WASHINGTON, Feb 4: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met federal Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti in a show of support for religious freedom as tensions mount in the country.

Mr Bhatti said he spoke to Mrs Clinton on Thursday and explained his initiative to set up local committees around Pakistan to promote inter-faith harmony.

“She was very supportive of religious freedom,” Mr Bhatti said.“She said religious freedom was one of the important areas on which US foreign policy is based and they will continue to pursue this issue in their dialogues, not only with Pakistan but around the globe,” he said.

Mr Bhatti has campaigned to reform blasphemy law, which critics say has been abused to persecute religious minorities. He has sought clemency for a Christian mother of five sentenced to death under the law.

The minister said he had been receiving death threats ‘day and night’ and that his family was also at risk.

“I am ready to lay down my life for the principles I believe in. Terrorists and threats cannot hinder my cause to stand for justice and equality and religious freedom,” he said.

Mr Bhatti is working on a project to form local committees that would promote inter-faith harmony and sort out disputes.

“This is the way to win the hearts and minds of the people,” he said.

President Barack Obama’s administration has made the campaign against extremism in Pakistan a top priority. In 2009, the United States devoted $7.5 billion to build school, infrastructure and democratic institutions.—AFP

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