Liberals Face a Daunting Task in Pakistan

Mumtaz Qadri’s killing of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer for protecting basic religious and human rights should be a wake up call for all liberals and people of conscience in Pakistan.

pakistan-liberals-qadriISLAMABAD, Pakistan — It is difficult to change a society where leaders and opinion makers not only support an infamous law but also demands the release of a cold-blooded murderer who kills ruthlessly.

Mumtaz Qadri, a proudly self-admitted assassin of a so-called blasphemer Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, is serving a death sentence in jail and shows no sign of remorse for the murder he committed  three years ago.

Taseer stirred controversy in religiously conservative Pakistan by publicly defending Pakistani minorities, most notably campaigning on a blasphemy case of a Christian woman named Asia Bibi. Qadri’s killing of Taseer for protecting basic religious and human rights should be a wake up call for all liberals and persons of conscience in Pakistan.

There are still questions as to whether Qadri committed this gruesome act alone or with the backing of a radical movement in Pakistan. Moreover the victim’s family still awaits justice from the supreme judiciary, which had the power to send back an elected prime minister home, but seems unwilling to convict a long waited killer who not only boasted about the murder but also went on to say “Allah Almighty chose him to deliver justice on someone opposing blasphemy laws.”

The most shocking thing about this case is that politicians, journalists and human rights activists who oppose dubious blasphemy charges speak in support of minorities whose women are gang-raped then paraded naked through their villages. However these courageous voices are intimidated, abducted and gunned down. On the other hand, murderers and oppressors using Facebook and Twitter are praised by clerics who openly rally for them and lawyers shower them with petals.

In the past years, minorities have witnessed several attacks and their shrines have been bombed by extremists. Pakistani moderate figures like Benazir Bhutto, Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti have been killed but whoever opposes these assassinations are equally guilty as the one who committed blasphemy.

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The media, liberals and others have kept silent over the issue of Pakistan’s infamous blasphemy law out of fear of retribution while this silence so far showed how free speech has been curtailed. The problem is we now have a situation where religious extremists are not only defending these violent acts but are encouraged by so-called moderate political and religious parties who usually come to the street and speak loudly in their support.

Murder of moderate figures and pressure over progressive thinking have forced Pakistan’s liberal elite on the defensive. But what comes afterwards is perhaps even more alarming.

Kiyya Qadir Baloch is a freelance Baloch journalist associated with the Daily Times based in Islamabad. He reports on foreign affairs, Baloch insurgency, militancy and sectarian violence in Balochistan. Read other articles by Kiyya.