Thursday, January 6, 2011

Taseer's death exposes fissures in Pakistani society

Punjab Governor Salman Taseer was one of Pakistan's best-known political figures, but his death has revealed much more about this country than just its politics.

It has exposed the deep fissure that runs through society here, and some signs of the direction in which this country appears to be heading.

There are still questions as to whether Mumtaz Qadri, the assassin and one of the governor's own bodyguards, acted alone, or with the backing of a radical movement.

But his motive appears clear - he was angered by Salman Taseer's stance against Pakistan's stringent blasphemy laws.

The governor felt they discriminated against Pakistan's religious minorities and was the most prominent supporter of a Christian woman in Punjab who was sentenced to death for insulting the Prophet Muhammad, something she denied doing.

'Feted celebrity'

That made him something of a hate figure among some radical, fundamentalist quarters.

For some of them Qadri, the man accused of killing him, has become a feted celebrity.In the city of Peshawar, a demonstration has been held to celebrate Salman Taseer's murder and there were chants calling for Mumtaz Qadri's release.

"We, all the students, are proud of the job which Mumtaz performed," said one demonstrator. "We all are with him."

"The governor said the blasphemy law was a black law, that's why Mumtaz killed him," says another. "He did a tremendous job."

This is one - admittedly extreme - guise of Pakistan though it has shown itself elsewhere since Mr Taseer's death - on social networking sites, and radio phone-in programmes.

But there are also many Pakistanis who have been profoundly affected by what has happened, and are mourning the loss of a liberal hero.

This evening, at the spot where Mr Taseer was killed in Islamabad, was an altogether different gathering of people from the one in Peshawar, of people with a very different outlook.

For them, Qadri's alleged act was an attempt to rob them of their liberty too.

"It is a very, very shocking incident," said one man at the candlelit vigil in Kohsar Market.
"I would say it's an eye-opener for the mainstream political parties. They should close ranks and deny religious parties the space they have which fuels a lot of radical people like the person who killed Salman Taseer."

"We are small in numbers when we speak against all this extremism that's going on," one lady tells us.

"There are many people who will not come out because they're afraid. My children want to go abroad rather than be suppressed in this manner."

The governor's brutal death could spark debate as to what type of society Pakistanis want for themselves - one which is moderate and progressive, or one which is conservative and hard-line.

But it could also simply have the effect of silencing those, like Mr Taseer, who want to stand up for those they feel are being unfairly persecuted.

In November, when I last met Salman Taseer, he repeatedly voiced his belief that Pakistanis were an inherently liberal, humane people. He insisted they would ultimately reject extremism.

He pointed out that, in elections, religious parties have never done particularly well in Pakistan.

But the manner of Mr Taseer's passing is an indication to many that the radical elements within this society, however small or large they may be in number, are the ones currently forcing the agenda

Taseer Assassination Deepens Divide in Pakistan

The emotional funeral of the assassinated governor of Punjab and the cheering of his killer in court Wednesday highlighted the intensifying struggle between secular and religious forces in Pakistan that has grown nastier than ever in the country’s history.

As the 26-year-old assassin, Malik Mumtaz Qadri, appeared before a magistrate in Islamabad, to be charged with murder and terrorism, he was showered by hundreds of supporters with rose petals and garlands. Moderate religious leaders refused to condemn the assassination, and some hard-line religious leaders appeared obliquely to condone the attack.

Meanwhile, thousands of mourners thronged to the funeral in Lahore of the governor, Salman Taseer, a prominent voice for secularism who had recently become the focus of religious fury for speaking out against the nation’s strict blasphemy laws.

Many of the nation’s top politicians, including Mr. Taseer’s chief rival in Punjab and the leader of the opposition, Nawaz Sharif, did not attend the services. Neither did President Asif Ali Zardari, a friend and ally of Mr. Taseer, but out concern for his own security.

Government ministers and party officials indicated that they were dropping the campaign to change the blasphemy laws that Mr. Taseer had championed. No senior official would be drawn to comment on the religious extremist aspect of the killing at the funeral. Those who did comment, indicated a shift in the government position, by suggesting the killing was a political murder and a conspiracy, rather than a religiously motivated attack.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureishi avoided all comment and merely expressed his condolences to the family when approached by journalists. The Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, went as far as to say he would shoot any blasphemer himself.

“We have a very, very severe polarization in the country,” said journalist and author Ahmed Rashid, an expert on the Taliban and radical Islamism. “We have a small minority of extremists and small number of liberals speaking out, but the very large silent majority are people who are not extremist in any way but are not speaking out.”

Yet as the economic, political and social problems mount and extremism spreads, there is no sign of leadership from the government, he complained.

The Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who did attend the funeral, was described by one national daily newspaper as “rushing from pillar to post” in his frantic efforts to keep his government from collapsing after two coalition partners withdrew from his government last weekend.

Certainly the assassination has thrown the government off balance while the religious right, as the conservative and religious parties are generally described, remains unabashed in its open loathing of Mr. Taseer and his opposition to Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws, for which, apparently, he was killed.

The assassin, Mr. Qadri, hails from Bhara Kahu, a suburb of Islamabad, currently lives with his family in Muslim Town, a neighborhood of Rawalpindi, the military garrison town adjacent to Islamabad.

A follower of Dawat-e-Islami, a religious party based in Karachi, Mr. Qadri had joined the Special Forces branch of the Punjab police in 2002. At that time, he was declared a security risk because of his extreme religious views and sectarian activities during a routine check by his superior, according to a senior Pakistani police official.

In 2008, Mr. Qadri nonetheless managed to join the Elite Force of Punjab police, and had been assigned to guard the governor, raising alarming questions about the vetting and screening of security personnel, former police officials and associates of the former governor said.

At a market in Islamabad on Tuesday, Mr. Qadri pumped more than 20 rounds into Mr. Taseer’s back, Pakistani media reported, and yet was not fired on by any other member of the security detail, raising still more questions about whether any of the others knew of his plans in advance.

Mr. Qadri immediately surrendered, called himself a “slave of the Prophet,” and indicated that he had killed Mr. Taseer for his campaign against the blasphemy law.

He has so far not been linked him to any extremist religious organization, the senior police official said. But investigators were still combing his phone records and personal belongings. They are questioning his five brothers and father. Five other police officers who served with him are also under detention, the official said.

In contrast to the muted response of Mr. Taseer’s mourners, the supporters of Mr. Qadri were boisterous Wednesday. Lawyers who campaigned so vociferously two years ago against the military dictator Pervez Musharraf in the name of the constitution and the rule of law were among those who feted the suspect when he arrived at court Wednesday. Some volunteered to defend him free of charge.

Others voiced support Tuesday on an impromptu Facebook page for Mr. Qadri before it was forcibly shut down.

A former cabinet minister and leading member of the 2007 lawyers’ movement, Athar Minallah, said only a few extremists within the legal community would really support the killing of Mr. Taseer.

“Among the 100,000 lawyers in Pakistan, less than half a percent would go out and throw petals on this criminal, but the rest are hostages because the government is not providing any security, and why should I risk my life and that of my family,” he said. He pointed out that the religious parties have never done well at the polls and that the voting public, when given the chance, do not choose extremism.

Yet blasphemy is such an emotive subject in Pakistan that the day after such a high-profile murder, many seemed to side with the murderer, possibly for fear of being accused themselves.

Maulana Fazalur Rehman, the leader of Jamiat Ulema Islam-Fazal, a Deobandi religious party, which left the federal cabinet last month, seemed to issue a veiled warning to supporters of Mr. Taseer, saying that sympathizing with a blasphemer was just as extreme as blasphemy itself.

More than 500 religious leaders of Jamaat-e-Ahl-e-Sunnat, a leading Barelvi religious party, forbade its followers to either pray or attend the funeral prayers for Mr. Taseer, reported Jang, the country’s leading Urdu newspaper in its Wednesday issue.

“No Muslim should attend the funeral or even try to pray for Salman Taseer or even express any kind of regret or sympathy over the incident,” read a statement attributed to the religious clerics.

In Lahore, Muhammad Ibrahim, 25, a recent graduate who owns his own shop, was typical of ordinary citizens who did not condemn the assassin. “We are Muslims and nobody can compromise on the dignity of the Prophet,” he said. “Salman Taseer crossed the limits,” he said.

Half a dozen policemen interviewed while on duty around the city of Lahore voiced support for the assassin or refused to condemn the murder. “He acted according to his conscience,” one said. “What is done is Allah’s will,” another said. The policemen spoke to a journalist without giving their names.

Still, scores of workers from Mr. Taseer’s Pakistan Peoples Party were not able to gain access to the funeral ground because of the tight security and big crowds. Even the prime minister was unable to reach the coffin to say his goodbyes because of the press of people. The large black coffin, draped with the Pakistani flag, was carried by military helicopter to the nearby graveyard.

Party workers chanted slogans in memory of the party’s founder and amid some emotional grieving blamed the opposition Punjab government for failing to provide adequate security to the governor.

Sajida Amir, a provincial assembly member from Pakistan Peoples Party, the nation’s most secular-leaning, said the party had always made sacrifices for democracy. “The mission will continue and we will continue to speak out on these things,” she said.

Waqar Gillani contributed reporting from Lahore and Salman Masood from Islamabad.

Salmaan Taseer ....Remembering a liberal

More than a hundred people showed up on Wednesday at the Karachi Press Club for a candlelight vigil organised in memory of slain Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer, and to commemorate his stance in favour of the minorities of Pakistan and against the blasphemy laws.

Participants of the vigil comprised citizens from various social strata and represented almost every shade of the religiosity spectrum. All of them, however, stood for a repeal of the blasphemy laws, or at least procedural amendments as suggested by former federal information minister Sherry Rehman. They chanted slogans against the misuse of laws by fanatics (‘Qatil qatil mullah qatil’ – the mullah is a murderer) and called for drastic punishment for those responsible for Taseer’s brutal killing (‘Zaalimo jawaab do, khoon ka hisaab do’).

Despite the grave danger to the lives of those who stand against the blasphemy laws, as evidenced by Salmaan Taseer’s assassination on Tuesday, no security was provided to the protestors in Karachi. Undeterred, they went around the press club, and also circled Zebunnisa Street and Zainab Market in Saddar, much to the horror of shopkeepers who gawped at the protestors chanting slogans against fanatics and fanaticism.

Salmaan Taseer

Salmaan Taseer was a Pakistani businessman and politician who served as the governor of the province of Punjab from 2008 until his assassination in early 2011.

He was a member of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and had also served as a minister in the caretaker cabinet of Prime Minister Muhammad Mian Soomro under Pervez Musharraf. Taseer was also the chairman and CEO of the First Capital and Worldcall Group.

He was appointed to the post of governor on May 15, 2008, in place of outgoing governor, Lt Gen (R) Khalid Maqbool, by then-President Musharraf at the request of the PPP establishment.

On January 4, 2011, Taseer was assassinated in Islamabad by his own security guard, who disagreed with Taseer's opposition to
Taseer started his political career in his student era, as a member of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in the late 1960s. He was a part of the movement for Bhutto's freedom and opposed his arrest and death sentence. He also wrote a political biography on Bhutto titled Bhutto: A political biography (1980).

In the 1988 general elections, Taseer became a member of the Punjab Assembly from Lahore. In the 1990, 1993 and 1997 general elections, he ran as an MNA but lost.

In 2007, he was appointed the interim Federal Minister for Industries, Production and Special Initiatives.

On May 15, 2008, Taseer was designated for the office of Governor of Punjab by the PPP-led coalition government. On January 4, 2011 he was murdered in Islamabad by a guard assigned to him for security by the Punjab Government.
Business career

Taseer set up several chartered accountancy and management consultancy firms early in his career.[8] In 1995, he established the First Capital Securities Corporation (FCSC), a full service brokerage house with equity participation by Smith Barney, Inc., USA, and HG Asia Hong Kong.

Taseer founded the Worldcall group with a payphone network in 1996. The group has grown over the years to become a major private sector telecom operator with a national and regional footprint. A majority stake in Worldcall was acquired by Omantel, the Sultanate of Oman's incumbent operator, in 2008.
Taseer also owned an English news channel in Pakistan, Business Plus, and the first children's channel, Wikkid Plus, and was the publisher of the English language Daily Times.
Personal life

Salmaan Taseer was born into an affluent family of intellectuals.[10] His father, Dr. Muhammad Din Taseer, was a close friend of Allama Iqbal and believed to be the first person from the subcontinent who obtained a PhD in English literature from England.[10] His mother Bilqis Taseer (Christobel) was an Englishwoman[11] who was the sister of writer Alys Faiz, widow of Urdu poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz.[10]

Salman Taseer married Aamna Taseer; the couple resided in Lahore. They have three children; Shahbaz, Shehryar, and Shehrbano. Salman Taseer also has 3 children from a previous marriage: Sara, Shaan, and Sanam.[citation needed]

Taseer also has a son, Aatish Taseer (born 1980), with Indian journalist, Tavleen Singh. Married at the time, Taseer met Singh during a book promotion trip to India in the late 70s. Aatish is a freelance journalist in the UK and has recently written a book titled Stranger to History: A Son’s Journey through Islamic Lands on his estranged relationship with his father.

Taseer was known to be one of the trusted aides of Benazir Bhutto.[4] He was a classmate of Nawaz Sharif at Saint Anthony School, Lahore. He had obtained a degree in Chartered Accountancy from London.

He stood for change in the Constitution declaring Ahmadi community to be non-Muslims to be revoked.[citation needed]

In a recent interview with Meher Bukhair, on Samaa TV,[citation needed] Salman Taseer commented his view about the blasphemy law and filing a mercy petition for Asia Bibi who has been charged death sentence by a court under the Blasphemy Law.

In December 2010 Taseer left the country for several days without handing over charge to the Punjab Assembly Speaker. This meant that the province was without a constitutional head, and it also rendered the assembly speaker ineligible to preside over sessions. Leaving the province without informing his successor was in violation of the constitution and this led to Punjab Assembly Speaker Rana Muhammad Iqbal sending a letter to Prime Minister Gilani calling for the removal of Salmaan Taseer by the President.[15] Evidence provided by ICAO on the governor's travel abroad, led to a case being filed in court for breach of the constitution.

On January 4, 2011, one of Taseer's bodyguards, Malik Mumtaz Qadri, shot him 26 times with a submachine gun at Kohsar Market, in Sector F6, Islamabad as he was returning to his car after meeting a friend for lunch. Kohsar Market is a popular shopping and cafe spot for the city's elite and expatriates. Only eight hours before his assassination, he tweeted an Urdu couplet by Shakeel Badayuni: "My resolve is so strong that I do not fear the flames from without, I fear only the radiance of the flowers, that it might burn my garden down."

After his assassination, protests erupted in different parts of Punjab. Protestors also burned tires and blocked traffic in Lahore.

The next day, thousands turned up for his funeral in Lahore in spite of calls by numerous religious scholars against honouring him. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and many supporters of the ruling PPP were seen attending the funeral prayer (Salat al-Janazah). The funeral prayers were finally led by Allama Afzal Chisti of the Ulema wing of the PPP after even the chief cleric of the historical Badshahi Mosque in Lahore, who initially agreed to offer prayers, backed off at the last moment, saying he was going out of town.[21] He was buried at a military cantonment in Lahore.

The assailant, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri from Punjab, was part of the security detail provided to him by the Elite Police. After the shooting, Qadri threw his weapon down and put his hands up when one of his colleagues aimed at him. He pleaded to be arrested alive when turning himself in to authorities.[23] Qadri reportedly said he killed Taseer due to the latter's vocal opposition of the blasphemy law in Pakistan. Notably, Taseer made headlines when he appealed for the pardon of a Christian Pakistani woman, Asia Bibi, who had been sentenced to death for blasphemy. It was suspected that this was the main reason for his assassination. According to a report in the Dawn newspaper, the assailant was associated with Dawat-e-Islami, a religious organization associated with the Barelvi movement.
Local reactions

* Pakistan Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf expressed grief over the assassination, adding that Taseer was a seasoned politician and his death was not only a loss for the PPP but the entire country. Many members of the country's business community also conveyed their shock after the killing.
* The Chief Minister of Punjab (Pakistan) Mian Shahbaz Sharif condemned the killing saying, "This is really a big loss for the PPP and as we believe friendly politics deeply condemn this murder, praying for Mr. Taseer."
* The Jamaat Ahle Sunnat, an Islamic religious organization representing the Barelvi movement, issued an advisory against mourning his death.[22]
* The Government of Punjab ordered that all institutions and schools would be shut down on the day of Wednesday, January 5, 2011 to memorialise Taseer.

International reactions

* United Nations United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned the assassination calling it a “loss for Pakistan.”

* United States US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton strongly condemned the assassination of Taseer, saying she "admired his work to promote tolerance and the education of Pakistan’s future generations" and that his death "is a great loss."[34]

* Turkey Turkish President Mr. Tayyip Erdogan phoned to President Zardari "[o]ffering his condolences to Zardari and condemning the assassination, the Turkish PM also asked the president to convey his heartfelt condolences to the members of the bereaved family and the people of the country."

Social reactions

A fan page appeared on Facebook soon after the assassination in support of Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, showing news photos of him smiling. The fan page soon gathered thousands of supporters.[36] Many prominent Pakistani bloggers started a campaign to have these fan pages blocked on Facebook as soon as the pages appeared on the social networking website.[37] Several people also came out to denounce the gunman creating a page named "I Hate Malik Mumtaz Qadri" but in contrast the page only managed to get a few fans with no comments or discussions. Outrage against the gunman was prevalent on Twitter, with many journalists and media personalities expressing sadness over the passing of Taseer and the growing Islamisation and moral collapse of the country.

In the international media, his death was seen as more destabilising for the tenuous situation in the country, particularly in the light of resignation of members of the ruling coalition. One local analyst said the death was a "major setback for Pakistan, which is trying to get out of this vicious cycle of violence and worsening economy. [The killing] will certainly weaken the party position in Punjab." It was suggested that the killing was indicative of a "deeper trend" of "religious intolerance" afflicting Pakistan.

Taseer's assassination may dissuade other Pakistani politicians from speaking out against the blasphemy law, according to a former U.S. State Department intelligence analyst with the Middle East Institute in Washington, DC.

PML-N may be involved in Salman Taseer killing

Leaders of the ruling Pakistan People's Party have held the government of Punjab province responsible for Governor Salmaan Taseer's assassination and alleged that some elements in the opposition PML-N might have been behind the crime.

PPP leaders in Punjab were not convinced with Taseer's killer's confession that the assassination was an "act of faith." Some of them believe the murder was part of a plot to pit the PPP against religious forces.

Taseer was gunned down in Islamabad on Tuesday by police guard Malik Qadri, who said he was angered by the governor's criticism of the blasphemy law.

Investigators are trying to determine whether Qadri acted on his own or others were involved in the killing.

The PPP is refusing to accept that Taseer was killed on religious grounds and party spokesperson Fauzia Wahab said there were "political motives" behind the murder.

The killing appeared to be an "organised act" and the Punjab administration was "equally responsible" for the crime, she said. The Punjab government should explain why a policeman whom senior officers had declared unfit for guarding VIPs was included in the Governor`s security detail, Wahab said.

Qadri decided to kill the governor three days before Taseer visited Islamabad, when nobody was aware of the trip as it had been kept secret for security reasons, she added.

"The question arises as to how Qadri got information about the visit. Why did other personnel in the security squad not act when Qadri fired at Taseer?" she asked.

The PML-N, which rules Punjab, could not be absolved of the murder and there is a need to find out whether some of party's elements were behind the act, Wahab said. Despite threats to the governor, PML-N leader and provincial law minister Rana Sanaullah had refused to provide him a bulletproof vehicle, she said.

Federal law minister Babar Awan, a close aide of PPP chief and President Asif Ali Zardari, too described the assassination as a political murder and told a meeting of party lawmakers that the way the governor was eliminated raised many questions.

"Mr Taseer was made to leave his home for assassins,” he said, adding "some forces" were involved in such acts to weaken the country.

The meeting of lawmakers adopted a resolution demanding that the Punjab government should "unearth the conspiracy behind the murder."

They rejected a perception that religion had anything to do with the crime. Contending that the governor was in the custody of his police guards, law minister Awan even described the assassination as a "custodial killing with criminal negligence and political motives."

Lahore shuts down as Pakistan mourns assassinated governor

Taseer’s assassination

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly on Wednesday unanimously expressed shock and sorrow over the assassination of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and expressed sympathy with members of the bereaved family.

The resolution also prayed for the safety of Pakistan. Saqibullah Khan Chamkani of the Awami National Party (ANP) moved the jointly drafted resolution for which Acting Speaker Khushdil Khan relaxed the rules with the consent of the House.

The resolution carrying signatures of both the senior ministers Rahimdad Khan of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Bashir Ahmad Bilour of ANP, Saqibullah Chamkani, Adviser to Chief Minister Mukhtiar Khan, Minister for Housing Amjad Afridi, PPP parliamentary leader Abdul Akbar Khan, minority MPA Asif Bhatti and Atifur Rehman Khalil of the ANP prayed to Allah to give courage to the family of the Punjab governor to bear the irreparable loss.

Earlier, Rahimdad Khan condemned the assassination and reiterated his party’s commitment to continuing struggle against those bent on pushing the country back. He said such killings would not stop them from their mission for which the people had voted them to power. He recalled that their leaders and workers had been martyred in the past but they could neither be pressured nor deterred from their mission.

Bashir Bilour condemned Taseer’s assassination, saying they had been following the policy of non-violence and were of the view that no problem could be solved with bullet. Terming Taseer a great politician, he said all Pakhtuns were equally shocked like his family. He said the terrorists had taken lives of 450 of his party leaders and workers but it could not stop them from their mission. He said his party condemned extremism.

“We should not take any action that hurts the feeling of others. We condemn the killing of human beings and stand by those struggling for the rule of law, independence of judiciary and media and people’s rights,” he stressed.

Bilour said the country could not make progress by keeping itself aloof from the rest of the world. The world, he said, would neither give them aid nor hold negotiations with them if the prevailing wave of extremism continued. He said the country could not afford midterm elections in these circumstances. He suggested that the government should be allowed to complete its five-year term. He said when the situation was good, everyone was supporting the government but some of the allies left it when it was facing a difficult situation.

“After the resignation of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) and Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) from the federal government, some people asked us as to when the ANP would quit the government. We are Pakhtuns and will stand by the PPP-led government,” he said, adding that the political parties should not derail the democratic system.

Minister for Elementary Education Sardar Hussain Babak termed Taseer’s assassination a tragedy and said it had given the world a very wrong message. “It is unfortunate that on the one hand the governor was shot dead while on the other religious fanatics distributed sweets. The extremists are using the name of religion to create disturbance in the country,” he said, adding that the ANP had rendered great sacrifices in the past and would do so in future till the elimination of terrorism and establishment of peace.

JUI-F lawmaker Mufti Janan condemned Taseer’s assassination and warned that such incidents would endanger the solidarity of the country. He also asked the lawmakers not to give religious touch to each and every incident. He said the killer was not from any seminary or mosque but had studied at a government school and later got a job in the police. He condemned those distribution sweets to celebrate the assassination and said such people wanted to defame Islam.

Saqibullah Chamkani of the ANP supported Mufti Janan, saying some people wanted to defame Islam by using the name of the religion.

Salmaan Taseer: assassinated on a perilous path

By: Dr Mohammad Taqi
Daily Times
Salmaan Taseer dedicated his personal fortune to the cause of publishing the unvarnished truth and the people’s right to know this truth. It would not have been possible for this paper’s editorial board to carry itself independently were it not for Salmaan Taseer’s personal commitment to not only this project but to the very freedoms of speech and expression

“The sorrowful smell of the mist,

Lingering over the Indus,

Gentle waves of rice, dung and rind,

This is the salt cry of Sindh,

As I die let me feel,

The fragrance of tears” — Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai.

“It was a Sindhi poet, Shah Abdul Latif, who captured the forlornness of his country in this haunting verse,” wrote Salmaan Taseer in the opening chapter of his 1979 book, Bhutto: A Political Biography. I have read these words many times but had never once thought that the forlornness might get deeper than the deepest depression one could feel. But the assassination of Salmaan Taseer has left many of us even more devastated and depressed than what Shah Latif could depict.

I do not mourn Salmaan Taseer alone but I also mourn those who have been killed before him on the perilous path of speaking their mind, and those who will be killed in the future on this journey. Ayesha Siddiqa, Kamran Shafi, Nadeem Farooq Paracha, Pervez Hoodbhoy, Sherry Rehman and so many others are living on borrowed time. It is not a matter of if but when an indoctrinated bigot let loose by the deep state will get to them or, for that matter, any of us who decline to follow the rotten creed that it has been peddling for decades.

However, I have a feeling that Salmaan Taseer would not have wanted to be remembered with melancholy. His illustrious father, Dr M D Taseer, once said:

“Parwana jal kay dil ki muradon ko pa gaya

Aur shama reh gayi rukh-e-zeba liay huay” (Translation: The light-loving moth has died caressing the candle flame. The candle thus remains alone in all its elegance).

It is nearly impossible to accurately translate the above Urdu verse, which my father, Malik Rahat Ali, had quoted while writing Dr M D Taseer’s obituary for Edward’s College, Peshawar’s magazine Tajjali (light) in 1951. The obituary was titled ‘Aik raushan dimagh tha, na raha’ (an enlightened mind is no more). It is amazing how references to light and progressive thought keep popping up when discussing the Taseers and in the work of the Taseers themselves. Pakistan, and the liberal thought within Pakistan, is the candle that Salmaan and M D Taseer loved to the extent that to see it remain alight, they would dedicate their lives to it.

When thinking of Salmaan Taseer, two images come to mind. One is of a political activist and the second is of a patron of progressive and liberal thought. Perhaps senior members of the Indo-Pakistani leftist movement will recall that Dr M D Taseer, along with Abdullah Malik and Rajindra Singh Bedi had pioneered a liberal publishing house called Sangham Publishers in 1947, before the partition. I would not be wrong in assuming that the Daily Times and its media affiliates came into being due to Salmaan Taseer’s desire to follow in his father’s footsteps.

In his patronage of liberal publications, Salmaan Taseer’s image merges with that of the greats like the late Mian Iftikharuddin and Mazhar Ali Khan, the latter having been a beneficiary of the radical study circles conducted by Salmaan Taseer’s father. Many criticised Salmaan Taseer for his opulent lifestyle but, like Mian Iftikharuddin and his Progressive Papers Limited, Salmaan Taseer dedicated his personal fortune to the cause of publishing the unvarnished truth and the people’s right to know this truth. It would not have been possible for this paper’s editorial board to carry itself independently were it not for Salmaan Taseer’s personal commitment to not only this project but to the very freedoms of speech and expression.

Indeed, Salmaan Taseer was one of the very few people who had mustered the courage to criticise Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) during the latter’s heyday. In the aforementioned biography of ZAB, Salmaan Taseer wrote, “During his first years of power I found myself, like many of my countrymen and many foreigners, torn between breathless admiration and violent antipathy for the man.” It is pertinent to note that he had started interviewing ZAB in 1976 for the book and by then was a known critic of several of ZAB’s policies. But on the whole he remained in love with the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and remained involved with organising the agitation against the Islamo-fascism of General Ziaul Haq.

In the mid-1980s, he also made his mark as an op-ed columnist writing in the Urdu daily Jang, after the junta had muzzled the PPP-affiliated papers Musawat and Amn. After the 1988 elections, he became the deputy opposition leader in the Punjab Assembly and, along with the opposition leader Rana Shaukat Mahmood and many others, faced imprisonment and torture at the hands of the then Punjab government. It was this activist-intellectual image of Salmaan Taseer that inspired not only the workers of his own party but many in the Movement for the Restoration for Democracy (MRD) as well. Not only that but it encouraged many of us to disagree with his politics in the second phase of his political career the way he did not agree with ZAB.

However, people like Salmaan Taseer never consider disagreements to be incompatible with democracy. The only thing incompatible with the democratic process is a fanatical belief in one’s moral and religious certitude. What makes such certitude more ominous is its deployment by the forces, which try to trip democracy at every step. Some are drawing parallels between the assassinations of ZAB and Salmaan Taseer. But to me, Salmaan Taseer’s murder is a déjà vu reminder of Murtaza Bhutto’s killing. Despite the current federal government turning into a minority regime it would have plodded along for a while, so those who have derailed every democratic government in Pakistan opted to expedite things.

A lone assassin killing the governor of the largest province is a theory that most will not buy and I suspect that we will never know the truth. But one thing is clear: a seasoned politician, a courageous fighter and a distinguished leader of the PPP died for a principled cause. He may have said in the words of his uncle, Faiz Ahmed Faiz:

“Karo kaj jabeen pe sar-e-kafan, meray qatilon ko guman na ho

Keh ghuroor-e-ishq ka bankpan pas-e-marg hum ne bhula diya” (Translation by Sarvat Rahman: Let the shroud be jaunty on my brow, so my assassins never doubt, That the grace, which pride in love gave us, even in death was not betrayed).

The courage of Taseer

EDITORIAL: Daily Times

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. *

First meeting with Salmaan Taseer

Daily Times
By Iqbal Khattak

At a pre-launch meeting in Lahore in early 2002, the founding editor-in-chief of Daily Times, Najam Sethi, introduced Salmaan Taseer – now no longer among us after he was assassinated in Islamabad on Tuesday – who did not speak much and mostly listened to other participants of the meeting.

His wife, Aamna Taseer, flanked him. She was also totally silent, but occasionally smiled when something jolly was said during the meeting.

As he used to do, the late Taseer smiled every time he spoke. But what came as striking was his different nature from other newspaper employers. He did not give any policy statement except that Daily Times should introduce the ‘real Pakistan’ to the world.

It was Najam Sethi who mostly spoke and the participants shared their views to make the launch a success and have the new newspaper counted among the country’s already established English-language dailies.

I could not talk to the late Taseer directly as the meeting was not yet over when he left with his wife. His departure followed by detailed discussion to make elaborate arrangements for the launch on April 9, 2002. However, his down-to-earth personality impressed all those who met him for the first time that day.

It took years to meet him for the second time, when he was visiting Peshawar in connection with his WorldCall business promotion trip before becoming the Punjab governor in 2008. He extended invitation to all media offices except Daily Times.

A reporter was assigned the task to cover the event. However, when he told me that Salmaan Taseer was himself present on the occasion, I felt it necessary to see him personally.

He was coming out of the main lobby of a five-star hotel in the city when the introduction was made. I asked him why had he not informed Daily Times bureau while letting others know. He responded: “I have no role in the editorial policy of the newspaper. Inviting you might have been seen as interference in editorial policy of the newspaper. I leave it to you to think if this event merits coverage or not.”

There are not many media organisations where the employer does not interfere with the editorial policy. In some cases, they act like editor. For a professional journalist it is next to impossible to work under a non-professional editor. The late Taseer did not have a journalistic background, that’s why he stayed away from professional work of a professional editor.

And that’s what contributed to making Daily Times a reputed national newspaper in a short span of time.

His assassination also brought fears among DT well-wishers raising questions about the future of the newspaper. I received many emails from several parts of the world asking what future holds for the newspaper. The family has decided to keep the newspaper running.

The assassination has brought the blasphemy law under spotlight once again. This law has also haunted journalists and press freedom organisations have considered it an “attack” on the freedom of expression in the country. The Frontier Post colleagues having been booked under the law after a blasphemous letter was published in the newspaper would never forget those moments of “uncertainty”.

“These were terrible moments after police booked us under the blasphemy law,” said some of those arrested on blasphemy charges. Only one of them was handed down life imprisonment. However, he had won his appeal at the Peshawar High Court against his conviction.

Former prime minister Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain pleaded on Wednesday for “a new law” to stop “misuse” of the present blasphemy law. It seems a Herculean task given the level of intolerance and radicalisation of Pakistani society since early 80s.