Pakistan is in three official days of mourning as Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province shot dead yesterday by one of his own bodyguards, was buried this morning in his hometown of Lahore. U.N. secretary general Ban Ki-moon said Taseer was “a prominent leader whose death is a loss for Pakistan.” U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton said she “admired [his] work to promote tolerance and the education of Pakistan's future generations. His death is a great loss.”
But not everyone is feeling so sad. Taseer was an outspoken critic of Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws. He’d recently called for the pardon of the death sentence given to a Christian woman who supposedly insulted the prophet Muhammad during an argument with fellow farmhands in 2009. “Salman Taseer is a blasphemer and this is the punishment for a blasphemer,” said the bodyguard, Malik Mumtaz Hussein Qadri, who confessed to the murder and smiled into news cameras upon his arrest.
Some religious leaders have expressed similar views.
“No Muslim should attend the funeral or even try to pray for Salman Taseer or even express any kind of regret or sympathy over the incident,” read a statement released by the religious political party Jamaat-e-Ahl-e-Sunnat Pakistan. “As those who support blasphemy of the Prophet are themselves indulging in blasphemy,” and could well suffer the same fate. Ehsanullah Ehsan, deputy chief of the Pakistani Taliban said the same.
Police are investigating the question of whether or not the murderer acted alone, and Pakistani high commissioner to London, Wajid Shamshul Hassan, told the BBC that his country refused to “be held hostage by a minority of [radical] religious people.”
But the editor of Newsweek Pakistan, Fasih Ahmed, writing today at the Daily Beast, says, “Taseer’s death closes the door on any discussion of the laws. The mullahs and their sympathizers have probably succeeded in scaring reason and rationale into retreat.”
As Asma Jahangir, a lawyer who represented a Christian Pakistani boy accused of blasphemy in the 1990s said to Al Jazeera, “The question is, ‘Is Pakistan going to survive the cycle of violence that is increasing in the name of religion’?”
In a courtroom in Islamabad yesterday, Malik Mumtaz Hussein Qadri was showered with rose petals and hugged by a crowd of supporters.