Salmaan Taseer's Assassination - Moderate Pakistan Has Been Warned

In a country where thousands die every year due to drone attacks, from suicide bombs and malnutrition of the mind – in a country where religion has now become a booming business; the horrific murder in broad daylight of one of the moderate voices has shaken the rest of the moderates of Pakistan to the core. The punishment for the right to use the freedom of speech in a country which was formed on the basis of freedom, of rights to all regardless of minority or majority – the very thought that something wrong needs to change – is wrong. When an idea, to change – an idea to bring betterment for the general public gets you killed, you have to know the hope is fast receding.

I am not pure; I am not vile
I am no Moses; I am no Pharaoh
Bulleya , who am I?


-    Bulleh Shah


If someone had asked me yesterday whether I was hopeful for the future of my country, Pakistan, I would with a lot of surety, have said, yes – yes I am. I would have said, we are fighting a war that wasn’t ours to begin with, and that we are trying, in our own way, to fight from all sides. Now I’m not sure.

The assassination of Governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, yesterday brings forth a thoroughly divided Pakistan. On one hand you have the radicalized hardliners – those that cite religious scripture and point blank decide the future of the others while they cite religious reasons. On the other hand you have the liberals who in their own way are trying to infuse some sort of semblance into the life of common man.

Salmaan Taseer was gunned down by his guard yesterday in the busy and posh area of Islamabad’s Kohsar. He was travelling in his own car with security provided by the Elite Force as per his designation. It was, ironic, that one of these commando-trained security personnel would end up shooting him from throat to stomach and then surrender to the other two guards. That, why someone who was previously deemed a high-risk was put on as security detail for one of the most moderate voices of Pakistan, is another story altogether.

In the recent past though, Salmaan Taseer made headlines for a slightly different reason – his opposition of death penalty for the accused blasphemer, Asia Bibi. Asia Bibi’s case was different because for the first time since Zia-ul-Haq’s brutal Islamization of the country – there was a woman who was on death row for allegedly blaspheming against The Prophet Mohammad.

While the Blasphemy law has been gravely and unjustly used since its inception, it is also quite common. Members of extremist religious parties, sometimes even regular public use the law for their own personal gain which usually ends with the accused in jail, generally without any evidence. For the fear of mass religious backlash, no one has dared to stand up against the law – until Salmaan Taseer. To say that Taseer wanted to undo the law would probably be stretching it too far; he only wanted Presidential Pardon for Asia Bibi who was, according to news reports, wrongly accused on trumped up charges of blasphemy. That, at the end, was what led to the murder of Salmaan Taseer.

Taseer was also one of the first few politicians of Pakistan who took to ‘talking’ with the public through micro-blogging site; Twitter. His regularly communicated with those who asked him questions and would mostly post amusing tweets. When the whole WikiLeaks situation came to light late last year, Taseer tweeted:

I’m ok wth my effigy being burnt and Fatwas against me but i’m really angry that I’m not mentioned anywhere in Wikileaks!

A bit before Christmas he pointed to one of the top leaders of the hardliner Islamic party, JUI, Maulana FazulurRahman, and tweeted:

The best thing we can do for our soft image this Xmas is to dress up Maulana Fazal ur Rahman as Santa Claus. He will be a big hit

But perhaps what is now almost a prophetic statement regarding the blasphemy law,  Salmaan Taseer tweeted on the eve of the New Year

I was under huge pressure sure 2 cow down b4 rightest pressure on blasphemy. Refused. Even if I'm the last man standing

 


In a country where thousands die every year due to drone attacks, from suicide bombs and malnutrition of the mind – in a country where religion has now become a booming business; the horrific murder in broad daylight of one of the moderate voices has shaken the rest of the moderates of Pakistan to the core. The punishment for the right to use the freedom of speech in a country which was formed on the basis of freedom, of rights to all regardless of minority or majority – the very thought that something wrong needs to change – is wrong. When an idea, to change – an idea to bring betterment for the general public gets you killed, you have to know the hope is fast receding.

Salmaan Taseer, like many others before him, might not have been the symbol of piety we’re all looking for, but at least he dared to man up and say that the wrong needs to be rightened.
 

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


Shakeel Badayuni couplet referenced by Salmaan Taseer on Twitter, 8 hours before his assassination