Senior US and Pakistani Officials urged Pakistan's Muslim majority to speak out against extremism and embrace religious tolerance at a memorial service for the nation's only Christian government minister who was assassinated by terrorists last week.
The service, held at the Pakistan Embassy, was led by two Catholic priests and was attended by US State Department dignitaries, foreign officials, Pakistani parliamentary members and friends of Shahbaz Bhatti, the slain minister.
Pakistan's Ambassador to the U.S. Husain Haqqani and his wife Parlimentary Member Farahnaz Ispahani, said the silence of the Pakistani people only empowers terrorists.
"Those who would murder Salman Taseer or Shahbaz Bhatti deface our religion," Haqqani said. "Yet, there is an uncomfortable and unconscionable silence from the great majority of Pakistanis...This silence endangers the future of our nation, and to the extent the silence empowers extremists, it endangers the future of peace and the civilized world."
Ispahani, Haqqani's wife, told The Washington Examiner, that the Pakistani people have "no other choice but to stand up and speak out against these extremists, it's about the future of Pakistan."
Bhatti was minister for minorities affairs in a nation where extremists have little tolerance for non-Muslims, officials said. Despite threats to his life and the recent assassinations of close friends, he advocated for reforms to his nations blasphemy laws, which carry a death sentence for those convicted.
Bhatti's death was a reminder of the growing insurgency in Pakistan. Dignitaries reminded guests of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's assassination three years ago and the recent killing of Punjab's Gov. Salman Taseer, another critic of abuse of the blasphemy law. He was killed less than two months ago.
U.S. under secretary of state for democracy and global affairs Maria Otero said that the United States shared Bhatti's hopes for a more tolerant nation and sent condolences from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
"We believe that it is imperative to uphold religious freedom, not only in accordance with international law but also as an essential pillar in the foundation for global peace," Otero said.
Ispahani, who worked closely with Bhatti, ended her homage to Bhatti in tears.
"We are fighting today to protect our great nation from bigoted extremists who want to silence every voice that believes in inclusion," she said. "We may not shout but we are strong, and unlike the murderers and the assassins we are on the right side of history and on the right side of the Holy Book. And we are not afraid."
Sara A. Carter is The Washington Examiner's national security correspondent. She can be reached at email@example.com.