Justice for Taseer

Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer’s murder trial has not yet begun but the way the supporters of his killer, Mumtaz Qadri, are trying to intimidate the judiciary as well as the legal fraternity is a cause for worry. On Thursday, Qadri was supposed to be presented before a judge at a temporary court set up in Islamabad instead of the Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) in Rawalpindi, ostensibly due to security concerns. Qadri was taken to Islamabad but after a few hours he had to be taken back to Rawalpindi because ATC Judge Malik Akram Awan cited some legal bindings that “did not allow the judge to hold the ATC anywhere else but its designated courtroom”. The fact that Justice Awan had previously agreed to hear the case in Islamabad means that there were sound legal grounds and the legal bindings that he later cited were only to paper over the real reasons for his decision. Apparently the hooligans and the lawyers who support Qadri created quite a ruckus by surrounding the ATC and preventing the judge from leaving for Islamabad. On top of that, no public prosecutor showed up at the ATC for fear of reprisals. A five day remand for Qadri was given by the judge after the police officers concerned argued the case. All this just goes to show how powerful the extremist forces are.

Under these circumstances, it would not be wrong to ask if there would be a fair trial. Judges and prosecutors would definitely be under extreme pressure once the murder trial begins in earnest. This is the age-old tool used by the extremists to exert pressure on the judiciary when they want a verdict to go their way. We have seen this phenomenon at work especially in cases involving alleged blasphemy. Pressure from local clerics and their supporters is the reason why most of the blasphemy accused are handed down death sentences in the first place. It will be a test for the state and government to make sure that they provide swift justice to the Taseer family. The government must combat this pressure. It cannot allow the fanatics to subvert due process. If the PPP government cannot ensure a fair trial for Salmaan Taseer, who was assassinated while he was a sitting governor, then how can it possibly provide justice to the masses? We expect the now independent judiciary too to ensure the ends of justice.

Governor Taseer’s murder is a political murder but the way the PPP is colouring it is open to question. There was definitely a security lapse by the Punjab government, for which it should be held responsible, but to suggest that blame for the murder lies on the Nawaz-League may be jumping the gun. The PML-N does have a soft corner for the extremist forces and had no love lost for the late governor, but accusing the Sharifs of Mr Taseer’s murder even before investigations are completed seems inappropriate and dangerous for peace. This murder, ostensibly carried out in the name of religion, is in essence political. This is a reality that discerning minds already accept and the country will have to acknowledge in the coming days. Religion and politics are intertwined and this evident truth can be seen in the way a section of our society reacted to Mr Taseer’s brutal murder. No one in a civilised society would ever celebrate the death of an innocent man. What we saw in Pakistan was appalling, but perhaps no surprise. Until and unless there is a separation of religion and the state, Pakistani society will get uglier with every passing day. Secularism is the key to a democratic, progressive Pakistan. We must not let the mullahs suffocate the liberal voices. It is time to stand up. It is time to say no to mullah-gardi (clergy-instigated violence).

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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