The Governor of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populace and powerful province, was assassinated on Tuesday by one of the men assigned to keep him safe from such attacks. Salman Taseer, a member of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party, succumbed to his wounds after his guard Malik Mumtaz Hussein Qadri, shot him in the back at almost point-blank range.
The reason for the governor’s assassination is neither corruption, Pakistan’s biggest problem, nor support for American policies in the region, something for which many have given their lives. He was gunned down because of his support for the repeal of the country’s oft-misused blasphemy laws.
His support was especially influential for the well-being of , a Christian woman who has been condemned to death by courts in Punjab for apparently insulting the Prophet Mohammad. Asiah Bibi’s real crime, according to some reports, was offer water to Muslim women who were insulted by the approach from a Christian.
As the reasons behind the assassination are being reviewed, the facts point to a sinister truth: Pakistan is on the verge of succumbing to radical Islamic fervour:
- While being assigned to keep safe Taseer, someone whose life has been in danger ever since he spoke out against the blasphemy laws, the government didn’t notice Qadri’s fundamentalist views and his .
All this raises concerns that the security establishment in Pakistan has swung to the side of the extremists, even as though extremists claim that the security establishment is getting funding from the "West".
Then there is the reaction to the killing. There are now set up for the assassin with dozens, even . Several polls on Pakistani forums support for his action. Today, before his funeral was held, 500 scholars from Jamaat-e-Ahl-e-Sunnat, one of the largest non-political religious groups in Pakistan, released a statement advising Muslims in Pakistan to refrain from joining or leading Taseer's funeral prayer or offering prayers to his soul: "There should be no expression of grief or sympathy on the death of the governor, as those who support blasphemy of the prophet are themselves indulging in blasphemy.”
Of course, not all Pakistanis support the killing. However, the incident and the reactions indicate that the religious right have infiltrated the security system to such a degree that liberalisation for Pakistan’s draconian Islamic laws is not just close-to-impossible; any attempts at freeing the country from the shackles of these laws are going to pay a steep price.
The Pakistani Government's continued lack of strong action against this tide is only going to strengthen the fundamentalists who are threatening to derail any semblance of progress made towards democracy in recent years. Democracy does not mean anything if the rule of the majority translates into the oppression of a minority.
Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and all other non-Muslims in Pakistan will remain unsafe as long as people like Taseer are killed because the government does not want to address religious fundamentalism amongst its ranks and those of the military. The section of Pakistan’s population calling itself "liberal" will have to conform to fundamentalist ideas, live in fear or leave the country. This would effectively end Pakistan’s pursuit of a democratic state.