The January 4 movement

“So Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook fame has been chosen for Time magazine man of the Year. Hmm. Guess I’ll have to wait till next year,” wrote (late) Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer last month on Twitter. Little did he know that he was going to become Pakistan’s ‘man of the year’ in 2011.

On January 4, 2011, Salmaan Taseer was martyred in Islamabad. The details of Mr Taseer’s gruesome assassination have been all over the media. Shot 27 times by one of the police commandos assigned to protect his life while the other policemen stood by silently, Pakistan lost Mr Taseer to religious bigotry. In the aftermath of January 4, we saw myriads of reactions: shock, horror, depression, anger, desperation, frustration, and fear. But these reactions were from people who condemned Shaheed Salmaan Taseer’s murder. On the other side of the spectrum we witnessed another set of reactions: apathy, glee, exhilaration, jubilation, and victory. These were the reactions of all those who not only condoned Mr Taseer’s murder but also glorified his assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, by declaring him a ‘hero’.

Who is responsible for the murder of Mr Taseer is a question that many people have asked since that fateful day. The trigger-happy Qadri may have been a lone murderer but he was only responsible for the actual misdeed. The real perpetrators are still out and about. Every mullah who endorsed the fatwa (edict) against Mr Taseer declaring him a blasphemer has blood on his hands. Every television anchor who gave airtime to hate-mongers in his/her programme or tried to depict Mr Taseer in a negative light after the Aasia Bibi case has blood on his/her hands. Every columnist who wrote that the blasphemy laws cannot be repealed or amended and that Mr Taseer was wrong in visiting the poor Christian woman in jail has blood on his/her hands. Every PPP leader who was either too afraid to support Mr Taseer after November 20, 2010 (the day he visited Aasia Bibi in jail) or who vowed not to amend/repeal the blasphemy laws has blood on his/her hands. Every Pakistani who watched silently while the religious right bayed for Mr Taseer’s blood has blood on his/her hands. Every law enforcement officer who did not take any action against people spewing venom against the late governor has blood on his hands. Every elite force guard who was aware of Qadri’s murderous plan and yet did not report it to the authorities has blood on his hands. Whoever assigned Qadri – who was declared a ‘security risk’ for VVIPs – on Mr Taseer’s security detail has blood on his hands. Every political party whose members attended the Tahaffuz-i-Nabuwat Conference in December 2010 has blood on its hands. And last, but certainly not the least, our military establishment that has nurtured the right-wing forces for decades has blood on its hands.

On December 15, 2010, a Tahaffuz-i-Nabuwat Conference was held in Islamabad where religious and political leaders vowed to defend the blasphemy laws. Leaders of political parties like the PML-N, PML-Q, JUI-F and the Jamaat-e-Islami were present at the conference. Apart from members of other religious organisations, the presence of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Saeed should have sent a warning to the government. Apparently, it did not. The JuD is a front for banned militant outfit Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT), which is said to be behind cross-border terrorist attacks in India. Hafiz Saeed is said to be the mastermind behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks. On December 31, 2010, there was a shutter-down strike all over Pakistan. At the rallies held that day, religious leaders condemned Mr Taseer and vowed to protect the honour of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). It is a great tragedy that no one from the PPP-led government defended Mr Taseer and explained to the masses that he had not done anything to dishonour our Prophet (PBUH). The PPP remained silent. So did many others. This silence cost Mr Taseer his life.

On another note, one of Qadri’s lawyers – Ashraf Gujjar – is said to be Hafiz Saeed’s nephew. But is anyone listening? Not likely.

Mr Taseer died for a cause but that cause seems to have died with him. Prime Minister Gilani has reiterated on various occasions after Mr Taseer’s death that the government has no plans to touch the blasphemy laws. As if that was not enough, at the Ulema and Mashaikh Conference 2011 where the prime minister addressed the religious leaders on January 18, Badshahi Mosque’s khateeb Maulana Abdul Khabir Azad was also present. Maulana Khabir Azad is the same man who refused to lead the funeral prayers of Mr Taseer.

At a vigil held for Mr Taseer on January 7 outside the Governor House, Lahore, hundreds of people mourned the death of a man who was brave enough to speak up for those who could not get justice in Jinnah’s Pakistan. “Taseer, tere khoon se inquilab aayega” (Taseer, your blood will bring about a revolution), “Jahaalat ke hain teen nishaan: jihadi, mullah, Taliban” (Three symbols of ignorance: jihadis, mullahs and the Taliban), “Yeh jo mullah-gardi hai, iske peeche wardi hai” (those in uniform are behind the clergy-instigated violence) were some of the slogans raised at the vigil.

Unlike all those who are too afraid to speak up, the few of us who have the courage to stand tall must not dishonour Mr Taseer’s sacrifice. To pay tribute to Mr Taseer, a ‘January 4 movement’ must be started. In the words of Shaheed Salmaan Taseer’s father:

Meri wafaayain yaad karoge,
Ro’oge, faryaad karoge,
Chorro bhi Taseer ki baatein,
Kab tak usko yaad karoge” — Dr M. D. Taseer.

[You will remember my ardent heart,
You will cry, you will beseech,
Leave Taseer aside,
How long will you keep mourning for him?]

(my column in DT)


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