By Khurshid Hadi in Dawn:
Let not his blood have been spilt in vain. Of the multitude of things I planned one day to write, an obituary of my friend Salman Taseer was not amongst them. Even now the imperative is not just a personal impression but the compelling need to understand his agenda and to learn from this tragedy.
The public man was a master of the one-line quip, witty, flamboyant, daring, iconoclastic and fearless. The private person was a master of the one-line quip, witty, flamboyant, daring, iconoclastic and fearless. In other words he was exactly what he was, in public and in private, throughout his life. Amongst other qualities that he possessed were consistency and commitment. What you saw was what you got. And in the end it was that same commitment to progressive, liberal and just principles that became the cause of his senseless assassination.
While it is difficult to focus on the larger issues at this time of mourning, with scarce comprehension of the extent of the tragedy for his wife, family and friends and of the loss of a progressive voice of reason for the nation, we who struggle to come to terms with conflict and confusion in this benighted land must seek to learn from this grotesque act. awam
Since that day the airwaves have been deluged with debate on complex issues raised by that singular act of vengeance. Questions proliferate on the role of the government, the efficiency of the security forces, the possibility of conspiracy and on where the responsibility falls. Then there is the gross claim of the theocratic cadre, claiming to represent the feelings of the , that this was a justifiable, legal and laudable act.
In the midst of this cacophony the voice of those entrusted with authority was also heard: remorseful, proper and diplomatic, but without conviction. Where the time and tide demanded resolute and just action, the government let the opportunity lapse.
Taking the law into your own hands transgresses all norms of civil behaviour and so does exhortation to others to do so. The head of state, whose representative Salman Taseer was, needed to be visible, in charge and proactive. Why was the central caucus of his political party not in immediate conference?
Their governor had received a fatal blow and they a possibly mortal one. In the face of the extremists` incendiary assertions that they represent the will of the people, why did the government not categorically reject this claim to the nation it purports to represent?
For the rest of the world, whose watchful eyes are focused on Pakistan`s commitment to rooting out the cancer of terrorism, this must have become a source of concern about our inability to thwart or react to violence within. The act was not an Al Qaeda machination but that of one of our own, and the lack of swift retribution must have caused many a raised eyebrow from Washington to Beijing. There is room in this land for a range of opinions, but no one`s beliefs can or should be imposed on anyone else through violence or force. So has the silent majority holding liberal ideals been reduced to a silent minority through the dogged forcefulness of extremism? Has persistent disappointment with constitutional democracy pushed the nation to seek refuge in religious fundamentalism?
A government with a clear agenda and one confident of its principles would have settled this issue with an immediate election. Validation at the polls would properly honour Salman Taseer, a man who stood firm for what he believed in and what he believed to be the values of the party he represented. In that party are men and women with whom I have worked for many years and who I know to believe in those same principles, the ideals of the original PPP. But they mainly stayed silent while he wore these ideals on his sleeve with unparalleled physical courage.
I remember when he was released from the draconian dungeons of the Lahore Fort. He came to us in Dubai, lean and looking younger than before, and where most would have dwelt on the miseries and terror of that fearsome hell, he joked that we should ask Gen Ziaul Haq for a franchise so that we could market the fort as a guaranteed weight loss programme for wealthy Americans. And his physical courage matched his physical energy, as when he strong-armed me into setting up our own accounting practice.
Although not a single account of the many that were promised ever materialised, he traipsed unfazed through every boardroom, office, bazaar and market from Karachi to Peshawar and from Abu Dhabi to Muscat, relentlessly presenting our credentials. n
Courageous, indefatigable and true to the end to his values, principles and ideals, nothing can describe him better than this verse from Shakespeare: “ … and the elements / So mix`d in him that Nature might stand up / And say to all the world `This was a man!`”
The writer is a director of the Karachi Education Initiative.