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Archbishop of Canterbury meets President Asif Zardari

Saturday 19th September 2009

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams met yesterday with the President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, HE Asif Ali Zardari. The Archbishop was accompanied by the Rt Revd Michael Nazir Ali.

In a constructive discussion they agreed on the fundamental importance of mutual respect between religions and the responsibility of governments to ensure the safety of all citizens and especially of vulnerable groups.

The Archbishop spoke of his deep concern for Christians in Pakistan, particularly in the light of the serious Gojra incident and other such incidents in recent years.

Dr Williams commended the Government of Pakistan for its condemnation of the incident and for its provision of compensation for the families of those affected. He urged exemplary action against the perpetrators of the crime against humanity.

The Archbishop spoke of his sadness at the violence which had claimed the lives of so many Pakistani citizens and offered his deep condolences at the murder of Benazir Bhutto, the President's wife. He said: "I pray that her death will not be in vain and that Pakistan will emerge from the present troubles to take its place as an example of a nation in which all are safe and respected".

In a discussion on the legislation relating to blasphemy, the Archbishop spoke of the ways in which abuse of the law and the criminal action against innocent people at Gojra was a serious problem for Christians and also for other Pakistani citizens. He called for reform and amendment of the legislation as a matter of great importance and hoped it would receive the urgent attention of the democratically elected Government.

The President expressed awareness of the perception about Blasphemy law being exploited. The Government was conscious of the need to urgently address the issue in consultation with other political parties, civil society and religious communities in Pakistan with a view to preventing the misuse of the Blasphemy law in future. He confirmed that the Government was endeavouring to seek a broad political consensus on the issue through consultation.

The President highlighted that the Government has allocated a quota for the minorities in the Government service, Senate, National and Provincial Assembly and appointed a Christian as Minister for Minorities to ensure appropriate representative of minorities.

Bishop Michael Nazir Ali commended these measures and also the unprecedented recent appointment of a Minority Member as High Court Judge.

Dr Williams proposed that there should be further discussions about ways in which the Christian and Muslim communities in the United Kingdom and in Pakistan could engage with each other's experience and commended the work of the Christian Muslim Forum. The Foreign Minister Mr. Qureshi spoke warmly of such initiatives.

The Archbishop also recommended  a visit to Pakistan of a senior delegation of his representatives. The President welcomed this and also extended an invitation for the Archbishop himself to visit Pakistan.

The Archbishop drew to the attention of the President the Office of the Anglican Observer to the United Nations in New York.

The Archbishop appreciated the opportunity for the meeting and expressed his prayers for the people of Pakistan especially at this time of Ramadan and the coming celebration of Eid ul Fitr.

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