Taseer’s killing scares liberal politicians


ISLAMABAD – The killing of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer by his bodyguard has heightened security fears among Pakistani political liberals who say their voices are being drowned out by the rising religious extremism.
Mumtaz Qadri gunned down his boss last week outside an Islamabad coffee shop, and the ease with which he carried out his crime has frightened liberal politicians.
Salman Taseer’s assassination has deepened a bitter divide between supporters of a liberal Pakistan and an increasingly powerful lobby on the religious right that have welcomed his death and denounced his few outspoken proponents.
Rallies have been held to honour Qadri, who was showered with petals at court after he admitted to killing Taseer because he sought to amend a blasphemy law recently used to sentence a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, to death.
Minorities Minister Shabhaz Bhatti, a Christian, who first spoke out against the blasphemy law, believes he is the highest target right now.
“During this case I constantly received death threats. Since the assassination of Salman Taseer, these messages are coming to me even publicly,” Bhatti told AFP.
Bhatti and his allies say the law against defamation of Holy Prophet Muhammad is often used to settle petty disputes, and human rights activists say the act encourages Islamist extremism in a nation already besieged by Taliban attacks.
But in the face of huge public support for the law, the government has said it has no plans to change it.
Bhatti said fatwas or religious decrees had been issued calling for him to be beheaded, by extremist clerics in the country who were allowed to publicly spread messages of violence with impunity.
“The government should register cases against all those using hate speeches,” said Bhatti who insists he will work as usual despite the threats.
During a visit to Pakistan to meet senior leaders in Islamabad Wednesday, US Vice President Joe Biden expressed concern over the widespread support for Taseer’s killing.
Offering condolences, he said: “The governor was killed simply because he was a voice for tolerance and understanding. To state the obvious, there is no justification, none, for such senseless acts. Societies that tolerate such actions end up being consumed by those actions.”
PPP leaders slammed the security failures that led to the shooting after the police apparently failed to try to overpower the gunman.