Islamabad: Pakistan Minister of Tourism Nilofar Bakhtiar defied Islamist radicals’ calls for her dismissal for hugging her para-jumping instructor, and said she would not hesitate to jump again for a good cause.
“We don’t need to be intimidated by these people,” Bakhtiar told Reuters.
The chief cleric of Islamabad’s Lal Masjid issued a fatwa calling on the government to sack Bakhtiar last week after a newspaper published a photo of her hugging the instructor following a para-jump in France.
Newspapers said Bakhtiar did the jump from an aircraft to raise funds for survivors of the October 2005 earthquake in Pakistan.
“I have no regrets,” said Bakhtiar. “I would do it again happily if it helps the people of Pakistan.”
Followers of the radicals at Lal Masjid have become increasingly bold in challenging the government’s authority.
There are growing fears of Islamist radicalisation in Pakistan despite President Pervez Musharraf’s vision of the country following a path of “enlightened moderation”.
In February, an Islamist militant shot dead a woman minister of the provincial government in Punjab because he thought women should not be in politics. The gunman has been sentenced to death.
Last Friday, the chief cleric of Lal Masjid, Abdul Aziz, announced the setting up of a Taliban style vigilante Islamic court and vowed suicide-bomb attacks if the authorities tried to crack down on the mosque and its followers.
The mosque compound has taken on the form of a rebel camp, with young men armed with sticks posted at the gates and at look-out points along banner-strewn walls. Two or three men have been seen with guns which the clerics say are properly licensed.