Salmaan Taseer: The Lion of the Punjab (May 31, 1944 – Jan 4, 2011)

Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer was gunned down in Islamabad on January 4 by 26-year old protector-turned-killer Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri. The guard reportedly pumped nearly 30 bullets into Governor Taseer outside an upmarket coffee shop before surrendering. He was described by newspaper accounts as an “elite commando trained by the government, motivated by religious zeal and praised by hardline clerics.”  

Today, the Times of India reports that Lahore clerics refuse to lead the prayer at Taseer’s funeral.

None of Lahore’s clerics could be persuaded to lead funeral prayers for assassinated Punjab governor Salman Taseer on Wednesday, an indication of the threat that hardline and extremist groups pose inside Pakistan.

Even the chief cleric of the historical Badshahi Mosque in Lahore, who initially agreed to offer prayers, backed off at the last moment, saying he was going out of town. Finally, the services were led by Allama Afzal Chisti of the Ulema wing of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).

The schism in Pakistani society was further underlined when Taseer’s assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, was showered with rose petals when he was produced in court. Lawyer Farooq Sulehria said, ”We will provide all legal support to Mumtaz Qadri and fight for him. Qadri’s supporters won’t fail him in the court.”

The slain governor, who was killed for his liberal views, was laid to rest with full state honours amid tight security. Taseer’s coffin, wrapped in Pakistan’s national flag, was flown in from the governor’s house by helicopter to the Cavalry Graveyard in the military cantonment in Lahore.

Continue reading here.

The Express Tribune also reported that more than 500 religious scholars belonging to the Barelvi school of thought paid rich tributes to the assassin of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer on Tuesday and urged ‘Muslims across the country’ to boycott the  funeral ceremony.

The largest body of the Barelvi group, the Jamaate Ahle Sunnat Pakistan (JASP), whose directions are considered binding on every other organisation that follows the same school of thought, issued a statement saying that “No Muslim should attend the funeral or even try to pray for Salmaan Taseer or even express any kind of regret or sympathy over the incident.”
“We pay rich tributes and salute the bravery, valour and faith of Mumtaz Qadri,” the statement said, adding that the ministers, politicians, ‘so-called’ intellectuals and anchor persons should learn lessons from the governor’s death. The scholars said that those who insult the Holy Prophet (pbuh), even if they did not intend to, were liable for death.

Read more here.

As if those are not bad enough signs in the horizon, NTY reported that “as the 26-year-old assassin, Malik Mumtaz Qadri, appeared before a magistrate in Islamabad, to be charged with murder and terrorism, he was showered by hundreds of supporters with rose petals and garlands. Moderate religious leaders refused to condemn the assassination, and some hard-line religious leaders appeared obliquely to condone the attack.”

They’re not the only ones who condoned the attack.  Until Facebook removed Mumtaz Qadri’s fanpage from its website, it reportedly was able to attract more than 2,000 fans in less than 24 hours. The FB page showed up shortly after Qadri’ killed the governor. 

The Punjab province is the most populous in Pakistan and also its wealthiest.  It is in the consular district of US ConGen Lahore. Below we have a a couple of slideshows of the late Salmaan Taseer. One during his farewell lunch in October with former US Ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson. The second one is a slideshow of his meeting with the new US Ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter in November.

Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.
Governor Taseer hosted a farewell lunch for US Ambassador Anne Patterson
at the Governor’s House, Lahore. October 2010
Photos from Salmaan Taseer/Flickr
Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.
Governor Taseer and Mrs. Aamna Taseer met with new US Ambassador to Pakistan,
Cameron Munter and wife, Mrs. Marilyn Wyatt at the Governor’s House, Lahore.
November 2010 | Photos from Salmaan Taseer/Flickr

Via the Guardian:

Liberals have long been a minority force in Pakistan, reviled for importing “western” ideas and culture; now they are virtually an endangered species. As Taseer was buried, petals also flew through the sky in Islamabad where a cheering throng congratulated his assassin, a 26-year-old policeman named Mumtaz Qadri, as he was bundled into court. “Death is acceptable for Muhammad’s slave,” they chanted.

Taseer’s crime, in Qadri’s eyes, was to advocate reform of Pakistan’s blasphemy law. Few other Pakistani politicians dared to speak against the law, which prescribes the death penalty for offenders yet is widely misused. Those who did now live in fear.

Nadeem F. Paracha in writes:

Punjab Governor, Salman Taseer, was assassinated yesterday (January 4) by one of his security guards. The guard, who soon gave himself up to the police, proudly claimed that he killed the late Governor because Taseer had described the controversial blasphemy law as a ‘black law.’

Shocked? Well, about time. Governor Taseer’s murder is just a symptom of the creeping tyranny of religious hatred and demented self-righteousness each and every Pakistani has been living under for a number of years now.

Today, only a handful of Pakistanis are willing to stick out their chins and brace themselves for a possible beating for calling a spade a spade, and the late Governor was one of these brave souls.
Ordinary citizens are killed in our markets and mosques by the heroes and romanticised mujahids of these people. But instead of condemning such acts, they return to Aafia Siddiqui and the drones; politicians are assassinated for exercising their right to speak against injustices taking place in the name of faith, and they again return to Aafia and the drones; they and many of their children travel to the West for studies and business, and yet, they still talk about the drones.

It is as if drone attacks are the root cause of all evil, madness and bloodshed in this country. But aren’t the drones a more recent phenomenon, some four to five years old? The ignorance, intolerance and violence erupting in this holy dystopia of ours took lives long before the word ‘drone’ even entered our populist vocabulary, so what nonsense are these hate mongers on about?

The Nation in its editorial:

The assassination on Tuesday of Pakistan’s Punjab Province governor, Salman Taseer, is the strongest indication to date that the fortunes of the Asian country are declining faster than previously thought. Punjab is not only the most populous province in Pakistan, it is also the wealthiest, and the slain governor one of the most cosmopolitan and liberal. In a crime reminiscent of the fate that befell Mrs Indira Gandhi of India, Taseer, disturbingly, was also assassinated by one of his guards, a 26-year-old police commando officer. The assassin’s grudge was that Taseer described the country’s blasphemy law, which prescribes death for anyone convicted of insulting Islam, as a black law. The slain governor’s criticism of the law became more poignant when a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, was sentenced to death for allegedly insulting Islam. Coming against the backdrop of a rising and virulent Islamic fundamentalist insurgency, the killing of the governor does not bode well for the country.

The Daily Times in its editorial:

Some sections of the media too were complicit in inciting hate against Governor Taseer. They virtually asked for some sort of reprisal against him, which is the height of irresponsibility. Even after Mr Taseer’s death, some television channels and print media tried to justify his assassination. Governor Salmaan Taseer’s was a voice of reason and sanity. When our media and right-wing parties stoop to such levels and most people just sit idly and watch silently, it points to our collective failure as a society. Mr Taseer was a man of valour and great courage. He stood up for the rights of the oppressed when no one else would. We should not dishonour his sacrifice. We must all condemn the killer and the barbarians who are out to mute the liberal, progressive voices of Pakistan.

Syed Saleem Shahzad of Asia Times writes:

Taseer’s murder has been widely applauded by rightwing elements, whose views appear to be politically motivated rather than driven by any ideology. Further, the secular and liberal majority of the country has mostly been silent, and the government too has not said a word against those who have openly lauded Taseer’s killing.
On Thursday, Karachi’s liberal affluent elite were busy in socialite clubs discussing whether Pashtun security guards should be fired and replaced with Goan Christian guards, yet no one dared raise the issue of why sections of society can get away with so brazenly applauding the death of someone trying to right what he saw as wrong.