Taseer’s death leaves hole in Pakistani hearts, void in Pakistani leadership

By: Michael Hughes     

Pakistan is reeling emotionally and politically from the assassination of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer who was shot to death on Tuesday by one of his own bodyguards. This brazen act by a religious zealot not only ended the life of a great man but has left a glaring void in political leadership, a destabilizing secondary blow which could also prove fatal – to Pakistan’s government.

Yasmeen Ali, a Pakistani writer who has been published inThe Daily Times and the Pakistan Observer and is also the owner and moderator of the Pakpotpourri Blog, expressed her thoughts and feelings to me last night regarding this tragic event:

Salman Taseer, Governor Punjab was shot dead on 4th Jan. 2011. He was not a “professional politician”. Salman Taseer was a qualified chartered accountant from England. A man who rose to eminence as a bold and successful businessman, owner of an English Daily, a popular TV channel and many other business interests. A man hailing from an excellent family background, educated, with amazing business acumen. A cut above the other politicians. He was seen close to President Zardari and a PPP stalwart. A man with an exceptional quality of dealing with a cross-spectrum of politicians.

His murder, coming on the heels of MQM declaring an end of alliance with the PPP Government in Sindh, has left PPP increasingly vulnerable in Punjab. Reeling from his sudden death, PPP is left to fill the gap in face of a 6 day ultimatum by Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N to meet their demands in Punjab. A tall order. Finding a candidate to fill Taseer’s shoes capable of commanding the kind of respect Taseer did, in Punjab, where he held the fort, will be a tough call. A challenge for the PPP Government. A weak choice can only weaken PPP in Punjab.

In a recent youtube/google interview Mr. Taseer expressed a sincere level of pride in his homeland, saying it was a country with a lot of history and spirit, as he pointed out a recent Newsweek magazine cover that called Pakistan “the bravest country in the world” in reference to the country’s struggle with and survival from historic floods – a sentiment with which he had wholeheartedly concurred.

Taseer goes on to explain how the cover captured the essence of Pakistan, underlining that his country had taken hits that would have caused most country’s to collapse. Taseer said that Pakistan has faced and survived terrorism, floods, and assassinations. He described the great strides Pakistan had made, especially with respect to going from a quasi-military dictatorship to a representative form of government and a society with a free press.

Taseer fought especially hard for human rights and equality during his entire career. According to the New York Times, Taseer, true to form, recently posted the following profound message on Twitter, encapsulating a lifelong philosophy:

My observation on minorities: A man/nation is judged by how they support those weaker than them, not how they lean on those stronger.

(Michael Hughes is a journalist and foreign policy strategist for the New World Strategies Coalition (NWSC), a think tank founded by Afghan natives focused on developing political, economic and cultural solutions for Afghanistan. Mr. Hughes writes regularly for The Huffington Post and his work has appeared in CNN.com and Ruse the magazine. Michael graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a degree in History).

NOTE:This is a cross post.



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  • Concerned  On January 5, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    I cannot help but believe all this violence (Christian extremists, Jewish extremists, or Islamic extremists) coming from self declared religious does not come from God, but from evil. At some time hopefully soon followers of these wayward groups will see the evil, and stop supporting them.

  • Sqn Ldr S. Ausaf Husain (Retd)  On January 5, 2011 at 2:56 pm

    Salman Taseer was a successful businessman and protector of Human Rights.His sudden tragic death has definitely given a blow to the ruling PPP at such a crucial time when a dirty political battle in going on in the country. Let us hope if PPP is able find a good replacement. But no one is indispensable.

  • viqar  On January 5, 2011 at 4:24 pm

    I feel sorry for our people who are sending Email of celebration. Taseer’s murder show the state of intolerance in our society,it seems no one can any more express ones opinion with out the fear of being execution by the extremists.

  • Rumana Alvi  On January 5, 2011 at 11:38 pm

    It is a very sad day for Pakistan that once again the World looks at it as a radical and unstable part of the world. I was following the news about blasphemy laws in Pakistan.The death of Taseer was very shocking to me and until Yaseem pointed out to in her blog I was unaware that people were celebrating. How can Muslims celebrate some ones murder is mind boggling. In an event like this my Christan friends always say ‘what would Jesus do’. Today I sit and wonder what would ‘Prophet Mohammad do’.

    • pakpotpourri2  On January 6, 2011 at 1:55 am

      Yes I have heard they are.Though to be completely honest,I have not come across a single person till now who is.

  • Brig Latif  On January 6, 2011 at 1:24 am

    He was a great man. A PPP man down to earth. Never ever changed his party or political loyalties starting from ZAB times to his death. Was arrested, humiliated, badly beaten and tortured by Zia ul Haq’s men but refused to budge from his political ideals. During all the three PPP tenures of rule, he was never heard complaining about his suffering and never ever tried to take revenge from any body in any shape. Never adopted any mean or un- dignified tactics against his political opponents, inspite of the fact that some small people degraded his family members openly and on the internet.

    He was a brave man who had the guts to call a spade a spade inspite of clear warnings / threats and sure risk to his life—a quality which is NOT present in our politicians today.

    We Pakistanis, no matter what our political opinions may be, have a justifiable reason to be proud of people like him.

  • Habib  On January 6, 2011 at 1:25 am

    An extremely intolerant and ignorant society keeps showing off its
    colors, unabated, unchecked, going downhill irrevocably. We seem to
    have crossed into a territory where even Allah refuses to hear our
    prayers for our own redemption. Pathetic.

  • SAMEEH  On January 6, 2011 at 1:30 am


    Salmaan Taseer’s alleged murderer is a twenty-six-year-old security
    guard, named Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri. Qadri was hired by the Punjab
    Constabulary in 2003 as an 18-year-old recruit. In 2008, he joined the
    “Elite Force,” where Punjab’s best cops end up, and was working for
    this elite force on the security detail for the governor of Punjab
    when he killed Taseer. His motivation was allegedly Taseer’s vocal
    opposition to the provisions of the Pakistan Penal Code that deal with

    Given the infamy of these legal provisions, the discussion about
    Taseer’s assassination is going to be dominated by an examination of
    how Pakistan treats blasphemy. That is a long-needed national
    discussion, and in his death, it may be that Taseer will have
    stimulated an honest and serious national introspection about how the
    country treats its minorities.

    Unfortunately, what is more likely is that Taseer’s death will not
    only not stimulate a more serious examination of how the Pakistani
    state deals with the highly toxic issues of blasphemy, but it may help
    mute the already nervous voices within the thin sliver of Pakistani
    society that seek to amend these kinds of legal provisions.

    Whatever ramifications it has for the blasphemy law, Taseer’s death
    should bring home a much more urgent set of realizations. The
    disturbing reality is that the continued existence of the blasphemy
    laws, his assassination and the varying shades of reactions to his
    murder all point to a set of very deeply embedded structural problems
    within the Pakistani state and Pakistani society.

    Long-time advocates of an optimistic outlook for Pakistan like myself
    have based a positive long-term prognosis on the country’s size and
    the concomitant economic potential it has. However, the ability of
    Pakistan to align itself with any kind of transformative economic
    activity is contingent on a baseline of minimum human and social
    capital, a minimal ability within the state to absorb and leverage
    that capital, and a minimum baseline of rational rigor within
    political discourse.

    Those three qualities are in desperately short supply in the Pakistan
    of 2011.

    The state of human and social capital can best be surmised by some of
    the chilling statements of support for the assassination that were
    visible on social media like Twitter and Facebook, mere hours after
    the assassination. Regardless of the normative problems with misguided
    religiosity, nationalism and deep-set political polarity, it is quite
    clear that some Pakistanis, those celebrating this kind of horrifying
    assassination, are fundamentally incapable of engaging with the rest
    of the rational world.

    The level of state capability can be measured by the mere fact that
    the assassin was a long-time, regular state employee. This was no Lee
    Harvey Oswald. It was Beant and Satwant Singh all over again. Of
    course, Sikh extremists killed Indira Gandhi in retaliation for
    Operation Blue Star, at the Golden Temple in Amritsar — an attack on
    a holy site. Qadri supposedly killed Taseer for standing up for a
    Christian woman convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death. The
    Elite Force that Qadri was a member of was established in 1998 to
    counter, of all things, the wave of extremist violence in the Punjab
    in the mid and late 1990s. The motto of the Elite Force, according to
    a Wikipedia entry, is “Kill all the terrorists.” Like many other
    instruments of the Pakistani state, the Punjab Elite Force seems to
    have a clear and present competence deficit.

    As an advocate of realistic optimism, Taseer’s assassination for me,
    and many among the small English-speaking urban community in Pakistan,
    is gut-wrenching and heart-breaking. It is a reminder that the
    realities of Pakistan in the New Year are stark and intimidating.

    Focusing on any one aspect of all the holes in Pakistan that this
    assassination exposes would be myopic and misguided. Pakistan is in
    desperate need of a viable counter-weight to the irrational and
    frankly un-Islamic voices of religious extremism that dominate
    religious discourse in the country. That is not a year-long fight. It
    is an intergenerational struggle.

    Pakistani is also in need of urgent reforms to the legal and judicial
    system that allows and in many ways encourages mindless vigilantism.
    That too is a not a fight that can be won quickly. Enabling
    parliamentarians to feel secure and confident in making changes just
    got even harder with Taseer’s assassination. This is also an
    intergenerational struggle.

    The cancer of fanaticism that consumed Taseer’s life is a product of
    two generations of Pakistani state actions, starting with General Zia-
    ul Haq’s offering up the country as an assembly line of warriors for
    the war in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union in the 1990s, and
    continuing with General Pervez Musharraf’s offering up the same
    country as a staging ground for a war against those very warriors. The
    role of the war in Afghanistan and America’s presence in the region is
    inescapable. It has helped catalyze and deepen the pre-existing
    groundswell of a radicalized the mainstream Pakistani narrative. This
    mess has been more than thirty years in the making. It is clear that
    no amount of externally-stimulated counterinsurgency or
    counterterrorism will do the trick. More is needed, much more. And all
    of it has to be organic and local. This, more than any other, is the
    greatest of intergenerational struggles.

    Salmaan Taseer’s assassination raises legitimate questions about the
    viability of this struggle and its success. On an already cold and
    tragic day in Islamabad, that represents a devastating reality.

    • Parvez Amin  On January 6, 2011 at 2:06 am

      Very sadly I have to agree with you. We are in big trouble. What is the way out and who will show us? So far you have made the right assessment, now suggest a way out. Please contact me so that I can offer my services for preparing a plan and if possible implementing it.

  • Rumana  On January 6, 2011 at 1:52 am

    Please keep me posted about this. We need people like you to write honestly about the events in Pakistan. I am shocked that situation in Pakistan is so volatile.

  • Nasim Hassan  On January 6, 2011 at 2:46 am

    Dear Friends:

    I have been watching Pakistan TV shows regarding the assassination of Salman Taseer. Particularly the religious leaders have been trying to find justification for this crime.
    The question raised by TV anchors was very simple. ” Do you you condemn this crime or not?” In answer to this question the religious leaders with few exceptions answered in a circular fashion by pointing out the stand taken by Salman.

    There are a few questions in my mind:

    Did Salman Taseer directly attack the Prophet or Islam or Quran?

    Does anyone who wants to revisit the Blasphemy law should become a target?

    Is the Western Society right in its perception about Islam as and intolerant and violent religion?

    How should Muslims deal with nations and individuals who talk negative about Islam, the Prophet and Quran?

    Nasim Hassan

  • H. A. Jafrey  On January 6, 2011 at 3:51 am

    Salman Taseer’s murder is tragic but the greater tragedy is that no body is trying to stop the further slide of our society. Division of society has become so sharp that it is frightening.

    There is no leadership and government seems to be confused, scared, gutless and incapable to take any action against the extremist element.

    Therefore, the time has come that the so called silent majority of moderate people (if still in majority)instead of chattering in their drawing rooms, should come out in the open.

  • Nasir  On January 6, 2011 at 5:49 am

    Deja vu ..all over again ? Haven’t we gone thru this “he said” , “she said” game before…the blame game,
    the conspiracy ‘theories’…ad nauseum. And NOBODY comes up with a practical solution….next, God forbid,
    we will read about the next murder ( ?Sherry Rehman) and then the wheels will spin again.

    The ONLY answer to eradicating this CANCER from the body of the country is RADICAL SURGERY…be it a bloody
    ( and I mean, a really awful blood on the streets) revolution ! Period.

    Or wait till eternity for a mythical leader for our salvation.

    Dr Nasir Ahmad

  • Syed Ataur Rahman  On January 6, 2011 at 3:45 pm

    First and foremost we must condemn this gruesome murder in the strongest terms. Nothing can justify killing because of the ones beliefs and views. People should not mix up hate for PPP or the government or Zardari or corruption or bad governance, which too is a fact, with this abominable murder. We are such an intolerant society that we are unable to see beyond our noses. His death leaves Pakistan in further disarray and we do not have a leader in PPP who can salvage the situation. It is hoped sanity prevails and our religious zealots follow Islam in its true spirit and guide the misguided from the right and the wrong.

  • siddiquimy  On January 6, 2011 at 6:25 pm

    late Mt Taseer’s murder is certainly to be condemned……but why such things are happening ?
    Easy to blame Zia, Mush and others but can one in Pakistan defy the might of USA ? Has Zardari/Kiani done it ?? None of us like to be bullied and pushed to the wall but beggars are not choosers………..there is certainly something very wrong wit US as a nation; our education and our character building and our intense desire to ape the west against our inbuilt grain etc etc and many more flaws of character are responsible for this sirdid state of affairs. Let us be honest and fair…after all who is responsible ? WE , OURSELVES…let us admit it and face the music
    Roughly upto ’60s despite our kow towing to the Americans, society was not this bad…..What happened then….is not OUR generation responsible for this rot???? who tolerted and extold Zias and Musharrafs for over a decade each ? US ?????
    Let us not be holy cows and play blame game; our education, our culture, our religion, our economy and our value system….are all in shambles. We are a lost people with no moorings and no direction and NO SELF PRIDE…we are simply zombies!!!!!!!!!!!!!!So suffer and cry…we even do not know how to cry!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • muhammad ayub  On January 6, 2011 at 7:12 pm

    this is also a political assasination.

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