Today, Pakistan lost an outspoken defender of justice and democracy when Governor Salmaan Taseer was assassinated in Islamabad. Governor Taseer was a vocal critic of religious extremism and called for the government to reform laws that discriminated against women and religious minorities.
Speaking to Newsweek Pakistan, Governor Taseer spoke about the need for Pakistan’s political leadership to take a strong stand against terrorism.
Dealing with the militants has to be no holds barred. Their lives should be made hell; they should be prosecuted, and sent to hell where they belong. You saw what happened with the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal [a coalition of religious parties] government in Khyber- Pakhtunkhwa during the Musharraf years. They turned a blind eye, and in five years the terrorists had established a whole network of safe havens and training camps to launch their campaign of terror. The MMA government never claimed to be with them, but never took them on. If you take the same approach in the Punjab, you’ll get the same results.
Just last week, Governor Taseer reiterated his call to defend Pakistan’s most vulnerable citizens against the forces of religious extremism and intolerance – a principle he took from his own deeply held religious beliefs.
Unfortunately and sadly there are people who feel bigger when they pick on someone who cannot fight back. It’s called bullying. I went to Sheikhupura jail to stand up against a bully and it has encouraged others to do so as well. That’s what taking a moral stance is. I am honestly happy to say that I am heartened by the huge response from ordinary folk. Even people who are deeply religious have spoken out against this black law. Ghamdi, for example, has stated clearly that this has nothing to do with Islam – Islam calls on us to protect minorities, the weak and the vulnerable.
In recent months Governor Taseer took up the fight to reform Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, and called for the pardon of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death late last year. His support for justice and democracy was passionate, but always based in reason.
With his quick wit and sharp tongue, Salmaan Taseer was a larger than life figure in Pakistani politics. Our thoughts and our prayers go out to his family and loved ones on this sad day. Far from silencing the call for democracy and justice, though, Salmaan Taseer’s assassins have only strengthened our determination. His words will continue to guide us in the struggle to protect the rights of all Pakistanis.