Salman Tasseer’s assassination, one year on

A year has passed since that dreadful afternoon of January 4, 2011 when Punjab Governor Tasseer was gunned down by one of his official guards, Malik Mumtaz Qadri, allegedly for committing blasphemy (showing disrespect to the Islamic religion).

Tasseer had always been a flamboyant character, in his lavish lifestyle as well as his political demeanor, and was unapologetic about it. He had a fearless knack of staring a challenge in the face, unlike some other Pakistani politicians. Months before his assassination, he had taken it upon himself to advocate the release of a Christian woman, Aasia bibi, who was subsequently sentenced to death in a blasphemy case, on the complaint of a local cleric in Sheikhupura, a small town almost 40 kilometers from Punjab province’s capital Lahore.

He went to the prison with his wife and vowed to undertake all efforts for her release because of allegedly charges brought against the poor woman in the case. His strong stand induced sharp criticism from clergy and he also received death threats, which ultimately led to his killing.

There was an immediate for and against opinion on his assassination and the division was so sharp that even many educated and well-oriented people were found justifying the killing on the premise that Tasseer “may have” committed something wrong. Even his party leaders and former colleagues were reluctant to openly condemn the incident, fearing a similar fate as Tasseer.

Following the killing, his party faced a hard time in finding a prayer-leader to lead the funeral and had to fall back on a party leader from within their own ranks to do the rituals. He has since had to leave the country fearing for his safety.

Mumtaz Qadri, the assassin, who had handed himself over to the police, was showered with rose-petals on his first hearing by the lawyers and banned religious outfits made a mockery of the rule of law in the country by openly campaigning for his release on the roads and threatening of dire consequences if their demand was not fulfilled.

The judge hearing the case has also left the country since then after receiving death threats and the case against Qadri is, at best, in limbo. No headway has been made on the mercy petition of blasphemy accused Aasia bibi, forwarded to the President by Governor Tasseer before his assassination, and she continues to languish in prison.

Barely a couple of months after Tasseer’s murder, Pakistani minister for minority affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti was also gunned down in broad daylight in the federal capital, Islamabad. His bold stance against the blasphemy law is believed to have led to his demise and his assassins also remain at large.

Member of Parliament, Sherry Rehman, was the only colleague of Tasseer in the ruling Pakistan People’s Party to take an open stand against blasphemy laws and submitted bill in the parliament for bringing about necessary changes in it. She not only received death threats but her own party ditched her as well. Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gillani made a public statement that she was doing it in her private capacity and should withdraw her proposed amendments.

One year on, as we look back at events surrounding Tasseer’s murder, Sherry is set to take charge as Pakistan’s new envoy to Washington, DC and is likely to encounter tough questions about religious intolerance in Pakistan. This is something that has also been highlighted in the recent religious freedom report issued by the US State Department.

The youth, political parties and the media in Pakistan are as divided as the ruling elite on the issue of blasphemy laws. There is no objective discussion on the cases or an effort to reach a solution. It is quite hard to discern even after a year whether more people in Pakistan justify the killing of Governor Tasseer and minister Bhatti or condemn it.

The confusion in thought and contradiction in approach can be described best by a decision of the government when it announced civil award for the slain Governor Salman Tasseer on Independence-Day (August 14, 2011), but not for minister Shahbaz Bhatti. Both belonged to the same party and had faced the unfortunate end to their life because of their bold stand on the same issue; but were not equal even for their own leadership. This is the battle within that the Pakistani decision-makers and the general public must fight, even more than the much-trumpeted “war on terror” on external fronts.

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Sports can break barriers and bring people together: Amir Khan

Amir Khan, the new sensation in the boxing world, has achieved several noteworthy feats at a young age of 25. He was the youngest British boxer to compete in Olympics in 2004 at the age of 17. Currently, he is the world champion in light welterweight category. His parents migrated to Britain from a small village near the town of Kahuta in Rawapindi district. Although born and raised in Britain, he is very deeply attached to his Pakistani and Muslim links. Amir was recently in United States on an invitation of US government to recognize his contributions, along with a group of 10 Muslim-American athletes, in promoting peace and harmony through sports. He took out time to speak exclusively with Dunya News about his biggest inspirations in life and how sports can be used to bring people together.

Question: You are a Muslim as well as of Pakistani origin where millions of youngsters idealize you. How difficult it was for you initially to achieve success in a challenging mainstream sport like boxing?

Answer: It has been very hard journey for me and it’s very hard for everyone. If you want to be successful in sport and you are young too, you need to try twice as hard. When I was 17 years of age, England did not want to send me to Olympic games, and I had a chance to go via Pakistan. But then England kind of said to me, look, we want you to go through us and we apologize. To be honest with you, I think now I see it quite different because you don’t really see the racism, you don’t really see the stereotypes and everything in sports. Sport is brilliant because everyone is treated equally and that s the way it should be.

Question: You are a Pakistani-Muslim youth icon known and admired allover the world at a time when there are a lot of misconceptions about Pakistan as well as Islamic religion. How these misgivings can be removed in your opinion?

Answer: There are a handful of bad people around but there are a lot of good people and I think sports breaks that barrier. Sport in a way brings everyone together. If you look at any of my fights and the crowd, you ll see English, Americans, Pakistanis, Indian, you ll see everyone watching me and supporting me., even though I might be fighting a British boxer. I think more sporting events around the world will break the racial barriers. There are 10 other Muslim athletes with me here including those of Pakistani origin and that s good because we promoting this sport for Pakistan and for the Muslims. I think we need more such events to promote sports.

Question: You are obviously very deeply tied to your oots and your religion and you recently performed Umrah as well. What role does religion play in your success as a professional sportsman?

Answer: Definitely, faith is a big thing in my career. That s the reason that has got me so far. All my success comes from Allah, who has put me in this position. I have to work hard and I always thank Allah for all the success. I went to perform Umrah recently with my whole family and my brother Haroon Khan, who is also a boxer and will be representing Pakistan in the next Olympics in 2012. Both of us always pray before the fight and faith is very close to our hearts. We believe in it big time because it keeps my feet on the ground. You have your own natural talent but you also need the divine blessings to achieve success. Without believing in religion, it is easy to get bigheaded but faith has kept me really down to earth.

Question: Amir, you are also involved in a lot of charity work. What s the motivation behind that?

Answer: That s one thing which I love doing to help the less fortunate people and that s the reason I do a lot of charity work for poor people like Pakistan earthquake and floods, Tsunami and my next project is to get involved in the charity work in the horn of Africa who are suffering without food, shelter and clothing. The message it gives to others is that the people who don t have food at the end of the day also deserve attention of others who are in a position to do so.

Question: What message you want to give to your fans in Pakistan?

Answer: My message to all my fans is that my next trip will be to Pakistan very soon and I look forward to see all my fan-base there like elsewhere in the world. Another message I want to send across to young kids out there is that if you want to achieve something in life, you have to work hard towards it. You might not achieve it in one year and may have to work for five years but as long as you keep working hard and pray to Allah, I am sure you ll be able to achieve it one day.

Thank You Mr. Amir Khan For Speaking To Dunya News.

Thank you. I Really Appreciate The Opportunity.

The Missile called Mirza: There’s a Method behind this Madness

There is never a dull moment in the Pakistani politics, and news channels thrive on such moments. For the last week or so, Zulfiqar Mirza has become the new darling of the Pakistani media, who has caused an unprecedented furor by taking on the friends and foes simultaneously.

Mirza’s reputation has always been of a ‘no-holds-bar’ kind of person who got a free reign after his personal friend and school-buddy, Asif Ali Zardari, was elected to the office of the President. The fact that his wife, Fehmida Mirza, was chosen to become the speaker of national assembly only enhanced his political nuisance and the bond of friendship between the two.

It was never in doubt that Mirza was the ‘bad-cop’ in Sindh, and this role-playing was always in sync with the presidency to suit the political objectives of PPP. He was used primarily to keep the MQM in check, to which the PPP’s inner circle in Sindh has been reluctant ally, as well as to flaunt the Sindh-card as and when required.

This was evident with his justification of the violence that broke out after Benazir Bhutto’s assassination in Sindh, his tirade against the political opponents on the BB’s death anniversary in Garhi Khuda Bakhsh in presence of Zardari, his speeches against the SC orders and the threat to kittle out PML-N from Sindh.

However, it’s MQM to which he has taken a special liking. It is not the first time he has played villain in the PPP-MQM ‘love–affair’. The last three-and-a-half years of “consensus politics’ of PPP have seen MQM walking-out of this relationship on several occasions and Mirza has been the very reason for it almost always.

When he first decided to take-on MQM with a verbal assault in Karachi chamber, hardly anybody thought that it could be without Zardari’s knowledge. With each passing day, his aggression towards MQM has been on the rise and just peaked last week, with some added flavors to everybody’s surprise.

His barrage of accusations against Rehman Malik has caught everybody by surprise and his own party off-guard. Given the seriousness of his allegations, here has been no denial of his accusations from either side, barring a meek attempt by Rehman Malik and MQM. His own party, ruling in Sindh and center, has dismissed it as his personal opinion. One wonders if they can leave the ball like that?

On the political chessboard, Zardari has made his moves tactfully and keeping MQM in check has been one of his desires. The party, particularly its Sindh leadership, has never been happy with the pressure-tactics of the MQM and wants a larger stake of the pie with the next elections approaching.

The accusations against MQM have been doing the rounds one way or the other but it needed a heavyweight voice to lend it credence. It’ll hardly minimize their political influence but will at least push them on the back-foot for a while. If a villain had to be made out of some other party colleagues, i.e. Rehman Malik, to achieve that end, the bargain is worth it!

We are certainly not done with the Mirza episode as yet and it will keep unfurling over the next days and weeks. One thing is for sure; this is certainly not the whole truth. And half-truth is dangerous because it is aimed at achieving certain ends. We should keep our fingers crossed as it unfolds further. As they say, “there seems to be a method behind this madness”.

We owe it to Saleem Shahzad

Saleem Shahzad’s killing has once again brought into sharp focus a bitter reality that we all know but hardly admit. Intolerance has seemed across the society in Pakistan and it is not just terrorism but intolerance across the rank and file of the society that threatens the very existence of its fabric.

Saleem was Pakistan’s best-known journalist to the outside world because of his expertise in covering militant outfits and the ability to unmask their ability to infiltrate within the security agencies. The fact that his stories were hardly ever rebuked, even by his detractors, is a credit in itself.

Even in the last story that he did on the terrorist attack at Mehran naval base in Karachi, he pointed to the presence of some right-wing elements in navy who were probably having sympathies with the militant outfits. But the question is whether there is anything new in it? We all know that several officers and jawans of armed forces were taken in custody and convicted on charges of abetting the militants.

The attack at the naval base in Karachi was no different from the GHQ attack in October 2009 and several other attacks on military, police and other law enforcement agencies across the country. Sad though it is but could this be without any inside information? This is a question that hardly anybody would dispute.

Why kill somebody who is writing all this then? And he had been doing this with aplomb and fearlessness for more than a decade. The rising intolerance meant that his mouth had to be shut like other liberal and independent voices in other parts of the country. Whether he was killed by the intelligence agencies, as is being alleged, or the militants that he exposed, is immaterial in this debate because the ultimate cause of his death remains the same.

And why rue his loss only? What about an acclaimed intellectual like Prof. Saba Dashtiari in Balochistan or the politicians like former Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseeer and former minister for minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, who were assassinated because of their liberal approach.   

Could this go on with such impunity? Could a country of 180 million be allowed to drift towards extremism and intolerance like this? The answer of an overwhelming majority in Pakistan will be a big NO. But how to stem the rot and where to start? The answer perhaps lies in coming out of the state of denial.

There will gain be commissions and promises of fair investigation into Saleem Shahzad’s killing but in every likelihood it’ll also meet the same fate as other investigations prior to this. The murder probes in Pakistan, right from the first Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan’s assassination in 1951, have literally become a joke.

Saleem was not just another number and not just another journalist in the long list of people who had to pay dearly for their quest to bring the truth to light. His killing has caused a huge uproar within the country and abroad. While we may never know who exactly killed him and it’ll be life as usual for most of the people after a while, but the journalist fraternity has an obligation to him.

He gave his life without compromising on truth and that is the message that needs to be understood and spread across. It is now our responsibility to carry the baton and seek light towards the end of the tunnel. When I see most young journalists, let alone his contemporaries and seniors, echoing the same sentiments and ready to play their part, I know all is not lost and there is still hope. Yes Saleem, we owe it to you!