January 5, 2011

Salman Taseer, Governor of Punjab, was killed yesterday afternoon just as he left Mocha coffee in Kohsar market. No one knows what to make of a murder in cold blood in one of the sleepiest little markets in Islamabad. Truth be told, I'm not sure what people are more shocked at: that Taseer was killed, or that the deed was done in Kohsar market. Shot once, then shot again nine times, Taseer's assasin was Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, a member of Taseer's elite security force. Rumor (now substantiated by the assassin's statement) has it that this political murder was a direct result of Taseer's decision to 'pardon' Aasia Bibi, the Christian woman sentenced to death under Pakistan's blasphemy law. Apparently, said people who did not quite know what side of the fence they sat, Taseer crossed a line when he called the blasphemy law a 'kaala kanoon' (literally: black law). And just like that violence supercedes dialogue, might damns what may be right and we are guaranteed that nobody is going to espouse any more causes like Aasia's anytime this decade.

While he lived, Mr. Taseer led a very colorful life. A political appointee with close ties to the Bhutto family, he made no friends with PML-N the half-coalition, half-opposition political party with a stronghold in the Punjab. Taseer's dissipated lifestyle is the stuff urban legends are made of. The internet is ripe with pictures of his modern, scantily clad family wining, dining and dancing. A lot of people would say that in many ways Mr. Taseer lived the life that most Pakistani elites do, but the only difference was he did not pretend to hide behind a facade of contrived piety. In my books that makes him somewhat admirable. But many others would condemn him for selling his soul to the devil so openly. If nothing else, the Governor (and family)'s antics have provided much-appreciated fodder for society gossip columns.

What is ironic, however, is that this man who - it sometimes seemed - had no principles to speak of, took a surprisingly rigid stance against the shariah law and its application, particularly in the case of Aasia bibi. While talking to a friend last night, we genuinely wondered, what made Taseer do it? What made this apparently self-serving, vain, playboy figure put his life on the line for a Christian woman from the backwaters of the Punjab? Did he even realize, we wonder, what a rabid monster he was poking? Did he understand that once he laid the challenge on the table so definitely, something or the other would have to be done to counter his move? Was he simply trying to be sensational (as he has been known to do in the past) or did he truly care about the cause?

Perhaps the answers to these questions are somewhat redundant now. What matters is that there is no doubt in some of our minds that Pakistan would be infinitely better off if this law were to be amended (if not out and out repealed). In the past here have been infinite political promises around the blasphemy law but no real movement - until now. There has never been as rich a country-wide debate, massive media attention and political jabberering around the issue as has been going on for a couple of months now. Along with Taseer, another PPP(?) ppolitician, Sherry Rehman has been instrumental in bringing the subject up for discussion in the Parliaments. And while we have no idea if all this would actually have amount to change, for the first time there seemed to be some hope. Which is why those of us who care about these things should thank Governor Taseer. And say a special prayer today for a man who stood up, was gunned down, and will remain in our memories as someone who - despite the odds - took a stance that only the very brave, or the very foolish, dare to take in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. I'm not sure if anyone else will have the courage to take up the battle he left behind, but I appreciate his actions, and bemoan his sacrifice.

Rest in peace Mr. Taseer. Good-bye.

5 comments:

pakistani? said...

just to add somethings: his murderer (and guard) actually said that he killed taseer because of his statement on the blasphemy law. he informed his fellow guards earlier about his plan and asked them not to shoot him as he wished to be arrested alive for this "glorious" deed he committed.

other thing you missed out: i have been getting smses after smses and seeing facebook statuses, comments, and groups saying that the murderer did an "amazing" deed an salman taseer deserved to die.

this nation, my friend, is hopeless.

Babar said...

Well, "no principles to speak of", "self-serving" etc etc. What for? just because he was a politician or is it because he was PPP? I am just trying to figure out your class sub-status.

Xeb said...

p: *sigh*

B: Hearsay, mostly. I didn't know the man, or his family, I just write about what I knew 'of' him courtesy social columns and political gossip. I could be completely wrong, ofcourse.

Babar said...

But even the hearsay is all about how he drinks, how his daughters know how to swim etc. etc. I am sure you dont care about that. Not saying he was an angel.

Xeb said...

" A lot of people would say that in many ways Mr. Taseer lived the life that most Pakistani elites do, but the only difference was he did not pretend to hide behind a facade of contrived piety. In my books that makes him somewhat admirable. But many others would condemn him for selling his soul to the devil so openly."

That is all I feel qualified to say about the public persona of a man I did not know. In fact, in the next few days I intend to catch up on old interviews of Governor Taseer - if only to see if some of our (now redundant) questions can be answered.