Pakistani Christians Killed by the Dozen

While the law stipulates that the police can arrest a person accused of blasphemy based solely on the word of a Muslim accuser without an investigation, Musharraf suggested that blasphemy claims should initially be referred to a senior civil servant, who would then investigate the case before ordering an arrest.

But faced with a sharp reaction from hardline Islamic groups and parties, Musharraf backed down from his promise in 2000, announcing his plans to leave the controversial laws completely unchanged.

"Musharraf was unable to make even modest procedural reforms despite repeated calls from Pakistani human rights groups to repeal the laws on the basis of their inconsistencies with international human rights laws," says Parekh.

End to 'Religious Apartheid'

Despite Musharraf's hesitation to lock horns with Pakistan's powerful ulema, or clergy, on the blasphemy issue, he did succeed in scrapping a controversial election law under which religious minorities were only allowed to elect representatives of their respective communities.

Often called a system of "religious apartheid" by minority groups, experts say the separate electorate system was introduced by Zia to restrict voting rights of religious minorities following demands from conservative Islamic groups.

As Pakistan prepares for its parliamentary elections scheduled for Oct. 10, the return of the joint electorate system has been widely welcomed by minority rights groups.

But while calling the move "good as far as it goes," Rehman warns that "military regimes do tend to do some good things, but without the political process at play and the consent of the people involved, they tend to polarize society."

On the democratization front, experts say Musharraf's track record has been disappointing. At a press conference on Wednesday, Musharraf unveiled controversial constitutional changes that would give him the power to dismiss parliament. He also provided for the creation of a civilian-military National Security Council that he would chair to oversee the government.

"Musharraf's main concern is to remain in power and to secure his post for the next five years," warns Rehman. "He obviously does not want to take the clerics heads-on, so with regard to minority issues, you can expect small changes. But the big issues, the real problems facing minorities, will remain."

Bring Back the Good Old Days

On his part, Francis says he is satisfied with Musharraf's assurances that Christians will be protected by the state and militants targeting them would be brought to justice.

But investigations into the attacks have faced many problems. In July, four men accused of the Bahawalpur attack were shot dead while they were being driven in a police vehicle during an "encounter" with unidentified gunmen, Pakistani police said. All four suspects were believed to be members of the banned Lashkar-i-Jhangvi militant group.

Francis however says he understands that Musharraf is doing his best. But what he really wants is a return to the "old days", when average Pakistanis acknowledged the contributions made by the Christian community and he could live and worship without fear.

"Nowadays, everyone is scared," he says. "So, even if people don't like what's happening, they can't say anything, because you never know what the neighbors think and who they may support."

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