The apparent lull following the daylight slayings in recent months of two of Pakistan’s most prominent liberal politicians raises even more questions about a nation unwilling to confront the propagators of fear and destruction.
They took less than 60 seconds to complete. Each cold blooded murder was carried out in a public place, and within the confines of the Country’s Capital City.
Both murders were premeditated; one was a carefully planned ambush. One of the targets was the larger-than-life Governor of Punjab province; and the other was the only Christian Minister in the coalition Government that rules the Country of 180 million. Both Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti were men of principle: outspoken, Liberal, champions of minority rights and advocates for religious tolerance.
For Islamabad, a city known for its dullness- the scene must have been one of gripping disbelief.
It has been nearly four months since the brutal murder of Salman Taseer, the former Governor of Pakistan’s largest province. Killed he was, by a fanatical elite Police guard hired to protect him; a killing which speaks volumes about the extent to which intolerance in this country prevails, more so when those commissioned to protect life and property, are themselves part of the menace.
But to turn back the clock to the fateful day in January 2011 or even to the 2007 killing of Benazir Bhutto; is to have a short memory. It certainly is not that simple. The sort of intolerance which has exploded onto the national scene with blood and bombs is now nearly three decades old. Except that is; if you’re one of them who think the clock only starting ticking in the post 9/11 era.
If radicalism and intolerance can only confronted by their adversaries, then where are the Pakistani masses for which the two martyrs for tolerance were slain? Therein lays the problem. There too grounded and too scared.
Pakistan, in at least the post 2001 era made great strides towards liberal values and better human rights, interestingly under the guise of a civil-military government. Intolerance and those that advocate it- were not too far behind. Whether it was a marathon that included women, the right for a woman to divorce, or tabling a bill in parliament against a blasphemy law which results in the registration of false cases against minorities; it was just the type of ingredients
to fuel hatred and indifference the fanatics needed.
Salman Taseer, the fearless governor who took up the case of accused Christian women Aasia Bibi- paid with his life.
Immediately after his murder, the true colors of the party in which he belonged became evident. The ruling Pakistan Peoples Party, whose supporters are the largest in Pakistan in terms of grassroots support, failed to carry out a single demonstration of any significance. To twist the knife even deeper, the government reversed the deliberation of the bill to amend the law in Parliament, no presidential pardoning of the Christian women Aasia Bibi whom many believe is falsely accused, and not an iota of action against preachers and persons praising the murderer of Governor Taseer.
The lack of organized action to confront the fanatics trickles down to civil society, some out of ignorance but mostly out of fear of a backlash. Newspaper columnists and influential media talk show hosts regretted yet failed to condemn outright the recent killings, rightwing politicians and commentators talk of American plots to cause civil strife, popular opposition leaders refuse to do interviews where the killings are a basis for discussion for fear of being projected on the wrong side. To add to this, the security services and Police are staffed with sympathizers of Islamic radical teachings, the list is never ending.
Ultimately, it’s a Pakistani problem. If this countries liberal classes, intelligentsia, notables, philanthropists, celebrities and even common man- wish for a Pakistan based on the ideals of its
founding fathers, then they need to step up to the platter and fight for their right to be free from fear and subjugation.
Yes. They may be earmarked for death as a result; as would any outspoken critic defying dictatorial era established customary and legal traditions. These traditions have been used to deny freedom from persecution for minorities, basic human rights, inter-faith harmony
and multitude of matters pertaining to the status and emancipation of women in everyday life.
But it’s the future of Pakistani identity, and that of the generations after them. Sooner or later the crunch decision will have to be made. If one has been cursed with death for being pro-American yesterday, against the blasphemy laws today, then tomorrow it will be for having no beard or wearing no scarf or even being out on the street at prayer time.
The late Governor Taseer once remarked that Pakistan was not a country about “cutting hands and cutting heads”. He went to great lengths, and a fateful one, to defy that which portrayed his nation as an intolerant one. If only every peace loving Pakistani can to pay heed to these fateful words, will the country truly live up to the dreams of its founding father and become a progressive and tolerant nation.