Three worth reading:
1) Foreign Policy’s “AfPak Channel“:
Salmaan Taseer and the Punjabi Taliban
The brutal assassination of Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer by a man in his security detail is being tied to a courageous stand he took opposing the nation’s antiquated blasphemy laws and supporting a Catholic woman, Aasia Bibi, accused of blasphemy.
But there is another important position Taseer has taken that should be emphasized: he was one of very few Pakistani politicians who honestly and openly recognized the existence of the “Tehrik-i-Taliban Punjab,” sometimes called the “Punjabi Taliban,” comprised, through the years, of an alphabet soup of sectarian militant organizations: Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) Harkat-ul Mujahideen (HUM), Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Sipah-e-Sahaba (SSP), among others, inspired by an intolerant brand of Sunni Islam called Deobandism [the subcontinental counterpart of Salafism/Wahhabism--more here and here].
This past June, Dawn, a leading English language daily in Pakistan, carried this headline: “Punjabi Taliban are a reality: Taseer.” The governor of the province of Punjab was taking a brave stand because the militants of these groups were born in his state in towns with names such as Bahawalpur and Raheem Yar Khan. But, with attacks on mosques, bazaars and police stations in Punjab, they were also killing his innocent citizens. Aasia Bibi, the Catholic woman sitting in jail for blasphemy, was one of the citizens of Punjab, and the call to kill her comes out of supporters of the Punjabi Taliban.
The best way for Pakistan to honor Taseer is to admit its homegrown militancy and destroy it. America and the West must also recognize that the problem of militancy in South Asia isn’t restricted to Afghanistan or the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in Pakistan. It’s also in the very heartland of Pakistan…
A Facebook page went up hours after the assassination with messages of support for Qadri. One message: “nation hero u win a hearts of All muslim umaah……..Saluteeeee You……..!!!!” (“Umaah” is a reference to “ummah,” or “community.”) It’s not clear if the assassin was directly linked to any militant groups, but his sympathies most certainly would have been with them…
2) Wall St. Journal:
The End of Jinnah’s Pakistan
Governor Salmaan Taseer’s murder raises questions about the future of Pakistan’s Western-educated elites.
Every time you think things can’t possibly get worse in Pakistan, along comes something to prove you wrong. On Tuesday, in possibly the country’s most consequential political shock since the 2007 murder of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, Salmaan Taseer, the 65-year-old governor of Punjab province, was gunned down in an upscale Islamabad market by one of his police bodyguards. The reason: the governor’s plain-spoken defense of Asia Bibi, an illiterate Christian woman sentenced to death under Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws. According to press reports, Taseer’s killer pumped nine bullets into him for daring to call the blasphemy provision a “black law.”
Needless to say, Taseer was right. Pakistan’s blasphemy laws belong more in a chronicle of medieval horrors than in a modern society, let alone one that receives billions of dollars in Western largesse. Since the mid-1980s, blasphemy—including criticizing the prophet Mohammed—has carried a mandatory death sentence. Amnesty International calls the laws “vaguely formulated and arbitrarily enforced” and “typically employed to harass and persecute religious minorities.” Over the past quarter century, at least 30 people have been lynched by mobs after being accused of blasphemy. Many others have been forced to flee the country. Though Christians make up less than 2% of Pakistan’s population, they account for about half the country’s blasphemy cases.
In a larger sense, however, the significance of Taseer’s murder lies in what it says about the future of nuclear-armed Pakistan [see below]. Carved out of the Muslim-majority provinces of British India in 1947, the country has long struggled to reconcile two competing visions of its reason for being. Is Pakistan, as imagined by its founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah—a London-trained barrister with a fondness for pork sandwiches and two-toned spats—merely a homeland for the subcontinent’s Muslims? Or was it created to echo the far more ambitious formulation of Abul Ala Maududi, the radical Islamist ideologue born roughly a generation after Jinnah: for the enforcement of Islamic Shariah law upon every aspect of society and the state?
Taseer broadly belonged to Jinnah’s Pakistan…
The murder highlights anew the way in which Pakistan’s English-speaking classes resemble a small island of urbanity surrounded by a rising tide of fundamentalist zeal. They have only themselves to blame for their predicament. From independence onward, successive governments—military and civilian alike—have ridden the tiger of fundamentalism out of political expediency, misplaced piety or geopolitical ambition. A statistic from Zahid Hussain’s “Frontline Pakistan” is telling: When Pakistan gained independence in 1947 it housed 137 madrassas. That number has since swelled to about 13,000, between 10% and 15% of which are linked to sectarian militancy (Sunni versus Shia) or terrorism…
3) The Economist:
Pakistan’s increasing radicalisation
Staring into the abyss
Salman Taseer’s murder deals a huge blow to liberal Pakistan
THERE is a small space in which a liberal vision of Pakistan hangs on. It shrank a lot further with the murder on January 4th of a notable progressive politician and critic of religious extremism, Salman Taseer. Even before the assassination, the leading liberal-minded political party, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which heads the government in Islamabad and counted Mr Taseer as an activist since the 1970s, was in deep trouble. On January 2nd the PPP lost its majority in parliament when the second-biggest party in the government coalition, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), walked out…
Mr Taseer was the governor of Punjab, a largely ceremonial position in Pakistan’s most populous province, but a high-profile one for all that. He had run a lonely but fearless campaign against Pakistan’s pernicious blasphemy law and was gunned down in broad daylight in Islamabad by one of his own police guards. The smirking killer later said he acted because Mr Taseer’s call for the blasphemy law to be repealed made Mr Taseer himself a “blasphemer”…
Mr Taseer’s killer, Mumtaz Qadri, may have acted alone—an investigation may get to the root of it. Yet his cause has support in Pakistan. Lawyers outside the court showered him with rose petals. The murder follows a campaign of vilification by the clergy and sections of the press. A broad alliance of the clergy rushed out a statement lionising the assassin. “No Muslim should attend the funeral or even try to pray for Salman Taseer,” said Jamaate Ahle Sunnat Pakistan, which represents the large and moderate Barelvi sect of Islam.
Religious parties do not attract much support at election time—they polled less than 5% of votes in the last ballot, in 2008. However, Ijaz Gilani, head of Gallup Pakistan, argues that it would be a “very serious miscalculation” to judge society’s religiosity by the showing of Islamist parties at election time. Pakistan has a first-past-the-post system, so people vote for one of the mainstream parties that have the best chance of coming to power. It means that both the PPP and, especially, the other main party, the Pakistan Muslim League (N), led by Nawaz Sharif, have a bank of religious-minded voters whom they must be careful not to offend.
Pakistan’s public culture is riddled with hardline views, from the school curriculum to the nightly political talk shows. Meanwhile, as Mr Taseer himself never failed to point out, the state gives succour to violent, extremist organisations…
Great Gaming: Pak paranoia and a WikiHoax
How a nuclear war may begin
Predate: Do you think this sort of, er, context from ace Globeite Graeme Smith (of Taliban reporting renown) is worth reading?
Some analysts expressed hope that the death might ease the in-fighting among political elites, forcing them to confront the broader division between Pakistan’s wealthy urbanites [and the feudal landowners like the Bhuttos] and the poorer, conservative masses. The spot where Mr. Taseer lay bleeding to death could not have been more symbolic of that divide, a row of expensive shops and restaurants known as Kohsar Market. Not far from the presidential palace, it’s one of the rare places in Islamabad that overflows with Christmas decorations during the holiday season [how terribly provocative, eh?], and where stylish cafés rival their European counterparts.
Such places stand a world apart from the village outside Islamabad where Mr. Taseer’s bodyguard reportedly grew up…
Guess he deserved it. But it is true that those few who have effectively ruled the country since 1947 have done a dreadfully dismal job for their people whilst mesmerizing them with the Indian menace. And one consequence of emphasizing that menace? A naturally increasing focus on Islam the religion itself (no big deal for Jinnah for whom it simply defined a distinct society) as the essence of Pakistani identity–and hence of what should shape Pakistani reality. The elites have much to answer for.