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Rushdie honour breaks UN code, says Pakistan

25 June, 2007

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LONDON: Pakistan has told Britain that blasphemer Salman Rushdie's knighthood breaches a United Nations resolution aimed at calming tensions between different religions. The Observer has learnt.

The highly unusual warning was made during a meeting with the British High Commissioner in Pakistan and reveals the extent to which senior Pakistani politicians fear the award will damage relations between the countries.

Although both nations have pledged to work together to fight al-Qaeda, the Rushdie affair has exposed a deep schism. On Friday, protests against the award broke out at mosques in Britain.

The level of unrest which has arisen in the Islamic world over the award was predicted by the Pakistan authorities. Last Tuesday, Tariq Osman Hyder, a senior Pakistani diplomat, told the British High Commissioner in Pakistan, Robert Brinkley, that giving a knighthood to the author of The Satanic Verses would inflame tensions.

A well-placed source told The Observer that Brinkley was informed that Britain had acted against the spirit of UN resolution 1624. The resolution calls on all member states to 'enhance dialogue and broaden understanding' as a means to preventing 'the indiscriminate targeting of religions and cultures'.

Sources say that Hyder told Brinkley the award was 'not expected from Britain, a country that has a large Muslim population'. But the British government has been quick to defend the author's right to freedom of expression. Last week, the Home Secretary, John Reid, defended the award and said Britain had no intention of apologizing for it.

Privately, Foreign Office officials describe the fallout from the Rushdie affair as 'regrettable'. Tensions were further inflamed after Pakistan's Minister for Religious Affairs, Mohammed Ijaz ul-Haq, was reported as saying of Rushdie that 'if someone exploded a bomb on his body he would be right to do so unless the British government apologizes and withdraws the "sir" title'.

He said later he did not mean attacks would be justified but merely that militants could use the knighthood as a justification.

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