By Hassan Naqvi
Taseer, a self-made billionaire, one of the bravest voices in favour of marginalized segment of Pakistani society, still stands out for one reason or another even after the four years of his tragic assassination by one member of his security details in Islamabad.
As blasphemy cases are being reported frequently, rights activists and the public at large miss Taseer, a Kashmiri descent on his father’s side, for his vocal stand against the misuse of the laws. On the other hand, his self-confessed killer, Mumtaz Qadri, is hailed as a hero to a segment of society. A mosque to his name was constructed in the suburb of Islamabad highlighting the fragmentation of the society.
This is not what Taseer envisioned about the Pakistani society.
“When I lived abroad he used to try and persuade me that Pakistan is the only place worth making a life in,” Sanam told The Pak tea House.
“He said look how people come together over here to take care of each other. Abroad you can die alone.”
Sanam said that he was a product of his times, having inherited love for literature and patriotism from his father before him. He thought that decency and humanity were core values within our community.
Taseer was born on May 31, 1944 in Simla, British India, of a family hailing from Amritsar. His grandfather was a peasant named Mian Attauddin. His father was Muhammad Din Taseer, popularly known as MD Taseer, who was born in Ajnala, Amritsar in 1902.
Taseer started his political career in his student era, as a member of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in the late 1960s. He was a part of the movement for Bhutto’s freedom and opposed his arrest and death sentence during the dictator Zia’s regime. He also wrote a political biography on Bhutto titled Bhutto: A political biography (1980).
In the 1988 general elections, Taseer became a member of the Punjab Assembly from Lahore. In the 1990, 1993 and 1997 general elections, he stood for election to be an MNA but lost. In2007, he was appointed the interim federal minister for industries, production and special initiatives.
On May 15, 2008, Taseer was appointed the Punjab governor by the PPP-led coalition government.
On January 4, 2011, one member of Taseer’s security details, Malik Mumtaz Qadri, shot him 27 times with an MP5 sub-machine gun at Kohsar Market, Sector F-6, Islamabad, as he was returning to his car after meeting a friend for lunch. His self-confessed killer, and a hero to many people now, later confessed to killing Taseer for he stood for the marginalized poor Christian Pakistani woman, Aasiya Bibi, who had been sentenced to death for ‘blasphemy’.
Speaking to The Pak Tea House, columnist and political analyst Raza Rumi said, “Salmaan Taseer will remain a symbol of courage for all times to come. His support for the weak and marginalized will continue to inspire the progressive community everywhere in the world.”
More importantly the elites of Pakistan afraid of bigots and extremists need to repay the debt. The more they cave in, the greater is the likelihood of Pakistan falling apart, says Rumi
Op-ed editor Reem Wasay, said, “Salmaan Taseer was one of the few last ‘goodmen’ … he was an obvious tycoon and because of his liberal views he was a marked man but what people really identified with was the fact that he was also an ‘everyday person’ – something sorely lacking in big names and politicians here.”
Taseer was known for traveling without any kind of protocol and entourage, blending in, especially as the governor, and seeing what was happening around him up close. That is why he became involved in a human rights issue that cost him his life: he knew what was going on andhe knew that injustice was being upheld. It takes a man of the people to know that and fight against that, says Wasay.
Academic and journalist Ameera Javeria said, “Taseer was murdered for believing in what’s right and not holding his words back and his legacy is a treasure of Pakistan.”
According to activist Mobeen Ahmed Chughtai, “It can be safely said that in Pakistan the measure of a man is the degree to which he is considered a saint or a demon. By that standard, Salmaan Taseer could be one of the greatest of them all because he is considered both depending on who you talk to.”
The amount of polarisation in society generated by Salmaan’s defense of a poor minority woman and, later, by his death says one very important thing: You may love Taseer or you may hate him -but you can’t ignore him, says Chughtai
Speaking to Pak Tea House, Rubab Mehdi H Rizvi, chair of the International Association of Human Rights, said, “Salmaan Taseer had integrity, courage and a brain-a true statesman. He stood with the minorities, oppressed and the persecuted. Something Muslims should identity themselves with-because continuously speaking about justice and peace is the identity of being a Muslim.”
Activist and Columnist Marvi Sirmed told The Pak Tea House after four and half-years of his Shahaadat, Aasiya Bibi is still in jail with no progress in her case. “Although his assassin is in jail and sentenced to death, I don’t see justice has been done to Taseer. His assassin was not a single man. His murderer is the mindset that still prevails, rather thrives,” she said.
Sirmed says there’s almost no effort at any level to correct the wrong impression that he was a blasphemer or a defender of blasphemy. “The media persons and politico religious personalities continue to accuse him for something he never did,” says Sirmed.
”On his birthday, can we give him a small gift of acknowledging his bravery and recognising his being on right path?” Sirmed asked.