Salmaan Taseer: a fighting for a patriot

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All his life Salmaan Taseer was a fighter for his work, his beliefs and his principles. He was a larger than life figure straight out of the Arabian Nights, the Illiad or the Baburnama. He was intensely human, loving, devastatingly handsome, a magnificent writer and speaker (people forget he wrote the first biography of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto), a man of the people who had the common touch but was equally at ease in a drawing room full of hundreds of his elite admirers. He was loved by both men and women and loved his wife and children even more.

He was that rare figure who defended the original principles of the PPP for which hundreds gave their lives in the 1970s and 1980s democracy, human rights, and consistent opposition to the military and the maulvis having a role in running the state.

But Salmaan Taseer was no angel and he knew it. He was a ruthless businessman who made and lost millions of rupees several times over; he was snubbed by Benazir Bhutto in the 1990s for being too ambitious. He was also a tough, wily political negotiator, a determined enemy to his political rivals and enemies with a hot temper.

His long running feud with the Sharif brothers which goes back to the 1980s was legendary. He won every battle with them because the Sharifs could never get to grips with his complex and larger than life personality. Taseer was never the kind of man who would turn the other cheek and countless people in the opposition hated him.

But all these attributes – good and bad – made him an immensely powerful, humane and charismatic politician and a towering human being. Nobody could deny his political charisma and although he was the nephew of Pakistan’s greatest poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz and his father was another great poet, nobody could claim that he had an easy time in his youth or lived his early life in luxury. His early life experiences including seeing his father and uncle go to jail frequently shaped him in becoming a truly peoples man. The rank and file of the PPP loved him because he spoke directly to them, in their idiom and with their concerns at heart. Few politicians in this country have ever been able to do that.

He died for a principle that he first fought for and went to jail in the early 1980s the defence of the minorities and the outrageous blasphemy law which Pakistanis who believe in their century see as a black spot on Pakistan and the basic principles of Islam as a tolerant religion. It is sad that the intolerance shown in the 1980s is still with us in even worst forms than before where murder replaces debate and discussion.

His sense of humour was wicked and proverbial because it combined all the attributes of real humour wit, sarcasm, irony and also rumbustious belly full of crude jokes that were more attune to mohallas than the drawing room. He was the only politician I knew who could make anyone laugh at the drop of a hat including the Jamaat-e-Islami, which was no mean feat. Much of this was achieved because he never took himself seriously and had the ability to first of all laugh at himself.

Taseer was brave and fearless and that is the one single memory that we need to take forward if we are to make this country a place that is once again worth living in and not a people who have surrendered to martial laws and the maulvis. Pakistanis need courage to get through these awful times and Taseer had the courage of lions to see us through these dark days.

Above all and his enemies and his murderers should note this more than anyone else Taseer was a patriot who loved his country beyond words. He had the smells, the textures, the food and the culture, the complex ethnic and religious mix at his fingertips. He loved it all and that is what made him a better patriot and lover of this country than all his rivals put together.

He could have abandoned all this many times over, he could have left politics and settled abroad, he could have become an even bigger, richer businessman. Instead he was asked to play a role in sustaining democracy after the death of his leader Benazir Bhutto and he jumped into the fray, knowing fully well that he was disliked by the establishment for the simple reason that he defended the people. We will miss him like nobody else and we will see if the present government and the rest of us are still able to live up to his ideals and the legacy he has left us.

The writer is a journalist and best-selling author of several books on Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia.