A foul murder

There are no words to describe the shock and horror of the assassination of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer. This is yet another high profile murder of a political figure from Pakistan’s People’s Party (PPP) after Benazir Bhutto. The governor could not survive 27 bullet injuries, which were inflicted when one of the guards of his security detail opened fire at him as he came back to his car after having lunch with a friend at a restaurant in Kohsar Market in Islamabad. The autopsy has revealed that his death was caused by a bullet wound in his neck. Interior Minister Rehman Malik has told reporters that the assassin, Punjab Elite Force member Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, confessed to killing Taseer for criticising the blasphemy laws. The governor held an open stance against the blasphemy laws promulgated by General Ziaul Haq and had called for their repeal, or at the very least their amendment to guard against the misuse and abuse of many years since the law was promulgated by a dictator and then made more stringent by successor governments of the right. However, it would be premature to say that this indeed was the motive behind the assassin’s act. This explanation sounds too pat.

If history is any guide, such minor operatives act as tools in the hands of their cloaked masterminds and are usually killed after the deed is done. The strange circumstance is that the assassin was able to unload his gun into the victim without being fired back on or even accosted by the rest of the governor’s security detail. So far, the assassin and the entire security detail are in policy custody and being investigated. Only time will tell whether this was an individual act or someone orchestrated it to create political instability in the country at a time when the federal government is already teetering after losing its majority in parliament with the departure of coalition allies JUI-F and MQM.

If indeed it was an individual act and done to avenge the governor’s opposition to the blasphemy laws, then this murder is a grim commentary on the state of affairs in Pakistan. If the religious extremists who consider themselves the guardians of the Prophet’s (PBUH) honour can go so far as to take the life of someone who opposed man-made laws, then society is heading for anarchy and barbarism. This means that there is no space for a rational discourse and even a person of such high profile as the Governor Punjab cannot escape their wrath. It also speaks of the weakness in the security regime of the Punjab government.

The Punjab government is responsible for the provision of security to all VIPs in the province. It is strange that a person with such extremist inclinations as Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri was deployed in the governor’s security detail. The Punjab government cannot absolve itself of part of the blame for this murder. Its call for a judicial inquiry has yet to be responded to by the federal government, which has so far set up an inter-agency investigation team to look into all aspects of the assassination, including whether the assassin acted alone or a deeper conspiracy was at work.

Salmaan Taseer was an entirely self-made person and created a career as a businessman and politician by dint of sheer hard work, courage in the face of adversity, and a fearless stance even when threatened by malign forces. He was a highly qualified chartered accountant, having obtained his qualification from England, and initially made a business fortune in the Gulf. He relocated to Pakistan and established the First Capital Securities Corporation, a full service brokerage house in 1994, and next year founded WorldCall Telecom Limited in 1995. The company has since become a major private sector telecom operator and expanded its network to the Gulf region. However, business was not his only interest. Politically motivated since his student years in London, Taseer participated in politics from the PPP’s platform and experienced the tribulations of the martial law of Ziaul Haq during the Movement for Restoration of Democracy in 1983, including a spell of incarceration and torture in the infamous Lahore Fort. He also authored a biography of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1980 titled, Bhutto, A Political Biography. In 1988, he was elected a member of the Punjab Assembly, eventually taking over the slot of the Leader of the Opposition. Due to his trenchant criticism of the PML-N government in Punjab, he was rounded up and tortured by the security forces on the directives of the Sharifs. His later attempts to enter the National Assembly in successive elections during the 1990s did not succeed. He, however, continued to exercise considerable clout within the party. After developing his successful businesses, Salmaan Taseer ventured into the world of the media, a project close to his heart. He launched the Daily Times newspaper and television channel Business Plus (now renamed B-Plus). This was followed subsequently by the launch of a liberal Urdu daily, Aaj Kal. He was appointed Governor Punjab on May 15, 2008, much to the chagrin of the PML-N. He had since gained prominence in the political arena and served as the strongman of the PPP in Punjab and therefore a thorn in the side of the PML-N.

His murder has been strongly condemned by leaders across the political spectrum. The PPP workers have reacted by staging a demonstration in front of the Governor’s House in Lahore and various locations in most major cities. Markets in Lahore, Faisalabad and other parts of the country closed as soon as the news of the assassination spread. The prime minister has announced a three-day mourning, the PPP two weeks of mourning, while the Punjab government has decided to close all educational institutions in Punjab today, partly as a mark of respect, partly out of security concerns. The nation suffered a great loss in this assassination. A liberal and progressive voice in a political scene infested by rightwing politics has been silenced. Now justice and the very well being and future of the country demands that the culprit/s be punished to the full extent of the law as a deterrent to such fanatics who seem to be teeming in the very entrails of our state and society – DailyTimes