Pakistan is reeling from the shocking assassination of Salman Taseer, one of the country’s most respected and popular political figures, who was shot by one of his own guards while shopping in Islamabad on Tuesday.
Taseer’s murder comes as Pakistan’s government is already dealing with a serious blow to the ruling coalition. Over the weekend, the second-largest political party pulled out of the coalition to protest rising fuel prices. This threatens the President, Yousuf Gilani, with a vote of no confidence, although the U.S. State Department doesn’t think it will come to that. It’s unlikely that any new government would be more cooperative with our war effort in Afghanistan.
Salman Taseer was the governor of Punjab, the most heavily populated province in Pakistan. He was also a successful businessman and media magnate. He was also an outspoken political activist who called the previous military government “a brutal and medievialistic dictatorship,’ according to CNN. He was willing to do jail time for his beliefs… and one belief in particular finally got him killed.
The gunman who murdered Taseer is in custody, and has reportedly told police he carried out the attack because of the governor’s opposition to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. According to the BBC, these laws were recently used to issue a death sentence against a Christian woman who got into an argument with Muslims who refused to drink water she had made “unclean” with her touch. The Christian was convicted and jailed because she allegedly insulted the Prophet Muhammad during the dispute. Ten other people have been murdered by Muslims who didn’t feel like waiting until their trials were complete.
International organizations, such as Human Rights Watch, have been speaking out against the use of blasphemy laws to discriminate against religious minorities in Pakistan, especially in the crowded Punjab province. The law has even been used to crack down against a Muslim sect, the Ahmadiyya, which was actually declared “non-Muslim,” in part because of their outrageous insistence that “jihad” is a peaceful exercise.
Critics of the blasphemy law had an outspoken ally in Salman Taseer, who is now the latest person to be killed by the same Islamist movement that assassinated Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto three years ago. A two-week period of mourning has been declared by President Gilani. Pakistan should use that time to decide whether they’re ready to fight the Islamist movement responsible for the murder, or just sit back and wait for the next period of mourning.