Shehrbano Taseer: Hatred that killed my father hurts all Pakistan

Shehrbano TaseerFive months ago, my father Salmaan Taseer was assassinated by his security guard Mumtaz Qadri for opposing misuse of Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws. During the investigation, we were shown a video that made my blood freeze. In a tiny madrassa in Rawalpindi, the chief cleric of a little known Sunni religious group, Shabab-e-Islami, was frothing at the mouth, screeching to 150 swaying men inciting them to kill my father, “the blasphemer”.

Qadri was in the audience, nodding and listening intently. A few days later, on January 4, he casually strolled up behind my father and shot him 27 times. As was reported this week, the blasphemy laws are still being used to persecute Christians, while Qadri, who has still not stood trial, is treated as a hero.

How did it come to this? In the 1979 Soviet-Afghan war, the intelligence agencies of the US, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia joined together to fight a covert operation against the Soviet Union. The US offered huge amounts of aid as Pakistan became a conduit for assistance to the Mujahidin. About 20,000 to 30,000 fighters from 20 Muslim countries joined the battle, including Osama bin Laden. In local madrassas they were taught to hate and kill, and indoctrinated with extremist Wahhabi ideology. We thought the nightmare would end when Soviet troops withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989. But it’s thriving and has come back to haunt us.

Madrassas are still the breeding ground of Islamic radicalism. More than 15,000 have mushroomed all over the country and 80 per cent teach militant Islam. Clerics can preach whatever they please, and are raising a generation of children to be merchants of hatred, who believe that their only contribution to Islam is jihad and that the only way to achieve it is violence.

Not all madrassas are evil. My grandfather was educated in one and he was a poet, the first South Asian to receive a doctorate in literature from Cambridge. But nowadays rabid clerics hijack the minds of young children, denying them contact with the outside world and teaching them to be bitterly antagonistic to non-Muslims and other sects of Islam alike.

A boy of 8 or 9 in a madrassa will not know much about history, maths or science but will know how to fire a Kalashnikov and strap on a suicide bomb vest. These children are being trained not how to live, but how to die. My father’s murder is the perfect example of the hatred and violence spewed daily to children who go out into the world deluded in this warped piety where murder and violence are legitimised in the name of Islam.

The weak Pakistani Government appeases extremist demands and allows these hate-mongers a platform. The ruthless military and intelligence agencies play a double game, dividing terrorists into good and bad, funding and arming those deemed “good”.

But Pakistan too is a victim of the ideology. We have lost an estimated 3,000 soldiers and 35,000 civilians in the War on Terror. Our mosques and market places are bombed every month. Police and military bases and training academies are attacked weekly. As a people, we are exhausted with the bombings, violence and assassinations. We are suffering because of an extremist ideology exported from Saudi Arabia.

The role of wealthy Saudi families in funding al-Qaeda and other terrorists has been kept in the background. But according to a US diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks, $100 million a year makes its way from Saudi Arabia and the UAE to extremist recruitment networks in Punjab. Given Saudi Arabia’s importance as an oil producer, the presence of Saudi financial support is, perhaps, a big complication for the UK and US anti-terror effort. But it has reached the point of passive sponsorship.

An international effort to cut off the financial tentacles of the Islamist terrorist apparatus is needed urgently. No other family should have to suffer what mine have had to. No other nation should lose its brave heart because of this madness in the name of religion.

The writer, the daughter of the assassinated governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, is a journalist with Newsweek Pakistan. This piece was originally published in The Times (UK).