Salman Taseer, the lone ranger was candid and pure, unlike most of our politicians who are scared of speaking the truth. He stood for the right cause and sacrificed his life for whom nobody dared to come forward- the downtrodden minorities, who are condemned to be citizens of this ‘holy’ land. He was a courageous man who died as he had lived; brave, dashing and a living example for all those who fight against oppression, unjust laws and violation of basic human rights.
Salman Taseer’s postmortem report showed 29 bullet wounds on his body; 14 entry and 7 exit. The bullets hit his liver, lungs, small and large intestines. However the three bullets which hit the neck severing his jugular vein caused his death. He died on the spot.
One thing was not understandable as to why a bearded religious person like Mumtaz Qadri was not subjected to a rigorous security clearance before he was posted to a VVIP protection squad. It was also noteworthy that ex-DIG Nasir Durrani had banned Qadri for VIP duties due to his extremist views. Second, while until the preceding night his name was not on the duty roster, how did he manage to get on duty, during the early hours the following morning? Third, why all the other body guards kept watching while he fired 27 bullets from his sub- machine gun? Not a single shot was fired on him by the other security personnel!
No religious party condemned his brutal murder. Even people like Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri and Babar Awan gave a twist to the whole episode and preferred not to talk about the real issue. The investigation began. However, the prosecution never involved those who had issued fatwas labeling Salman Taseer a blasphemer and calling for his murder? The instigators went scot free like Ataullah Shah Bukhari under whose instigation Ilam Din had murdered Rajpal.
Earlier, on the blasphemy law, the ‘liberal’ PPP (P) leadership retreated, the state withdrew its support and the majority remained silent. As a consequence the maulvi was on the loose.
People came on the streets in Mansehra and Gujrat, chanting slogans in favor of Mumtaz Qadri. Demonstrations were held in Peshawar and Tangi demanding the release of the ‘hero of Islam.’
Later, when Qadri was brought to the district courts in Islamabad, hundreds of religious party activists and lawyers showered flower petals on him, chanted slogans in his favor, garlanded him, kissed him and more than a hundred lawyers vowed to fight his case, declaring him a hero. Later more than 2000 people joined the facebook page of ‘Ghazi Mumtaz Qadri.’ Similarly all prominent ulema declined to lead Salman Taseer’s funeral prayers. The Badshahi mosque imam Abdul Khabeer Azad even left Lahore to avoid that ‘risky assignment.’ Even the ‘khateeb’ of Governor House, Qari Ismaeel refused the ‘sacrilegious’ task. Finally a PPP jiyala namely Afzal Chishti performed the ‘undesirable’ rites.
The Government asked its citizens to be tolerant while at the same time it was in no mood to handle the ‘intolerant’ with an iron hand. Apparently the maulvi seems to have penetrated into the very fabric of society, enjoying full support from many visible and ‘invisible’ quarters. The state structures have almost collapsed, and there is no remnant of governance at any level. The coming days are darker and without any support from the state, every liberal- progressive would find it extremely difficult to face the maulvi, who is already on the rampage. There presently exists no room for any disagreement on any matter which is even distantly linked to religion.
Yesterday’s hero was Ghazi Ilam Din ‘shaheed’ while today’s Mumtaz Qadri has become another role model. We might see a movement in the near future demanding amnesty for the murderer, just like a campaign of terror against the police officials investigating Qadri and threats to the judge who conducted the judicial proceedings. The case is in cold storage despite the fact that Qadri himself made a confession and was convicted. At the same time, mother of five, Aasia Bibi rots in jail, highly insecure within and outside the confines of the prison, as her sole supporter in the corridors of power left her for good.
The headline news on CNN and BBC was that of Salman Taseer’s assassination. What message we gave out to the entire world? The Governor of the largest province was murdered because he asked for amnesty for a poor Christian lady. Although we live in the most dangerous country of the world, yet it has become even scarier. In this ‘divine land’, if a religious fanatic has even the faintest idea that you are being disrespectful to his interpretation of Islam he is likely to kill you.
However, it is unfortunate that the policy of appeasement towards the mullah remains the order of the day. Since 1949,when the objectives resolution was passed, to the Islamic provisions of the 1962 constitution to Bhutto’s declaring the Ahmadis as non -Muslims to Zia-ul-Haq’s Islamization to Musharraf’s retreat on section 295C,to the loss of spine of the present regime, the curse lives on. Similarly our textbooks and media under the patronage of the powers that be, continue to promote extremism.
On December 31, 2010,the maulvi despite clear assurances from the government that it would not repeal the blasphemy law came out on the streets, receiving full media coverage, in tens of thousands, while the civil society, in small numbers, without any support from the government did come out in front of the parliament against the tyranny of the law. Media was present there but the liberals received little or no projection on the electronic and print media. Today, the civil society gathered on the site of the crime for a vigil, lit candles, laid floral wreathes and bouquets and some speeches were also made.
Salman Taseer was exterminated and buried, but not before hundreds of ‘ulema’ declared that not only attending his funeral would be sinful, even expressing remorse on his death would be heretical. It was appalling that a large number of people openly and others quietly endorsed the murder.
The state and society today are at a critical juncture. The polarization is total and absolute. The Government has to make a vital decision if it wants a liberal, democratic, tolerant and progressive society integrated into the comity of nations or a pariah state where the fanatic would dictate his terms as to who has a right to live and who must die in this country.
However, it is unfortunate that the present government is made up of indecisive policy makers and there appears likelihood that the bogey of extremism and intolerance might take out the entire civil society.
An abjectly poor, hapless and completely illiterate Christian woman from a little known hamlet of Punjab was destined to seal the fate of this nation.
Post Script: The ‘liberal’ PPP dumped Salman Taseer and his cause. Judge Pervez Ali Shah heard the case of Mumtaz Qadri at Adiala Jail. On October 1, 2011, the court found Qadri guilty of murdering ex-Governor Punjab Salman Taseer and sentenced him to death. Prior to that, on 26 August 2011, the son of the late governor, Shahbaz Taseer, who was a witness in Mumtaz Qadri’s trial, was kidnapped from Lahore and so far his whereabouts are not known. Judge Pervez Ali Shah left Pakistan along with his family soon after he announced the judgment. There were unconfirmed reports that extremist elements in religious parties had fixed head money for the judge. During the same month former Chief justice Lahore High Court Khawaja Sharif expressed his resolve to defend Qadri at the High Court as the case appeared very ‘weak.’ Salman Taseer is no more, Aasia Bibi, mother of five, rots in solitary confinement while Mumtaz Qadri, the convicted murderer has assumed the status of an inspiring role model for a large segment of this society.
(A tribute to Mr. Taseer on his 3rd anniversary)