The brutal and horrific assassination of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer is indescribable, not just for having taken place but for its aftermath and the deep fissures which have been torn into our national sanity.
The murder was carried out not by a member of the public or a terrorist, but by members of the Punjab police force itself. Not only the gunman, but all those assigned to protect Governor Taseer that day were complicit in the murder. The moral, if not the legal, responsibility lies firmly with the Punjab government of Shahbaz Sharif and its Law Minister Rana Sanaullah. However, the Punjab government’s record on law and order has been abysmal and even criminal — far from weeding out extremist elements, they have nurtured, suckled and even colluded with extremist religious outfits in the province.
Rana Sanaullah’s reaction to the brutal, brazen killing of Salmaan Taseer speaks volumes. Sanaullah, barely within a couple of hours of Salmaan Taseer’s assassination, displayed no emotion or outrage on the shockingly brutal murder, compared to 24 hours previously, when he could barely contain his rage as he spewed venomous statements against political rivals. Yet he could not even muster a blip of outrage in his statement about the governor’s heinous killing. Only the most perfunctory of statements expressing the obligatory ‘regret’ was made. When questioned, Sanaullah did not even feel that any senior police officer need be suspended pending the investigation. Rana often targeted the governor with harsh invective during his life. Clearly he is unable to rise above that political partiality even after the governor’s death. He even made statements impugning the governor’s reasons for taking up Aasia Bibi’s case, implying that it was a political stunt to garner minority votes for the PPP. Rana Sanaullah should have no input nor role in any aspect of the investigation into the governor’s murder, particularly when his connections to extremist religious organisations are examined.
In March 2010, Rana Sanaullah was pictured campaigning alongside Sipah-i-Sahaba leaders in official vehicles, guarded by the Punjab police, so that they could muster votes from their supporters in the Jhang by-election, which the PML-N subsequently won. It was Salmaan Taseer who wrote an official complaint to the chief minister, demanding that Rana Sanaullah be dismissed for such an overt endorsement of a banned terrorist organisation. Shahbaz Sharif did nothing.
Punjab’s law and order under Sanaullah and Shahbaz has deteriorated severely. In February 2010, there was an attempt to murder Sheikh Rasheed, another political rival of the Sharifs’, by gunmen in Rawalpindi who killed two of his guards. No one has been arrested for this double murder. In July 2010, the Sialkot police supervised the lynching of two teenage boys, causing much furore and public sorrow. Despite video evidence detailing the entire incident, the case has yet to be tried or the perpetrators punished and Shahbaz Sharif’s promise to get justice for the boys’ mother has gone down as yet another sound bite the PR savvy chief minister routinely issues on such occasions. In July 2009, 40 Christians’ houses were burnt down in Gojra, Punjab after allegations of blasphemy were made against some of the residents. Gojra’s Christian community was attacked and several died in an attack blamed on Sipah-i-Sahaba. The Punjab administration has failed to bring anyone to justice for these murders, as is the case with the numerous attacks on Ahmadis that Punjab witnessed last year, also suspected to be the work of such extremists.
Unfortunately, it is not just complacency that has undermined law and order in Punjab — it is the PML-N’s ideological leanings towards extremist religious and sectarian outfits. In March last year, Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif let slip his disappointment that the Taliban had chosen to carry out terrorist attacks in his province, given the common ideology they both have. Both Sanaullah and Sharif have shown not just their tolerance of these extremist organisations, they have even colluded with them for their own aims. Through political expediency and ideological affinity, they have aligned themselves with the devil — those who will use violence and barbarity to achieve their aims.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 8th, 2011.