Thursday, January 6, 2011


This time, everyone knows the whereabouts of the governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer. He is neither in Sukkar nor in Sri Lanka but surely in Heaven’s! The assassination of blunt governor of Punjab has no doubt broadened the chasm between radical forces and the enlightened moderates. Blasphemy Laws being the foremost issue of killing is sensitive and susceptible, perhaps that’s why ‘the number of lovers’ of assassin and assassinated is being equally divided into two. It is hard to chose who is ‘The Real Hero’ and it would take a long time before this Nation would decide the course of action was justifiable or otherwise!

There are no words to describe the shock and horror of the assassination of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer. This is yet another high profile murder of a political figure from Pakistan’s People’s Party (PPP) after Benazir Bhutto. The governor could not survive 27 bullet injuries, which were inflicted when one of the guards of his security detail opened fire at him as he came back to his car after having lunch with a friend at a restaurant in Kohsar Market in Islamabad. The autopsy has revealed that his death was caused by a bullet wound in his neck. Interior Minister Rehman Malik has told reporters that the assassin, Punjab Elite Force member Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, confessed to killing Taseer for criticising the blasphemy laws. The governor held an open stance against the blasphemy laws promulgated by General Ziaul Haq and had called for their repeal, or at the very least their amendment to guard against the misuse and abuse of many years since the law was promulgated by a dictator and then made more stringent by successor governments of the right. However, it would be premature to say that this indeed was the motive behind the assassin’s act. This explanation sounds too pat. If history is any guide, such minor operatives act as tools in the hands of their cloaked masterminds and are usually killed after the deed is done. The strange circumstance is that the assassin was able to unload his gun into the victim without being fired back on or even accosted by the rest of the governor’s security detail. So far, the assassin and the entire security detail are in policy custody and being investigated. Only time will tell whether this was an individual act or someone orchestrated it to create political instability in the country at a time when the federal government is already teetering after losing its majority in parliament with the departure of coalition allies JUI-F and MQM.

If indeed it was an individual act and done to avenge the governor’s opposition to the blasphemy laws, then this murder is a grim commentary on the state of affairs in Pakistan. If the religious extremists who consider themselves the guardians of the Prophet’s (PBUH) honour can go so far as to take the life of someone who opposed man-made laws, then society is heading for anarchy and barbarism. This means that there is no space for a rational discourse and even a person of such high profile as the Governor Punjab cannot escape their wrath. It also speaks of the weakness in the security regime of the Punjab government.

The Punjab government is responsible for the provision of security to all VIPs in the province. It is strange that a person with such extremist inclinations as Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri was deployed in the governor’s security detail. The Punjab government cannot absolve itself of part of the blame for this murder. Its call for a judicial inquiry has yet to be responded to by the federal government, which has so far set up an inter-agency investigation team to look into all aspects of the assassination, including whether the assassin acted alone or a deeper conspiracy was at work.

Salmaan Taseer was an entirely self-made person and created a career as a businessman and politician by dint of sheer hard work, courage in the face of adversity, and a fearless stance even when threatened by malign forces. He was a highly qualified chartered accountant, having obtained his qualification from England, and initially made a business fortune in the Gulf. He relocated to Pakistan and established the First Capital Securities Corporation, a full service brokerage house in 1994, and next year founded WorldCall Telecom Limited in 1995. The company has since become a major private sector telecom operator and expanded its network to the Gulf region. However, business was not his only interest. Politically motivated since his student years in London, Taseer participated in politics from the PPP’s platform and experienced the tribulations of the martial law of Ziaul Haq during the Movement for Restoration of Democracy in 1983, including a spell of incarceration and torture in the infamous Lahore Fort. He also authored a biography of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1980 titled, Bhutto, A Political Biography. In 1988, he was elected a member of the Punjab Assembly, eventually taking over the slot of the Leader of the Opposition. Due to his trenchant criticism of the PML-N government in Punjab, he was rounded up and tortured by the security forces on the directives of the Sharifs. His later attempts to enter the National Assembly in successive elections during the 1990s did not succeed. He, however, continued to exercise considerable clout within the party. After developing his successful businesses, Salmaan Taseer ventured into the world of the media, a project close to his heart. He launched the Daily Times newspaper and television channel Business Plus (now renamed B-Plus). This was followed subsequently by the launch of a liberal Urdu daily, Aaj Kal. He was appointed Governor Punjab on May 15, 2008, much to the chagrin of the PML-N. He had since gained prominence in the political arena and served as the strongman of the PPP in Punjab and therefore a thorn in the side of the PML-N.

His murder has been strongly condemned by leaders across the political spectrum. The PPP workers have reacted by staging a demonstration in front of the Governor’s House in Lahore and various locations in most major cities. Markets in Lahore, Faisalabad and other parts of the country closed as soon as the news of the assassination spread. The prime minister has announced a three-day mourning, the PPP two weeks of mourning, while the Punjab government has decided to close all educational institutions in Punjab today, partly as a mark of respect, partly out of security concerns. The nation suffered a great loss in this assassination. A liberal and progressive voice in a political scene infested by rightwing politics has been silenced. Now justice and the very well being and future of the country demands that the culprit/s be punished to the full extent of the law as a deterrent to such fanatics who seem to be teeming in the very entrails of our state and society.

Pakistan was still reeling from the shock of Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer’s assassination when his murderer, Mumtaz Qadri, revealed that he had informed his colleagues about the murder plot. Qadri said that he had asked them to let him finish his ‘job’ and then arrest him alive. An FIR against Qadri was lodged by the governor’s son, Mr Shehryar Taseer, wherein it was stated that some political and religious groups were giving threats to the governor and should be held responsible for his murder. A one day remand of Qadri has been granted. There are speculations that more than one magazine of bullets were fired on Governor Taseer. The post-mortem report is not being made public for the time being due to investigative concerns. It seems that the security staff was complicit in Mr Taseer’s murder, which is why there was no response from any one of them. The implications of such a huge security lapse are grave. How could no one possibly find out about Qadri’s plan to assassinate a sitting governor is something hard to digest. The security for a VVIP has to be vetted first by the authorities. If a lunatic like Qadri was allowed to ‘guard’ Governor Taseer, there must be deeper reasons behind it. Qadri might have been a lone assassin but the investigation must find out who masterminded this plan. We of course have no dearth of religious zealots. There are reports that some other liberal, enlightened people are next on the hit-list of these bigots. This means that there is a wider conspiracy afoot and unless Qadri is meted out the punishment that is due under the law, and that too quickly, this murderous trend of issuing senseless edicts and subsequent assassinations would continue. A deterrent message is necessary to curb further threats to the lives of liberal Muslims in our narrow-minded society.

Punjab Governor Taseer had been condemned by the right-wingers since the day he met a Christian woman charged with alleged blasphemy, Aasia Bibi, in jail. Aasia Bibi had been given the death penalty by a lower court. Mr Taseer wanted President Zardari to grant her a pardon on humanitarian grounds. He also asked for the Blasphemy Law to be amended or repealed. The mullahs bayed for his blood after that and issued fatwas against him, declaring him wajib-ul-qatl (worthy of murder). Governor Taseer argued that the law was misused and not only affected the minorities but many Muslims too were implicated on false charges under this flawed law. Religious scholars like Ghamdi are of the view that the blasphemy law is a man-made law and can be amended. Death threats did not deter Governor Taseer, who vowed to fight bigotry even if, as he put it himself, he were “the last man standing”. Even in death, the mullah brigade did not leave Mr Taseer alone. The Jamaate Ahle Sunnat Pakistan (JASP) not only praised Mr Taseer’s murderer but also issued a statement that said, “No Muslim should attend the funeral or even try to pray for Salmaan Taseer or even express any kind of regret or sympathy over the incident.” If this is not uncivilised behaviour, then what is? Islam does not condone murdering innocent people and to use the religion card in this derogatory way as JASP has done is not just disgusting but completely contradictory to the teachings of our Prophet (PBUH).

Some sections of the media too were complicit in inciting hate against Governor Taseer. They virtually asked for some sort of reprisal against him, which is the height of irresponsibility. Even after Mr Taseer’s death, some television channels and print media tried to justify his assassination. Governor Salmaan Taseer’s was a voice of reason and sanity. When our media and right-wing parties stoop to such levels and most people just sit idly and watch silently, it points to our collective failure as a society. Mr Taseer was a man of valour and great courage. He stood up for the rights of the oppressed when no one else would. We should not dishonour his sacrifice. We must all condemn the killer and the barbarians who are out to mute the liberal, progressive voices of Pakistan.

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