Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
In 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.
Earlier this year I asked someone who had been a senior minister in the government of Pakistan why the country could not change laws which discriminated against minorities. I asked the question because more than 80 people from the minority Ahmadi sect had just been killed in two mosques in Lahore, which at the time served as a wake-up call of the dangers of growing religious intolerance in Pakistan.
His answer was unhesitating. You could not possibly do something like that in Pakistan.
Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan live in fear of persecution and even execution or murder on false charges of blasphemy against Islam, the World Council of Churches (WCC) has said. The Council, the Geneva- based global body linking Protestant and Orthodox churches in 110 countries, has called on the Pakistani government to change a law promulgated by military ruler General Zia-ul-Haq that allows for the death penalty for blaspheming Islam. (Photo: Christians in destroyed home in Gojra, 2 Aug 2009/Mohsin Raza)
Since the law was adopted in 1986 religious minorities in the country have been "living in a state of fear and terror ... and many innocent people have lost their lives," the WCC said in a statement.
The mob violence against Christians in central Pakistan at the weekend appears to have hit a particularly raw nerve in a country already jittery about the spreading influence of Islamist militants. The deaths of eight Christians in the town of Gojra following unsubstantiated allegations that a Christian had desecrated the Koran has both revived debate about Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and renewed worries about the potential for instability in its heartland Punjab province.
According to Punjab law minister Rana Sanaullah, the violence may have been orchestrated by the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), an outlawed pro-Taliban Sunni Muslim sectarian group, and its al Qaeda-linked offshoot, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). He said that masked men had come from the nearby district of Jhang, birthplace of both SSP and LeJ, to incite the anti-Christian rioting, and that the government had received an intelligence report two months ago suggesting that militants were switching from suicide bombings to inciting sectarian strife.