Pakistan's Islamist-led anti-blasphemy protests highlight plight of Christians and minorities

The 20-day anti-blasphemy protests in Pakistan led by an Islamist political party have once again showcased the deplorable situation of Christians and other religious minorities that make up only 3 to 5 percent of the country's population.

(REUTERS / Faisal Mahmood)Traffic is seen near the Faizabad junction a day after the Tehrik-e-Labaik Pakistan Islamist political party called off nationwide protests in Islamabad, Pakistan November 28, 2017.

Starting Nov. 5, 2,000 to 3,000 people positioned themselves at the Faizabad Interchange national highway after Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan party founder and preacher Allama Khadim Hussain Rizvi called for the resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid. He claimed that the law which Hamid had passed to allow the Ahmadi minority to participate in elections for general seats even though they were labeled as "non-Muslim" was blasphemous, the World Watch Monitor explained.

On Nov. 25, police and other law enforcement agencies clashed with protesters in Islamabad, which caused the demonstration and road blockades to spread to other cities in Pakistan. Tehreek-e-Labaik then accused the riot police of being made up mostly of Christians and other religious minorities.

The riots on Saturday resulted in the deaths of at least seven people, while 200 others were injured. Ten police vans were also set ablaze. Authorities arrested 144 individuals in connection with the violent clashes, and transportation and school schedules were ordered closed on Nov. 27 and 28 in Punjab. The demonstrations were only halted when the Law Minister filed his resignation on Monday.

This was the second time that Rizvi's party was able to successfully pressure a minister to resign, as they had previously caused former Minister of State for Information Technology and Telecommunication Anusha Rehman to step down as well. The Islamist preacher had also criticized Christians and blamed them for the call to abolish Pakistan's blasphemy laws.

Meanwhile, observers fear that Hamid's resignation could set a dangerous precedent for Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan. Political analyst Zahid Hussain warned that mullahs could now rise up in protest and demand for the resignation of just about anybody, The Guardian relayed.

Mushahid Ullah Khan, the minister for climate change, told The Guardian that the 20-day protests could have been organized by outsiders. Although he did not give more information on that suggestion, he said they were bound to find out who was behind the whole thing and what their motives were.