Today marks the first death anniversary of late Governor Punjab and founder-publisher of Daily Times Salmaan Taseer. Mr Taseer was gunned down by one of his bodyguards on January 4, 2011. His self-confessed murderer, Mumtaz Qadri, was a fanatic who took it upon himself to silence a voice of reason because some elements in our society cannot tolerate reforms. Mr Taseer was not just a successful businessman or an ordinary politician; he was a man with a vision. He was a strong proponent of a democratic and progressive Pakistan where human rights would be safeguarded and where the minorities would be treated as equal citizens. His vision espoused what the founding fathers of Pakistan envisioned for our country. Today, we have done everything humanly possible in complete opposition to what Mr Jinnah stood for and what he wanted to see in this country.
Salmaan Taseer lost his life because he stood up for the rights of a Christian woman who was charged with alleged blasphemy. His stance was not just about Aasia Bibi — it was about hundreds of others, a majority of them Muslims — who are languishing in Pakistani prisons over frivolous charges due to the much-abused blasphemy laws. It was also about those who have been victims of vigilante (in)justice at the hands of the obscurantist forces. Neither military nor civilian governments have been able to do anything to reverse the changes in the blasphemy laws ever since General Ziaul Haq and his protégés made draconian amendments to the original blasphemy laws introduced by the British in the Indian subcontinent. When a debate on these flawed laws came to the fore during the present Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government, there were only a few who supported any amendment or repeal of the blasphemy laws. With the brutal assassination of Mr Taseer, arguably by a lone fanatic, the debate slowly but surely died. Federal Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti tried to keep the debate alive but his murder on March 2, 2011, was a clear signal that any debate on this issue should end right there and then. It is indeed a tragedy that two politicians lost their lives at the hands of extremists but their mission of a pluralistic Pakistan could not be carried forward despite their sacrifices. It seems as if the Pakistani state and society have abandoned all notions of what is right and wrong.
There are grave implications for Pakistan in abandoning the road to a democratic, secular and progressive Pakistan. Regressive forces are not just united in their fight against this notion but also out to silence saner elements by hook or by crook. Unfortunately, our media has played into their hands. The media played a dark role in Mr Taseer’s murder by vilifying him at every possible opportunity. Optimists could be forgiven for thinking the media would have learnt its lesson after Mr Taseer’s death but it seems that some sections of the media are still engaging in defamation and playing a part in incitement to violence and murder of those who talk about reforming the system in defence of the minorities and human rights. This is not just highly irresponsible but criminal. It is time to stop this madness. The government and society at large is not prepared to do what is necessary to put a stop to all this. If we want to move forward in the comity of nations, we will have to stand together and fight extremism.
This editorial appeared in the 4th January 2011 edition of Daily Times. Click here for the original article.