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    South Asia
     Jan 6, 2011


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 saleem_shahzad2002@yahoo.com

(Copyright 2011 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)


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