Baby Steps

Protest against Assassination Salman Taseer

29th February is an uncommon date. Perhaps that makes it symbolic that it was on such date that Mumtaz Qadri was hanged till death for the murder of Salmaan Taseer Shaheed.

This is a landmark case for many reasons. The convicted killer received support from sections present in society. His execution was announced from mosque loudspeakers and reports of cries being heard were not uncommon. Religious parties termed him as a martyr (a spit in the face of the families of our soldiers martyred while defending our country from terrorists), and protesters blocked streets. This was all expected. Actually, for many the fear was even greater. This should be noted: Even though extremists and misguided people are outraged, the country is not engulfed in flames. Tomorrow the sun will rise and life will move on. Eventually, Salmaan Taseer’s killer will be forgotten in the rubbish bin of history.

The Courts, too, deserve credit. Judges and lawyers were under intense pressure from powerful religous groups. It should not be forgotten that Lahore High Court Judge Pervez Ali Shah who handed the death sentence left Pakistan under life threats. Religious parties threatened ‘dire consequences‘ if anyone dared carry out the Court’s sentence. However the Court stood firm and justice was meted according to the law. No last minute appeal overturned the verdict. No encounter killing required to do the needful. The state declared that it holds the monopoly on power, and it showed it. There are debates about the death penalty, but even this gives hope that we are becoming a society where debate is possible without turning to threats and violence.

I am not celebrating the death penalty. Neither I am celebrating a death. But I do feel some hope that I haven’t felt since long that maybe a crack of light is beginning to shine through. I know we are not there yet, but I think Zarrar Khuhro said it very well…”baby steps”…

Salmaan Taseer’s Killer and the Death Penalty Question

Today is a day that will go down in the history books. The best response I have seen comes from Nadeem Paracha on Twitter.

What he is referencing, of course, is the historic decision by Supreme Court maintaining the conviction of Governor Salmaan Taseer’s confessed murderer and rejecting his appeal against his death sentence. The confessed murderer will now hang to death as a terrorist, the lowest of the low in our society.

This has brought mixed emotions to many liberals in Pakistan who celebrate with great relief and a renewed sense of hope the Court’s decision which not only cements the principle of rule of law by demanding that individuals cannot take the law into their own hands but must take their complaints through the due process of law, but asked some pointed questions about the use – and misuse – of blasphemy laws. The feeling of hope that, while we have a long way to go, the darkest days may finally be behind us cannot be understated.

However that feeling is also mixed with a discomfort with the death penalty for many who have seen it also misused and know that in killing someone the state takes on the ultimate power of life and death. It is a sentence that cannot be overturned. Death is permanent. Even when the death penalty has not been misused for political purposes, such as the case of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, we have seen situations such as the hanging of people convicted when they were children over the outcry of international human rights groups. This has left an understandable distaste for the practice.

In the case of Salmaan Taseer’s killer, though, I believe the Court has made the correct decision. In the case, there is no question of the killer’s innocence as he has freely and proudly confessed to his crime. In that way it is a fairly open and shut case. In another way, the case is extraordinary. Such a case cannot be viewed without acknowledging the times we live in. By treating the convict in the same way that we have treated hundreds of other terrorists, we are sending a clear message that this is not the case of a hero or Ghazi but a common murderer and terrorist that has no place in our society.

So let us end this case with a feeling of hope. Hope that the Supreme Court’s courageous decision will mark a turning point when our justice system is following the popular sentiment against extremism and lawlessness. Hope that the pathetic end to this terrorist prevents others from following his evil path. And hope that with the closing of this case, we also begin to close a dark chapter in our nation’s history and begin a new, happier chapter for generations to come.

Six months after APS Peshawar, we have lost the plot completely

APS Peshawar

16th December was supposed to be a turning point. The brutal massacre of hundreds of innocent children at APS Peshawar had finally awoken the nation and united our resolve to defeat the real enemy – the jihadi extremists that had killed tens of thousands of Pakistanis since the last ten years. It is almost six months since that black day, and where are we now? The truth is not encouraging.

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Democracy Surrenders in Pakistan

Nawaz Sharif and Gen RaheelPakistani authorities are clamping down on discussion of excesses committed by law enforcement personnel as the country struggles with its half-hearted battle against terrorism. A woman activist was killed on April 24th just hours she hosted an event for a dissident from the embattled province of Baluchistan. Pakistans establishment considers advocates of Baloch autonomy as separatists and have focused more resources on fighting them than in confronting Islamist terrorists, who were Pakistans allies in Afghanistan and in India in Kashmir.

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What Would It Mean If Mumtaz Qadri’s Terrorism Conviction Were Upheld

Supporters of convicted target killer Mumtaz Qadri

Though it has been overshadowed by Wednesday’s raid on Nine Zero, Islamabad High Court’s decision to drop terrorism charges against convicted target killer Mumtaz Qadri has important implications for society.

Many were shocked by the seemingly inexplicable court decision. As Dawn noted in their editorial on the decision:

Qadri’s killing of then governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer is the very definition of terrorism. It was an undisguised political act meant to send an unambiguous message of fear and intimidation to the public.

The Nation agrees:

It is rather disappointing that a man being shot 32 times in broad daylight by a lunatic in the name of religion doesn’t qualify as terrorism in the infinite wisdom of the honourable judges.

Questions are beginning to arise whether the decision was a foregone conclusion, and whether prosecutors actually conspired to bring it about, but let us ask the question which no one wants to ask: What would it say about our society if the Court would have let the terrorism conviction stand?

Remember, this is a convicted target killer who at least one MNA said should be released. Lawyers showered him with roses. Religious groups applauded his crime. Social media groups supporting the confessed killer sprout up like weeds across the internet, and offline a mosque has been named after the killer. As depressing as it is, a confessed murderer is seen as a hero in much of the country.

We can dismiss the antics of Abdul Aziz as representative of a small minority of extremists, but support for Mumtaz Qadri is widespread, possibly even considered as mainstream in some places.  If our own Court had termed him as a terrorist…what would that make a society that praises him…?