• A round-up of news and editorials.
Salman Taseer, the governor of Pakistan's Punjab Province who was assassinated in Islamabad Tuesday, was widely seen as one of the country's most important progressive political figures. His death has prompted a litany of responses, from praise to lament to the conspiratorial.
The one thing that observers seem to agree on is that the outpouring of praise for his killer is intensifying the divide between religious and secular elements within Pakistan's already shaky government.
The assassination, editorializes Pakistan’s daily Dawn, “has unleashed a torrent of commentary about the decline of society, and rightly so. The story of the latest political figure killed at the hands of an extremist, though, has a twist to it: Mr. Taseer broke no law, temporal or spiritual, but was instead killed for questioning a law. That unprecedented motive for an assassination ought to be reflected on. The country appears to have lurched to the conservative right even further and more abruptly than ever before in recent years.”
Taseer opposed the country’s controversial blasphemy laws that recently led to a Christian woman being sentenced to death for allegedly insulting the prophet Muhammad. After Taseer's assassination, hundreds of Pakistan’s leading clerics have signed a statement condoning his killing.
A column by Hassan Nisar in the Urdu-language Pakistan online daily, Jang, highlighted the emotional significance:
“These bullets that were shot at Salman Taseer passed through his body but struck at endurance, patience, balance, rationality, free speech, and logical thinking. Societies in which these values are subdued are lost.”
The Nation, a right-wing paper close to the government, echoed the sentiment expressed by the The Jamat Ahle Sunnat religious group that blamed Taseer for setting himself for his own demise:
It should be recalled that Mr Taseer had launched a public campaign against what he believed was a misuse of the blasphemy law. And, as was his wont when espousing the causes he thought worth defending, he vehemently argued for amending it. … he went too far, and even took up the cudgels on behalf of Aasia Bibi, who had been sentenced to death by a lower court under this law. Rather than letting the law take its course, he called a press conference in her house and openly demanded her release.
The Daily Times, the paper that Salman Taseer founded, asked readers to consider whether such an assassination could have been part of a larger conspiracy.
"It seems that the security staff was complicit in Mr Taseer’s murder.... The implications of such a huge security lapse are grave. How could no one possibly find out about Qadri’s plan to assassinate a sitting governor is something hard to digest. The security for a VIP has to be vetted first by the authorities … unless Qadri is meted out the punishment that is due under the law, and that, too, quickly, this murderous trend of issuing senseless edicts and subsequent assassinations will continue. A deterrent message is necessary to curb further threats to the lives of liberal Muslims in our narrow-minded society."
Muhammad Ajmal Niazi in the Urdu language Nawa-i-Waqt opines that the whole event has been taken over by politics. He estimates that the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) "is politicizing a religious issue" in order to score points over the opposition Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N). "PPP supporters are using the killing to hurl insults at the PML-N law minister and call for his hanging.”
On Twitter, prominent liberal columnist Fasi Zaka writes, "Liberals and progressives who choose to stay in Pakistan after Salman Taseer's murder choose to be willing lemmings."