The tragic assassination of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer has "underscored the imperative need for Pakistani society to marginalise and eliminate extremist tendencies," Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said on Thursday.
Gilani made the remarks during an interaction with envoys of Western countries. Taseer was gunned down in Islamabad on January 4 by a police guard who confessed he was angered by the Governor's opposition to the country's blasphemy law.
"It is true that some fringe groups had tried to make political capital from the debate about the blasphemy laws. The real issue is the misuse of the law, for that matter any law by any one," Gilani told the envoys.
"We cannot allow such aberrations to happen. The tragic assassination of Governor Salman Taseer has underscored the imperative need for Pakistani society to marginalise and eliminate extremist tendencies," he added.
Gilani also said that Pakistan wants to cultivate good relations with its neighbours and is "aggressively pursuing the policy of friendship with Afghanistan, Iran, India and China".
He regretted that "whenever we make some headway in ties with India, the Mumbai incident is used to stall the progress". Gilani's comments on extremism in his country came a day after US Vice President Joe Biden said during a visit to Islamabad that societies which tolerate developments like Taseer's assassination "end up being consumed by those actions".
Biden also said Taseer was killed "simply because he was a voice for tolerance". Taseer, a leader of the ruling Pakistan People's Party and a confidant of President Asif Ali Zardari, earned the ire of religious hardliners after he vigorously defended a Christian woman sentenced to death last year for allegedly insulting Prophet Mohammed.
The envoys "observed that the goodwill and sympathy generated for Pakistan after the floods has been lost because of the... killing of the Punjab Governor and images beamed by the media," said a statement issued by the premier's office.
The envoys said "pictures aired by the Pakistani media in support of the criminal who assassinated Salmaan Taseer painted a negative image of Pakistani society".
"Pictures of extremists showering petals of flowers generate Islamophobia in societies which are ignorant of Islamic teachings," he said. They pointed out that those who believe Islam is a peaceful and progressive religion should speak out at all forums.
Gilani responded to concerns expressed by Western countries by saying that "concerns shown regarding the rights of minorities and rising tendencies in Pakistan have been exaggerated and (were) not entirely in consonance with Pakistan's overall national ethos".
Islam is a religion of peace that preaches tolerance, he said. He also said the Pakistani people's resilience has helped his government overcome multiple challenges and the country is "moving fast on the recovery track".
He urged Pakistan's allies to fulfill their pledges for aid as any delay in development work "provides room to the extremists to project their negative agenda".
Pakistan's economic woes are mainly the result of terrorism and an international recession, last year's devastating floods and the presence of 3.5 million Afghan refugees had aggravated socio-economic problems, he said.
When the PPP-led government came to power, the foremost challenges it faced was the revival of democratic culture and restoring state institutions and a system disrupted under by erstwhile authoritarian rule.
The government addressed this by amending the constitution and also introduced reforms in the economic and energy sectors, he said. Gilani said the challenges of terrorism and economic difficulties are inter-related and inter-linked and Pakistan has a firm resolve to fight terrorism.
Speaking on the political situation, Gilani said his government is taking all "political parties on board in resolving national issues, including the economic reforms process". Referring to corruption, he said the government is doing a tightrope walk as it balances development activities and checks corruption simultaneously.
The government is also consulting the opposition to frame anti-corruption laws, he said. Free, fair and transparent elections could help eliminate corrupt individuals, he added.
The envoys said "economic reforms are crucial for Pakistan itself, otherwise it could miss the millennium development goals and would be left behind".
They said it would be "difficult for developed states to have meaningful relations with Pakistan" without economic stability.