LAHORE: Shortly before 4:30 pm, telephones in the city started ringing like crazy. Calls and texts flooded the networks. Everybody wanted to find out whether the news about Governor Salmaan Taseer being shot dead was true.
Asmah Hyat was at a family function when she received her husband’s phone call. At about the same time, her sister, received a text from their brother, “Heard Taseer was shot by his Elite Force guard?” The initial disbelief was followed by frantic calls to all family with advice to anyone who was on the road to head straight home. “I was on the road when Benazir was assassinated and I remember the madness that followed,” Asmah said.
Everybody seemed to remember what had happened on December 27, 2007. As a result, all major markets of the city including the Shah Alam Market, Anarkali, Urdu Bazar, Hall Road, markets on The Mall, Circular Road, Liberty Market and Gulberg shut down fearing an angry reaction from PPP jiyalas. Special announcements and pleas were made by market presidents in different areas to close shops. Hamid Ali, a shop keeper said, “When we heard the news we immediately closed shop. We know from experience people do sometimes react violently.”
All banks and many private offices were also closed early. “My boss told me to leave the office immediately,” said a young lawyer Ali Baber.
The early closure of offices and markets resulted in traffic jams on all major arteries of the city. All roads leading towards Governor’s House were closed to traffic, adding to the congestion.
Additional traffic police personnel were called in to handle the traffic manually after the traffic signals were turned off due to the heavy traffic load. Shahid Nadeem, a commuter stuck at Regal said, “I left office as soon as I heard the news about the assassination. But it has been half an hour and I am still stuck on The Mall.”
Those who use public transport to commute complained that no additional buses were run on the routes to facilitate them. Hira Mirza, a commuter said, “My mother has been calling me frantically ever since TV channels aired the news. I have been trying to get on a bus but every one is full. The rickshaw-wallahs are demanding more than their regular fare.”
However, the city reacted in a much better way than was feared.
There were protests but none of them turned violent. Close to 50 Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) activists blocked The Mall before it was closed off and chanted slogan deriding the Punjab law minister. They were persuaded eventually by PPP leaders to call off their protest but not before some of them threatened to take revenge. They said that they would take the law into their own hands if the president did not “personally ensure” that the man responsible was punished in accordance with the law.
Security around the Governor’s House and 118 Cavalry Ground – Taseer’s residence – remained on high alert. PPP workers gathered at Taseer’s residence to express their grief.
Extra police contingents and snipers were deployed at and around the Punjab Assembly and the Chief Minister’s (CM) Secretariat after Governor Salmaan Taseer’s killing.
An additional force of 2,000 police officers, 20 Elite Force teams and 700 personnel of the Mujahid Squad were deployed around the city. Security was also increased around The Mall, various large commercial centres, important government offices and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s office.
The security protocol for the chief minister has not been revised, however, police presence was increased around the CM’s residences in Model Town, DHA and Raiwind. Snipers were also placed on high rise buildings around the Capital City Police Officer’s office and the Inspector General’s office.
Superintendent (Security) told The Express Tribune that the 20 Elite Force teams deployed had 6 members each. He said the Mujahid Squad had increased its patrol in parts of the city.
A governor’s chronicles
May 16, 2008:
After serving as a caretaker minister for industries, Taseer is appointed the Punjab governor by president Pervez Musharraf. Several PML-N members boycott the oat-taking ceremony saying the party was not consulted.
Taseer vows to make the Punjab a PPP stronghold, develops a penchant for criticising the chief minister and the government. He positions himself close to Asif Ali Zardari and ends up being the final emissary to urge Pervez Musharraf to prefer a safe exit before the National Assembly votes on a no-confidence motion.
November 17, 2008: Salmaan Taseer sends two letters to Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif criticising the latter’s style of governance and demanding that he inform the governor of all steps taken by his government.
February 25, 2009: Governor’s rule is imposed in the Punjab following Lahore High Court ruling de-seating the chief minister. Taseer is blamed for decision and accused of trying to oust PML-N from power.
March 28, 2009:
President Asif Ali Zardari, during his second address to the joint session of the Parliament, lifts the Governor’s Rule allowing restoration of PML-N led government.
Taseer challenges the Punjab government for not doing enough to curb terrorism.
Taseer questions the chief minister about Law Minister Sanaullah’s by-election campaign allegedly in league with members of a banned terrorist organisation.
September, 2010: Following reports of death threats to Lahore High Court Chief Justice Khwaja Mohammad Sharif, the governor is accused of plotting his death. On September 19 Taseer holds a press conference denying the allegation.
October 12, 2010:
Taseer remarks that the Punjab government is running on a stay order – a reference to an election petition pending against the chief minister.
November 20, 2010:
The governor visits Aasiya Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death under Blasphemy Laws. He urges pardon for her for a parliamentary debate regarding the laws.
December 10, 2010: Taseer is criticised for failing to hand over charge to the Punjab Assembly speaker while visiting abroad. Taseer denies he has been abroad.
December 15, 2010: Taseer is again reported missing. He later appears on media to answer that he had been at an Aitchison College’s board meeting.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 5th, 2011.
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