Voice of moderation silenced in Pakistan
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
ISLAMABAD - Punjab provincial governor Salman Taseer paid with his life for
vocally opposing right-wing forces in Pakistan; he was assassinated in the
capital, Islamabad, on Tuesday by one of his security guards.
Taseer, 66, of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), was a critic of blasphemy
laws, which he believed fueled radicalism. He also spoke out against the
Taliban and al-Qaeda, and claimed that right-wing politicians worked
hand-in-hand with militants.
A similar fate befell a former top official of the Inter-Services Intelligence
(ISI), Khalid Khawaja, who was kidnapped and
subsequently killed last year while visiting the North Waziristan tribal area
to mediate peace talks with militants.
Malik Mumtaz Qadri has confessed to shooting Taseer in the upscale Kohsar
Market. Qadri, a known religious person, worked for Punjab's elite security
force that answers to the Punjab government led by Taseer's main rival, chief
minister Shahbaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). Qadri
cited Taseer's opposition to blasphemy laws as the reason for the killing. He
also said that the entire security detail knew of his plans to kill Taseer.
Taseer last year supported a Christian mother of five, Asiya Bibi, who had been
sentenced to death for blasphemous remarks against the Prophet Mohammed, and
petitioned for her release.
Taseer, appointed governor in May 2008, angered the PML-N by accusing it of
having links to the anti-Shi'ite sectarian outfit Ahle-Sunnat Wal Jamaat, and
time and again warned the League's Sharif to shun his home minister, Rana
Sanaullah, for openly associating with the leader of the Jamaat, Ahmad
Ludhianvi, who has been described as a "dangerous criminal".
This outspokenness mobilized Pakistan's right-wing. Pictures of Taseer drinking
wine and of his daughters wearing Western attire were released on the Internet,
and sections of the media discussed his private life on television talk shows.
His friendship with former president Pervez Musharraf and his secular beliefs
were routine topics.
The campaign was aimed to bring him onto the militants' radar, and his support
for Bibi proved the last straw.
Taseer, a chartered accountant, was a self-made success story. He was chairman
and chief executive officer of listed brokerage First Capital Securities, sats
on the board of telecoms company WorldCall Group, founded a fiber optic
company, a television news channel and an English daily.
He was a founding member of the PPP and a committed Marxist in his youth.
During General Zia al-Haq's period (president from 1977 to 1988) he was
tortured in Lahore's notorious Red Fort military detention center. His marriage
to a famous Indian Sikh television anchor led to him being accused of being an
agent for Indian intelligence.
His friendship with Musharraf brought him back into politics, and in the
interim government of 2007-08 he became a federal minister. Later, Musharraf
appointed him governor of Punjab, the country's largest province.
That Taseer's mother was German and his wife Indian helped the right-wing paint
him as a heretic.
Three days ago, he described the blasphemy law as "black", saying it should be
abolished, and this was the reason given by his assassin - only recently
inducted into Taseer's security detail - for his death.
Earlier, former ISI official Khawaja had exposed the connection of ex-premier
Nawaz Sharif of the PML-N to al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden (see
The pawns who pay as powers play Asia Times Online, June 22, 2005).
This led to a renowned right-wing media personality publicizing Khawaja’s
connection with non-Muslims (a recorded conversation was released on the
Internet and became the talk of international and national media).
On the face of it, Taseer's death will be put down to him being just another
blasphemous heretic, while the more sinister forces behind his death will most
likely never be revealed.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief and
author of upcoming book Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban 9/11 and Beyond
published by Pluto Press, UK. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org