Salmaan Taseer’s brutal murder at the hands of a policeman is a cruel reminder of where we have landed ourselves: in a dark morass of irrationality lorded over by pernicious ideologies. Taseer was a representative of the federation in the largest province of Pakistan. Yet, as his death shows, he was very vulnerable to the deep-seated prejudice within the state and society. A target of the reactionaries and of bigots, he became a symbol of resistance against the Talibanisation of Punjab.
A scion of Urdu’s great poet MD Taseer, he was a self-made businessman and a staunch supporter of democracy in the country. He had a long history of struggle against Zia’s dictatorship. After his political hibernation, Taseer emerged as the PPP’s formidable voice of reason. His recent brave act of leading a campaign against the sentencing of Aasia Bibi rallied Pakistan’s moderate Muslims and its intelligentsia who felt emboldened by his courage. Whilst his party dilly-dallied on the issue of revising the blasphemy laws ultimately succumbing to expediency, Taseer remained firm on his position.
In Pakistan, injustice is the norm and anyone choosing to defy this norm is likely to be crushed. Such is the case with our former governor who will be remembered as a brave man of principles.
The implications of this tragic development are manifold: First, that resistance against the state-sponsored bigotry will further dwindle. Who will dare to take public positions on issues such as discriminatory laws and abuse of religion? Second, the Punjabi jihadis will celebrate this victory and further strengthen their position in the rural hinterland where militancy is bred and exported. Political parties sharing power in the province have appeased the militants or entered into political pacts with them. Third, it appears that a section of the security apparatus designed to protect public functionaries — as it has failed to protect ordinary citizens thus far — is both penetrable and prey to extremist leanings.
Benazir Bhutto’s assassination and the confounded investigation of her murder demonstrate two things: our civilian investigation and prosecution agencies are dysfunctional and that the security establishment is above the law. Taseer’s murder is yet another blow to Pakistan’s liberals and moderates alike. The worst part is that if they are eliminated, there is no guarantee of a fair investigation and trial. This is why the flawed strategy of appeasing jihadis here or in Afghanistan is so fatal for Jinnah’s Pakistan. Whatever is left of that original vision of Pakistan is now under grave danger.
If the PPP and the PML-N have to survive as political actors and present viable alternatives to the fascists and extremists, then they will have to get this murder investigated, unearth the conspiracy that must have preceded this act of terror and punish the perpetrators.
Salmaan Taseer, RIP. This country did not deserve you.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 5th, 2011.