reach a cross-party accord to end misuse of the
blasphemy law, based on proposals made by the leader of a
religious party, Pakistan's interior minister said on Friday.
The comments by Interior Minister Rehman Malik were the
clearest sign yet of Pakistan's attempts to reduce tension over
the blasphemy law, which has become a bitterly divisive issue
that has highlighted the power of the religious right in
Two senior politicians, Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and
Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, were assassinated this year
after they called for amendments to the blasphemy law, which
critics say is often misused to settle personal scores.
Malik told Reuters in an interview party leaders would meet
to try to reach a consensus on the law, as proposed by Maulana
Fazl-ur-Rehman, head of the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F)
"Its misuse is being, of course, taken into account and the
party leaders are going to sit together as proposed by Maulana
Fazl-ur-Rehman ... and I hope this matter can be thrashed out,
whenever this meeting takes pace," he said.
Fazl-ur-Rehman, a pro-Taliban cleric close to the ruling
Pakistan People's Party (PPP), quit the government in December
after a row over the sacking of one of his ministers. He has
been a vocal defender of the blasphemy law.
However, Pakistan's Dawn newspaper quoted him as saying last
week that "if a law is being misused against minorities, we are
ready to discuss this".
Malik declined to answer a question on whether politicians
would discuss amendments to the law, or simply introduce
measures to prevent its misuse, saying this would be a
collective decision and he would abide by the consensus.
Critics say the law is not only misused, including against
minorities, but is also too vaguely worded to be fair. It
provides for the death penalty for insulting the Prophet
Malik said Fazl-ur-Rehman's proposals would be likely to
gain support, without giving details. "Everybody, I think will
follow him in this connection."
"A GREAT FRIEND"
Asked whether this meant the PPP had resolved its
differences with him, Malik said, "he has always favoured and
taken the side of the Pakistan People's Party ...
"He is a great friend of mine, he is a great friend of the
president, he is a great lover of democracy so you can draw the
inference that there is nothing wrong."
The PPP-led government has been accused of appeasing the
religious right after Taseer was shot by his own bodyguard in
Islamabad. The man who confessed to his killing was celebrated
as a hero, and the religious right organised large protests to
insist there could be no change to the blasphemy law.
The government responded by promising the laws would stand,
while Malik was quoted by the Pakistani media as saying that if
someone insulted the Prophet Mohammad, he, too, would shoot him.
Asked about that comment, Malik said, "Nobody would like to
show disrespect to our Prophet. I said the bullet of law should
be utilised for such actions. I was misinterpreted in that
He said the government condemned the assassination of the
two men. "Nobody has the right to take anybody's life."
The furore over the blasphemy law, which has stunned
Pakistan's secular minority, has coincided with a row over CIA
contractor Raymond Davis, who shot dead two Pakistanis in Lahore
in January in what he says was an act of self-defence.
With Washington insisting Davis has diplomatic immunity,
Pakistan has jailed him and asked courts to decide on his
diplomatic status and on the substance of the case.
The case has led to a rise in anti-Americanism in Pakistan
and caused tension with Washington.
Malik declined to comment on Davis on the grounds his case
rested with the courts, but said he did not believe it should be
allowed to affect relations with the United States.
"We should not make a big issue out of it. I think the U.S.
must also realise that as we respect their laws and their courts
then similarly let's wait for the decision from the court. Again
I repeat that the matter is sub judice."
(Editing by Andrew Dobbie)