If gunman Mumtaz Qadri’s motive of killing Salman Taseer was indeed the Governor Punjab’s vocal stand on the issue of Blasphemy Laws, then the forces of religious extremism have certainly scored another major victory in their deadly terrorist spree across Pakistan and the region. Mr. Taseer wanted the said laws to be repealed in a fiery national debate which has gone on in recent weeks over the issue of Aasia Bibi facing death penalty for allegedly committing blasphemy against Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
Jamaat-e-Islami and the rest of the religiously-motivated political parties want these laws, a product of former dictator General Zia’s Islamization, to continue being part of Pakistan’s legal structure. Naturally, their stand is shared and supported by the more radicalised, terrorist forces in the country—be they members of the Taliban movement or sympathisers of al-Qaeda’s terrorist agenda.
That many non-Muslims, mainly Christians, and even some Muslims charged with committing blasphemy have over the years been victimised, is an issue that should concern majority Pakistanis, their mainstream parties and leaders, as well as much of the rest of the world which wants Pakistan to march towards a progressive and prosperous future.
The daylight murder of the Governor by a member of his own security staff in the heart of Islamabad must have sent shivers down the spine of the other federal and provincial leaders in and outside government who wish the country to be liberated from the clutches of religiously inspired extremists and terrorists. For, if you are not secure in the hands of your own security guard, then who will protect you? Who amongst the liberal parties—the PPP, the ANP and the MQM—will now risk to be vocal on the issue during parliamentary proceedings to repeal the Blasphemy Law in future?
Even though Benazir Bhutto’s murder, the culprits and the motives behind it, still remain much of a mystery, but, certainly, in her demise in December 2007, there was a victory for the same radical terrorist forces. In fact, one by one, we have seen all those who stood for the just cause of minority rights in Pakistan being physically eliminated. The lives of those still surviving and being vocal critics of the regressive, militaristic creed of the religious right—from Asma Jehangir to Sherry Rehman and many others—should now be in constant danger.
It is not just the liberal segment of Pakistani politics that has paid the price for being progressive in articulating what Pakistan—a state created for Muslims, but with a secular vision—should be or should not be. In October 2008, a gathering of the Muttehadda Ulema Council at Jamia Naeemia in Lahore, presided over by Maulana Dr Sarfraz Naeemi, a renowned leader of the country’s majority Sunni-Barelvi sect, issued a unanimous fatwa declaring suicide attacks in Pakistan as haram (unlawful) and najaez (unjustified) under Islam. In June 2009, Maulana Naeemi was killed for issuing this fatwa, as a TTP suicide bomber killed k him and scores of other people who had just finished offering Friday prayers at the Jamia Naeemia mosque in Lahore.
Apart from killing thousands of innocent civilians and soldiers, Taliban-led terrorists have not spared institutions of higher Islamic learning, such as the International Islamic University in Islamabad, where twin suicide bombings at a girl students’ cafeteria and the classroom of the Shariah Faculty in 2009 took the lives of a number of innocent students, mostly female. So, there is a sufficiently long list of tragedies that Pakistanis have suffered at the hands of these extremist terrorists.
The ease with which the gunman could kill the Governor of the country’s largest Punjab province actually tells us the extent of the reach the terrorist organisations have been able to acquire. Their penetration of the security agencies and the police, including its Elite force trained to fight terrorism to which Mr. Taseer’s killer belonged, highlights the gravity of the terrorist problem facing the state structure, governmental institutions and those who operate or run it. How can it be cleansed of potential culprits such as Mumtaz Qadri?
What would compel him to commit a murder and then surrender, knowing well the ultimate price for him will also be death? This must be a messianic mission for him, the equivalent of a suicide bombing—for he had the firm belief that Asia, the Christian lady convicted of blasphemy, must face death. And so should anyone, no matter how high prolife his or her status is, who calls for the repeal of laws that victimise minorities in Pakistan.
Salman Taseer, a socialist comrade-turned-capitalist business tycoon, could be criticised for his flamboyant lifestyle, arrogant attitude or political opportunism (for being part of the Musharraf regime). The method he used for articulating his bold stand on blasphemy—holding a press conference alongside Ms Aasia while her appeal against the lower court verdict still pending before the higher judiciary—could also be critically debated. However, all of this did not warrant his death in such barbaric manner, which cannot be morally or religiously justified.
Now we can only hope that the latest national tragedy will arouse a nation-wide feeling of disgust at all those forces whose consistent abuse of Islam has tarnished the image of Muslims. We can also pray that the national debate on Blasphemy Laws is not hijacked by these forces, and that the leaders who wish it to be repealed should continue to be fearless on the issue, even after losing their most vocal compatriot.
It is the danger following the death that must be combated with full courage by all those who wish Pakistan to reflect the same largely pacifist subcontinental religious creed that has been in vogue for centuries, including thooughout much of Pakistan’s history as well. It is, therefore, about time that the government made all possible effort to muster the parliamentary support for the repeal of Blasphemy Laws which are a legacy of an Islamist dictatorship in the country that ended over 20 years ago. Jinnah’s Pakistan does not deserve to be in a shape that the very religious right who opposed Pakistan’s creation is hell bent upon creating and claiming for the country.
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