Death of Tolerance in Pakistan

Posted: January 9, 2011 in News and Views

Assassination of sitting Governor: Death of Tolerance in Pakistan

By Ali Palh (Editor)

On Tuesday January 4, 2011, Salman Taseer, the Governor of Punjab, one of the populous and powerful provinces of Pakistan, assassinated by his own police guard, in the capital, Islamabad, who confessed to the killing and defended his actions based on the fact that the governor had called the blasphemy law a black law of the country. Several sections of Pakistan Criminal Code comprise its blasphemy laws whose Article 295 A, 295 B and 295 C forbids outraging religious feelings, defiling the Quran, and defaming the prophet Mohammad respectively. The punishment for blasphemous acts ranges from a fine to death. More than 30 people accused of blasphemy were jailed or later killed by mobs or individuals over the last quarter-century. Pakistan where approximately 2 million Christians lives with other religious minorities who are being victimised for religious or personal enmity.

Taseer one of the main figures of Pakistan’s ruling party represented the liberal values of the party, drew anger from the Islamists for his outspoken opposition to blasphemy laws. He further antagonized them by meeting Aisha Bibi, a Christian woman being sentenced to death for allegedly insulting the prophet Mohammad, in prison and publicly stated that he would pass on her appeal to the President of Pakistan for pardon. Aisha Bibi was found guilty of defiling the name of the Prophet Mohammad during an argument with muslim fellow field worker in 2009 and was sentenced to 45 years in jail by a Pakistani court. Before Taseer was assassinated Islamists arranged rallies and declared the Fatwas (religious order) ordering muslims to kill Taseer. These announcement also included Two millions bounty for someone who will kill Taseer.

After Ms Bhutto, this is the second major political assassination in recent years in Pakistan which is a warning to liberal politicians, will further encourage extremism in the country.

How Pakistani society is getting worse every passing day can be judged from the fact that after Taseer assassinated open public statements were issued by clerks forbidding people for not only attending his funeral. These threats prevented the Province’s Chief minister and many others officials to participate in the Governor’s funeral. Anti-Terrorist Court Rawalpindi was surrounded by Islamists and judge was prevented to leave for Islamabad where the Court was set up to hear Taseer’s case. No public prosecutor showed up at the Court for fear of reprisal. In these circumstances, hope for fair trail and justice for Taseer family seems very remote. Due to pressure from the extremist, who always gather in front of the courts and threaten judges in such cases, accused of blasphemy law always receive death sentences by courts in Pakistan.

Currently open public statements are being issued by some clerks for killing people and no actions is being taken against them by the government. After Taseer, a Fatwa has been reported against Sherry Rahman, the leader of the ruling party, declaring her non-muslim and ordering muslims to kill her for her views against blasphemy law. This situation indicates the height of extremism in Pakistan where room for debate and dissent has shrunk to almost zero. Liberal elements are calling it ‘Death of Tolerance’ in the country and suggesting each other to stay muted.

This phenomenon has created a situation where religious minorities of Pakistan are feeling highly insecure and unprotected. It will make lives of women and religious minorities in Pakistan further miserable. Pakistan former prime minister, Ms. Bhutto was assassinated because of her liberal political values and her involvement in politics. In February 2007, Zilla Huma Usman, a married mother of two sons, the provincial minister for social welfare in Punjab, was killed by a fanatic who believed that she was not following islamic dress code and being a woman she should not be involved in the politics. The Killer considered it contrary to the teaching of Allah for a woman to become a minister or ruler. Zilla Huma was working for the women rights in Pakistan. Her killer never acquitted due to lack of evidence.

A senior women activist from Karachi, Pakistan shared that Pakistani society is moving backward. She recalled 1951 when she used to wear half sleeves and skirts in Pakistan but now women are being threatened to wear veil.

This threatening situation will also negatively impact freedom of expression and independence of media in Pakistan where many voices have stopped after Taseer’s killing. The Daily Times, Engligh newspaper owned by Taseer and other media were raising minority and women rights issues. It is unclear now whether they will still dare to continue to voice opinion of women and minorities after the tragic death of Taseer.

More shocking and alarming is increasing religious extremism among Pakistan’s security forces including police which makes the political leaders, liberal citizens and minorities more insecure and unprotected. Police or other security personnels who are deployed for the security, themselves start killings is more dangerous than suicide bombing. This is the time for the democratically elected government of Pakistan to show courage and continue the task which claimed Taseer’s life. If Blasphemy laws were not reviewed they will continuously violate rights of women, religious minorities and innocent civilians of Pakistan. It is first and foremost duty of the government of Pakistan to support and protect liberal elements of Pakistani society, who are feeling isolated and insecure, to promote secular values in Pakistan which was dream of Quaid—Azam Mohummad Ali Jinnah, the founder of the nation.

It is duty of the democratically elected Government of Pakistan to establish the rule of law in the society where everyone lives with peace and security as one nation.

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