MNA Farahnaz Ispahani: Shaheed Salmaan Taseer: we miss you Governor

I wanted to celebrate Salmaan Taseer today. His immense love for Pakistan, his passion for life, his loyalty for and joy in the company of his friends, his brilliance as a businessman and most importantly his tremendous affection for his family. His great sense of humour, sometimes a little colourful but always very clever. His ability to enjoy every moment of every day – relax when he could and work very hard when needed. A really intelligent, well read man who had been jailed and tortured in General Ziaul Haq’s days. His family was educated and urbane though not moneyed. But the lack of financial resources was more than made up by his father’s erudition and his Uncle Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s brilliance.

But what is the need of the hour today is to remember why he died. Why each and every patriotic Pakistani who wants to live in a democratic nation with freedom and equality for all its citizens has been eliminated one by one.

Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s vision for Pakistan was a modern Muslim country where each and every citizen irrespective of religion, race or sex had an equal right. Unfortunately, we are still very far from that vision today. Anti-democratic forces have eliminated every leader and intellectual who has attempted to take Pakistan down the path of the Quaid’s vision.

Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto attempted to fulfil the Quaid’s vision but was rewarded by judicial murder. Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto followed in the path of the Quaid and her father.

Throughout her life Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto struggled against regressive forces to make Pakistan a better place for the members of every sect, religion, linguistic group and community. People of every creed, race, language and colour loved her. From Parachinar to Karachi she was the only voice of the oppressed people of Pakistan. She was and still is the symbol of the federation of Pakistan.

Shaheed Salmaan Taseer followed her and the Quaid’s vision. He was born in Simla, British India. His father, Muhammad Din ‘M D’ Taseer, obtained his PhD in England and was a close friend of Allama Muhammad Iqbal. His late mother, Bilqis Christobel Taseer, an Englishwoman, was the sister of late Alys Faiz. Mrs Faiz was herself a writer and poet and was married to Pakistan’s brilliant and beloved and also very political Urdu poet late Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Salmaan’s father died when he was only six and he and his sisters were brought up by their mother.

Salmaan Taseer believed in the Quaid’s vision and fought for those who did not have a voice. Salmaan Taseer’s services for the freedom of minorities and democracy are unrivalled. His was a bold voice ruthlessly silenced by elements desirous of making Pakistan an extremist theocratic state. These elements have always worked to hinder the process of democracy and harmonisation of religious sects in Pakistan. A sick zealot who thought he was doing God’s work murdered him in the cold light of day!

Till the day that Salmaan Taseer laid down his life he remained steadfast in his principles, emphatically raising his voice against oppression and religious intolerance. Mr Taseer’s assassination was aimed at creating an environment of fear and lawlessness and preventing others from speaking out as he did.

Apparently this was not enough for the extremists – PPP Federal Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti – who I worked with on many issues and was one of the most hard working and respected members of the cabinet and of the National Assembly was shot dead on March 2, 2011. Mr Bhatti was the first Christian federal minister. He was also one of the founding members of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA), an organisation set up in 1985. As someone who believed in the democratic system, Mr Bhatti constantly encouraged minority groups to fight for their rights through the political system instead of using violence. An admirer and believer in the Quaid’s vision, Mr Bhatti was a true patriot.

Today we see leaders and members of banned extremist groups in Pakistan openly attending and speaking at political rallies of supposedly mainstream parties. Guests on talk shows continue to support such candidates from across the political spectrum at election time.

Only the Quaid’s vision for Pakistan will save our beloved country. We need to fight for the very soul of Pakistan. That is what Salmaan Taseer and others did and they paid for it with their lives. We owe it to them to continue the struggle and to never give in.

This article appeared in the 4th January 2011 edition of Daily Times. Please click here to read the original article. The writer is a member of Pakistan’s parliament and spokesman for President Asif Ali Zardari

Daily Times: Shaheed Salmaan Taseer: a year later…

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.