Contrary to the international community’s perception, Governor Salmaan Taseer’s assassination was not the demise of liberal values in Pakistan. In fact, it is the very opposite. His death has changed the landscape of the Pakistani society.
The Governor’s assassin claimed that his action was a result of Taseer’s stance against the Blasphemy Laws in Pakistan’s constitution. Taseer felt that these laws were being exploited to abuse the minorities in the country. The right wing parties hailed the assassin as a hero and a considerable segment of the population declared support for the killer. A clear message was sent that any attempt to challenge the rightists in the future will be rewarded not with one, but many bullets.
For the first many hours, there was silence. Eventually, a weak and cowardly civil society raised its voice over such a sensitive matter for the first time. People took to the streets in protest, chanted slogans at the extremists, organized vigils in public places for the slain leader and wrote extensively and openly about their feelings towards the imposition on their lives by a small, yet dominating minority. The Fatwas against supporting Taseer were ignored and Pakistan’s liberal movement was triggered.
The reaction by the liberals has been mild so far but from here on, every rightist move to trespass the liberal population’s rights will be met by a tougher response. A majority of the progressive population still wants to remain silent in the present situation given the consequences they might have to face for speaking their mind. The political leadership in Pakistan chose to remain silent too. Instead of supporting one of their most influential leader’s stance, they decided to start a blame game and brush the whole assassination aside. Some very vocal leaders decided to mourn Taseer’s death but refused to support the cause he was fighting for. Taseer’s assassination would have gone in vain, had the civil society reacted in the same way as the leaders. The pro-liberal reaction should have been the ruling party’s initiative that would have motivated the masses. However, it seems that the public will have a ‘trickle up’ effect instead and inject some confidence into the leadership.
The assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, emerged as a hero immediately after his adventure. A flourishing Facebook Page and a wave of celebrations were seen on the media. The death itself was overshadowed by the overwhelming support for the assassin. The liberal population experienced a major setback and began to visualize the consequences of Taseer’s killing. They realized that soon everybody would start taking dictation from a group that bears arms and doesn’t take no for an answer. A suppressed class would be further suppressed.
So far, the liberal portion of the society has reacted in a very civil way. But there is a limit to how far these people will go with a tolerant and moderate attitude. Nature has its way of balancing things but it does not guarantee a peaceful transition. If the Islamic extremists do not realize the consequences of taking up arms to enforce their way, they might lead to a new breed of liberal extremists. There will be more bloodshed and there will be no happy ending.
This liberal movement was long due, all it needed was a spark. Salmaan Taseer said that he would fight for the rights of minorities even if he was the ‘last man standing’. He wasn’t the last.