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Taseer’s death a grim reminder to those against fundamentalism

Taseer’s death a grim reminder to those against fundamentalism

  • Defence analyst Ikram Sehgal says Taseer’s security personnel should have been vetted more carefully

By Urooj Zia (Pakistan Today; 05 January 2010 — digital and epaper 1 & 2)

KARACHI: Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer had ended 2010 by making a vow on Twitter, a social networking website where his wittiness had garnered him a large following. “I was under huge pressure to cow down before rightist pressure on blasphemy. Refused. Even if I’m the last man standing,” he had said. The last man standing was gunned down four days later in broad daylight by his own security guard, who justified his crime on the basis of Taseer’s ‘liberalism’ and because the governor had referred to the blasphemy laws as ‘kaala qanoon’ (black law).

Aware of the threats to his life, the governor had resolutely refused to back down from his stance. Quoting Faiz Ahmed Faiz, on 22 November 2010 he had said: “Mullah backlash attacking my stance…. Rakhte dil bandh lo, Dil fagaro chalo. Phir hamen qatl ho, aao yaro chalo.” Just hours before his death, his twitter feed read: “Mera azm itna bulund hae Parae sholon se dar nahin. Mujhe dar hae tu atish-e-gul se hae, Ye kahin chaman ko jala na dein.”

Taseer’s assassination has sent shockwaves across the country, particularly amongst circles that are backing the blasphemy law amendments which were tabled by former federal information minister Sherry Rehman. While many have condemned the incident, several others, including known journalists and commentators, have come forward to gloat, referring to the murder as ‘the peoples’’ stance against ‘blasphemy supporters’. Islami Jamiat-e-Tulaba (IJT), the student wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), sent around an SMS: “Gustakh-e-Rasool SAW SalmanTaseer Governor Punjab apne guard ke haathon qatal. Mubarak ho.” (Blasphemer Salman Taseer was killed by his own guard. Congratulations.)

As such, Taseer’s death is a grim reminder of the stakes involved in opposing fundamentalism in Pakistan; civil liberties cannot be taken for granted in a country that is at war with its own self and is fighting multiple battles for survival.

“I think his death is a clear signal to everyone that there will be no alternative views in Pakistan,” said Zebunnisa Burki, a lawyer. “I also think this is a very sad day for the media. I strongly believe that the way the media handled the blasphemy case was unethical to say the very least; and Pakistan’s second favourite punching bag [Taseer] took it in a stride and continued to stand by his opinions. No matter where he stood politically, he always made it clear that he stood against religious extremism of any kind.”

“It is ironic that both sides will have a shaheed, don’t you think,” according to ‘a retired blogger, a human being who just wants peace and quiet and economic prosperity’. “The Pakistan People’s Party will call [Taseer] a shaheed; and the Mullah fundos will call the killed a shaheed if he is hanged. No one wins.”

“When the educated lot in this country don’t realise the ramification of this dastardly incident, there is very little hope,” Abid Hussain, a journalist, told Pakistan Today. “When regard for freedom of opinion, standing up for social justice, is non existent, this is what happens. This calls for a bigger retaliation against the mullah brigade – the right-wingers. We need to stand up for humanity, not for murder in the name of god.”

“This is a great national tragedy. We have lost the scion of a family that always defended liberal and progressive thoughts. He was a staunch liberal and advocate of minority rights,” journalist Malik Siraj Akbar said. “Taseer was a man who wore several successful hats at the same time. He was an entrepreneur-turned-controversial-outspoken politician. He was killed by the same mentality which jeopardises the very integrity of this country. Taseer was a man who endlessly fuelled hope in our minds through his tweets (messages on Twitter). He strived for change everyday, and publicly spoke about ideas that he believed in, lived for and died for. This is, in fact. the greatest loss to this country after Benazir Bhutto’s demise. My heartfelt condolences to friends Sherbano, Amna and Sheryar Taseer.”

Others also expressed concern for the safety of Sherry Rehman. “The powers-that-be used a brainwashed fundamentalist to try and further their anti-democracy agendas,” a Karachi-based blogger said. “But now that the ball has been set rolling, who is going to rein in this madness? Why do they continue to nurture monsters which come back to bite us? Who will protect Sherry Rehman?”

“Seeing as how this was an inside job, Taseer’s security personnel should have been vetted more carefully,” defence analyst Ikram Sehgal told Pakistan Today. “Religious issues are sensitive. Take for example, the assassination of Indira Gandhi, to which this incident is being compared. She was killed by one of her Sikh guards soon after the Golden Temple issue. Taseer had also been very vocal about matters pertaining to religion; and whoever was responsible for his security should have made sure that the people around him were not influenced by these matters in the way the guard who killed him obviously was.”

“Sherry Rehman has also been extremely vocal about the same issues as Taseer,” Sehgal said. “As such, she might be a potential target as well, and should also make sure that her security detail is vetted adequately.”

While many on Twitter will miss Taseer’s principled stance on the way minorities are treated in Pakistan, and his witty takes on the society and polity of the country, Ambassador Hussain Haqqani says that he will particularly miss the governor’s “early morning phone calls starting with ‘Brother…’”. “He had clarity of thought rare in Pakistan politics,” Haqqani said. “Let all of us who oppose obscurantism speak out against fatwas and labels used by extremists in media and politics.”

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