In Pakistan, a death foretold

January 4, 2011

taseerIn one of the more anguished posts about the murder of provincial governor Salman Taseer, Pakistani blogger Huma Imtiaz wrote that his assassination ”is not the beginning of the end. This is the end. There is no going back from here, there is no miracle cure, there is no magic wand that will one day make everything better. Saying ‘enough is enough’ does not cut it anymore …”

It was a sense that permeated much of the English-language commentary about Taseer’s killing in Islamabad by one of his own security guards. Interior Minister Rehman Malik said Taseer, governor of Punjab province and a leading politician in the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), was killed because of his opposition to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.  A sense that the forces of religious intolerance are becoming all but unstoppable; and that those who oppose them by promoting a more liberal vision of Pakistan occupy an ever diminishing space.

“Salmaan Taseer was many things, but most recently, he was a champion of a particular strand of liberal, secular discourse in a country where such voices are dwindling down to nothing. He was a minority because he chose to stand next to the Christian and Hindu minorities who are denied basic protection in their own nation.  This is a great loss,” wrote historian Manan Ahmed at Chapati Mystery.

Taseer had championed the case of Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman who had been sentenced to death under the blasphemy laws, which have been criticised in particular for their misuse against minorities, often to settle local scores.

In his own words, from one of his last interviews, Taseer said of Aasia Bibi:  “She is a woman who has been incarcerated for a year-and-a half on a charge trumped up against her five days after an incident where people who gave evidence against her were not even present. So this is a blatant violation against a member of a minority community. I, like a lot of right-minded people, was outraged, and all I did was to show my solidarity. It is the first time in the history of the Punjab that a governor has gone inside a district jail, held a press conference and stated clearly that this is a blatant miscarriage of justice and that the sentence that has been passed is cruel and inhumane. I wanted to take a mercy petition to the president, and he agreed, saying he would pardon Aasiya Bibi if there had indeed been a miscarriage of justice.”

For that he had suffered death threats from the religious right who present any challenge to the blasphemy laws, introduced under former military ruler President  Zia-ul-Haq, as an insult to Islam.  In response he had promised on his Twitter feed to resist the pressure from the religious right “even if I am the last man standing”.

But the despair over Taseer’s killing was not only over the death of one man. It was because the warning signs had been there for so long and been ignored. And because so many others had died already, and nothing had been done.  The killing of more than 80 members of the minority Ahmadi sect in two mosques in Lahore last year might have served as a wake-up call.  It didn’t.  Nor for that matter did the killing of eight Christians in the town of Gojra in Punjab in 2009 following unsubstantiated allegations that a Christian had desecrated the Koran.

Instead the weak PPP-led government, like other administrations before it, has retreated in the face of powerful religious lobbies who have reduced the liberal, secular English-speaking community to a shrinking minority in Pakistan.   The promises of Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah that the new country would be a place not only  where Muslims would be safe, but where people of all faiths would be free of discrimination, have been buried over decades by each retreat by each successive administration.

“One central truth most of us are unwilling to face is that much of the increasing extremism we see around us is deeply embedded in Pakistan’s DNA. When a country is created in the name of a faith, then inevitably, that faith will come to dominate modes of thought and behaviour,” wrote Dawn columnist Irfan Husain in a piece published a few days before Taseer’s death.

“Many of us who represent a dwindling liberal, secular strand in the media are fond of quoting Jinnah’s Aug 11, 1947 speech which remains as eloquent a declaration of secularism as I have read anywhere. But talk to clerics or students today, and they will look at you in disbelief and even anger if you impute secularism to the founder of Pakistan. In their view, he created Pakistan in the name of Islam, and not for the Muslims of the subcontinent. This is too nuanced an argument for most people who prefer to see things only in black and white.”

So while some individual PPP politicians had fought for changes to the blasphemy laws, the government itself had backed down in the face of street protests held before Taseer’s death, promising these would not be amended.

Small wonder then that few believe the provincial governor’s killing will galvanise the country into action against religious intolerance.

Instead even Pakistan’s usually determinedly optimistic bloggers are showing a growing weariness with the state of the nation, where it has become a staple of populist television shows to declare those who fail to conform with a particular interpretation of Islam as “wajib-ul-qatl” or worthy of death.

“Plenty of media personnel and right-wing politicians in this country contributed to this (Taseer’s death) with their constant ‘wajib-ul-qatl’ refrain, not to mention equating support for blasphemy laws to support for Islam. All of them could technically be dealt with as inciters to violence (illegal in our country, and basically every other one out there) but they won’t. You get to say and do whatever you want, act with as much impunity as you want — as long as you have God on your side,” wrote Ahsan Butt at Five Rupees.

Taseer’s killing could stimulate a discussion about Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and the way it treats its minorities, wrote Mosharraf Zaidi at Foreign Policy.”Unfortunately, what is more likely is that Taseer’s death will not only not stimulate a more serious examination of how the Pakistani state deals with the highly toxic issues of blasphemy, but it may help mute the already nervous voices within the thin sliver of Pakistani society that seek to amend these kinds of legal provisions.”

“I get an overwhelming sensation that we have given up on Pakistan,” wrote Awab Alvi, who blogs at Teeth Maestro. “Have we? Please prove me wrong.”

Comments

Matrixx said:

> I hope this answers your question.

Well, it’s a start, but we need to drill into each of those points to see if they’re really valid.

I thought the Indian military threat to Pakistan ended on May 28, 1998 (the day Pakistan became a declared nuclear power). Provided they’re subject to proper controls, nuclear weapons can guarantee peace by preventing the outbreak of a conventional war.

> It is the huge army you have on our borders

From the Indian perspective, there is a huge army on our borders too (the PA). It cuts both ways.

> you not resolving any disputes

It takes two sides to resolve issues. From what I have read, India and Pakistan came close to signing an agreement that would resolve major issues, but Musharraf was deposed before it could be signed. There are also powerful forces opposed to a peace agreement, and they tend to sabotage any thaw in the relationship. From the Indian perspective (which you guys don’t accept), it is the various terrorist organisations aided and abetted by the PA/ISI. Terror attacks take place just when peace talks take place or when agreements are about to be signed. There is also an Indian lobby that does this, and we know after the Samjautha Express investigation that this group does exist. It’s not fair to say, “India does not resolve issues.” It’s more complex than that.

> your sneaky ways

Frankly, this comment does not help. It seems more like an impression or a prejudice. Someone from the Indian side could retort in a similar vein and it’ll be back to a melee all over again. Let’s not go there.

> and propaganda all the time.

This should be easy to refute. Point out specifics of Indian propaganda that is untrue. Will you also meet us halfway by acknowledging the crude “Pakileaks” attempt at anti-Indian propaganda?

> For me it makes India enemy number one.

That’s an unfortunate conclusion. There are probably far greater threats to Pakistan at the moment than India. If you don’t recognise them, you run the risk of being blindsided while guarding yourself against a lesser threat.

It is my belief that the predominant Indian attitude towards Pakistan is wariness but not hatred. We distrust Pakistan because we have been burnt often. And contrary to what you believe, we are probably too soft-hearted and sentimental towards you guys for our own good: http://bit.ly/gs8UxE

> Intellectually and morally you are no threat to us.

There is no such thing as an intellectual threat in any case. We are all enriched by the conflict of ideas. And morality by its very definition is benign and non-threatening. I was thinking more about ‘economically’, which is something that is often unspoken. Would you care to comment on that?

Perhaps we should just leave you guys alone for a while. Interactions of any sort don’t seem to go anywhere. There are accusations galore but no inclination to meet the other side halfway.

Regards,
Ganesh Prasad

Posted by prasadgc | Report as abusive
 

Matrixx

“Now kashmir is special case explain it.”
***My pleasure! Kashmir intervention by India was post Pakistan tribal intrusion. Before that India did not occupy it. India clearly did not stage the intrusion by Afghan tribals! Rest is history. I am not expecting you to be in agreement with the details of it but all I am saying is that the reason for Indian intervention was not to create Akhand Bharat.

You are fond of tackling tough questions, right?
1. Don’t you think that India did not occupy Bangladesh when it was a piece of cake for it, this negates your theory that India is working on Akhand Bharat.

2. Are you not saying the opposite of what Kashmiris want–freedom? you said “Kashmir is natural part of Pakistan”. Can you explain it to me a) why is that and b) reconcile with what Kashmiris want.

3. Do you know that an extensive poll has shown that the percentage of Kashmiris in J&K and AJK (including Ladakh and Jammu) that does not want to be part of India or Pakistan but become free is SAME (SHOCKINGLY IDENTICAL). You still want Kashmir to be part of Pakistan. Can you explain? In that case sympathy for Kashmiris by attacking Indian Army is self serving than anything else. For a Kashmiri, you are you no different from an Indian.

Posted by rehmat | Report as abusive
 

Matrixx

Let me add more to prove my point regarding kashmir as not related to your Akhand Bharat misperception.

If India wanted to occupy Kashmir as part of Akhand Bharat ideology, Nehru, a Kashmiri himself, would not have gone to UN unilaterally.

Posted by rehmat | Report as abusive
 

Rehmat
You are hanging all your position on some obscure poll and you can’t make firm policies on one poll.If you believe in poll, hold a referendum and be done with it.
I think that Kashmir is a natural part by land and people. This is subject their preferences.
I can talk about BD and requires going into great detail and it is unrelated to Kashmir. Indian hands are not clean at all.
Please stop selective responses.
Where is the answer to Swami and RSS?

Posted by Matrixx | Report as abusive
 

> Indian hands are not clean at all.

I think you develop selective hearing (or selective reading) when Indians critique their own government and its policies. I don’t think you’re satisfied when we admit that we’re a flawed democracy that has made mistakes but is more or less a free and fair society that is also gradually improving. You want us to say that India is entirely in the wrong and Pakistan is absolutely right. Much as you claim to have an open mind, I don’t think this is true. And you will be disappointed if you expect unconditional self-flagellation from Indians.

> Where is the answer to Swami and RSS?

Is this a rhetorical question? The answer was right there on the web page that you referenced. The more pertinent question is, what do you want to do with that answer?

Yes, there is a hard core group of people in India who have strong anti-Muslim views. This is well-known. Also well-known is that they are a fringe group and do not get much support from the mainstream. This has been said time and again. What is your point?

I think intentions are very important. If you want to bring up point after point with the intention of proving a prior opinion, then no progress will be made in the discussion. If the intention is to understand each other better and explore ways by which the subcontinent will be a better place for all its people, then the tenor of the discussion will be different. My intention is the latter. What is your intention?

Regards,
Ganesh Prasad

Posted by prasadgc | Report as abusive
 

Prasad
My intent is quite simple and it is gauge where educated Indian stand wrt Pakistan. I visit quite a few blogs and there are tons of Indian putting out poison against Pakistan. At least I don’t find many reasonable people. Go to TOI, WAPO, Guardian, Economist to get a feel. I’m the greatest critic of Pakistani leaders. But I also find the activity of Indians abhorrent. Your leaders are no different when they make foreign leaders give statements against Pakistan from Dilli. The road to peace is clear but India would not take it. Consider the discussion in this series closed.

Posted by Matrixx | Report as abusive
 

> My intent is quite simple and it is [to] gauge where educated Indian[s] stand wrt Pakistan.[...] Consider the discussion in this series closed.

We await your verdict then ;-).

Regards,
Ganesh Prasad

Posted by prasadgc | Report as abusive
 

@Matrixx

“Rehmat
You are hanging all your position on some obscure poll and you can’t make firm policies on one poll.If you believe in poll, hold a referendum and be done with it.
I think that Kashmir is a natural part by land and people. This is subject their preferences.
I can talk about BD and requires going into great detail and it is unrelated to Kashmir. Indian hands are not clean at all.
Please stop selective responses.
Where is the answer to Swami and RSS?”

“You are hanging all your position on some obscure poll and you can’t make firm policies on one poll.If you believe in poll, hold a referendum and be done with it.”
***I can say based on what is more scientific. I can not say Pakistan is a terrorist country based upon 100 terrorist groups in there. Similarly I cannot say Kashmiris love Pakistan based upon Pakistani flags or crackers after a cricket game in Kashmir.

“I can talk about BD and requires going into great detail and it is unrelated to Kashmir. Indian hands are not clean at all”
***Then Kashmir is unrelated to the entry here. I think you lost track of the discussion. :-) BD and Kashmir came up because of your original accusation that Indian intention is to physically occupy neighbors to make Akhand Bharat. BD issue shows that is not the case. I can see BD is a touchy issue for Pakistanis. I am not painting India as an angel but disagree with you over Akhand Bharat. So yes I agree Indian hands are not clean at all.

“Please stop selective responses.
Where is the answer to Swami and RSS?”"
***Selective? you must be joking. you did not ask that question to me. :-)

In any case, I saw Ganesh convinced you that India is not working at Akhand Bharat.

Posted by rehmat | Report as abusive
 

@Matrixx
Have you by chance visited the Reuters Blog on India, A billion Aspirations? I do not notice any participation of the Indians who are very active on Pakistan Blog!

Very strange and scary. Have they no concern with Indian issues?

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive
 

Matrixx: “Would you tell me who is Swami Aseemanand and the significance of RSS organization. If you don’t then you are not an honest participant. Come clean before you look elsewhere.”

I do not know him personally. I can refer you to some newspapers which can give a much better information that I do. I am not his lawyer. Therefore your access to information is as good as mine. I do not run the RSS. I have no connection with Hindu religious groups. I belong to the Sikh community. Would you be interested in learning about our Guru Gobind Singh?

Here is one you can start with and go from there:

http://www.hindustantimes.com/Aseemanand -s-confession-to-role-in-blasts-a-great- lie-VHP/H1-Article1-648280.aspx

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive
 

@”My intent is quite simple and it is gauge where educated Indian stand wrt Pakistan” Posted by Matrixx

The average Indian (educated or uneducated) does not care much for Pakistan. The only thing they care about wrt Pakistan is the terrorism directed towards them by your establishment, via their non-state actors. Besides that, Indians don’t care what you do with your country, make it another Japan or another Somalia, we couldn’t care less. Yes, we do have empathy for the average Pakistani who is bearing the brunt of terrorism in your country but there’s also an underlying sentiment of “one’s chickens coming home to roost”. India or Indians have absolutely no desire to attack your country & take over any part of it. We have our own problems to worry about than taking over a terror infested nation of 170 mn, with a large radicalized segment. I don’t think India or any country is stupid enough to take on that kind of a liability.

Posted by Mortal1 | Report as abusive
 

@Mortal
You said it! India like the USA would like Pakistan to look after your security concerns arising from those disgruntled jihadi groups sitting in pakistan and plotting terrorist acts. I agree with your straight line.

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive
 

@”India like the USA would like Pakistan to look after your security concerns arising from those disgruntled jihadi groups sitting in pakistan and plotting terrorist acts” Posted by pakistan

It’s not just about Indian or American security concerns anymore. Terror attacks all over the world have led to Pakistan in recent times. As much as these jihadi groups are a threat to India, US, Europe etc, they are ultimately the biggest threat to Pakistan itself. If the Pakistani establishment has not learned this simple fact yet, it’s very unfortunate.

Posted by Mortal1 | Report as abusive
 

In the famous words of a wise man, “Can’t we all just get along?”

Posted by NickBright | Report as abusive
 

@NickBright
Yes we can, by accepting one another as we are and not we should be! Dialogue and tolerance is the call of the day!

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive
 

correction
And not how we should be!

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive
 

@Rex

“Dialogue and tolerance is the call of the day!”

***Good to see this.

Posted by rehmat | Report as abusive
 

@Rex

“Dialogue and tolerance is the call of the day!”

I hope that now you do not advice Pakistanis to break off diplomatic relations with India.

Posted by 777xxx777 | Report as abusive
 

Unless someone personally threatens another living person, you cannot condemn someone for what they say. Any person or persons who feel otherwise is eventually doomed. Actions mean everything in life, words virtually nothing.

Posted by 123456951 | Report as abusive
 

Look for faults and you will always find faults. Look at history. Almost all countries have border disputes with neighbouring countries. one border disputes solves another historic border disputes pops up. recently it was russia and japan, usa took texas and california in a cunning ways etc. Get over it(kashmir) problem will never be solve for a simple reason cause kashmir is not a problem in the first place , its a solution according to the ruling class of both countries who take the tax payers money in the name of kashmir to presumably to build defence against each other . People of pakistan and india usually mingle with each other outside pakistan and india . We prefer indian or pakistani as roommates in usa where i live for 16 yrs. We prefer hiring indians or pakistani employee and work in each other businesses. We live and hang around in each other neighbourhoods, we have south asian organisations , we marry each other, we laught and smile on each others jokes and play cricket. pakistani dance on indian music- remember bollywood ? We dine in each others restaurant . Pakistani and indian restaurant owner will display their own country name first then either pakistani or indian and then bangladeshi last on the board outside their restaurant. After 911 in many incidences we protected each other when assaulted by westerners. All these shows mostly pakistani ruling class dont want to loose the power over their own people and so they will keep showing their population that indian are the number one enemies other wise there are very high chances another country could be form called UNITED STATES OF SOUTH ASIA (USSA). Better to keep the kashmir border permanently.

Posted by goafenny | Report as abusive
 

@777
Yes I do! It would be in the best interest of both countries. In the absence of a dialogue , separation must be enforced to avoid further wars and bloodshed.

Rex Minor

PS
GW had the idea to get Kashmir out of the equation, so that India and Pakistan can concentrate on normalising tourist, and commerce as well as social contacts to bring different communities together. I supported his vision and could have also facilitated it, but all of you guys were against the idea. Well, if the people do not genuinely desire peace, there will be no peace. Therefore, the parties should should simply tolerate each other without any contact.

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive
 

@goafenny

Well said!

Posted by 777xxx777 | Report as abusive
 

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