A bleak new year for Pakistan

Pakistan grieves over the death of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer this past Tuesday, a senior member of the Pakistan People’s Party. Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, Taseer’s close friend and ally, has called for three days of mourning and appealed to the citizens of Pakistan to remain calm in this time of unrest.

Rehman Malik, Pakistan’s interior minister, has stated that the assassin, Malik Mumtaz Qadri, was a service-member of Taseer’s elite guard. Qadri was captured at the scene and detained by police.

Taseer’s death comes as the second high profile assassination since Benazir Bhutto’s death in 2007. As with the case then, the assassination has been heavily shrouded in controversy.
Qadri’s subsequent confession revealed that Taseer was killed in reprisal for his stances towards the amendments of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, a set of penal codes intended to discipline deviance from the Islamic faith. The punishments traditionally have been comprised of the death penalty.

However, in actuality, most verdicts are appealed and subsequently overturned. While there have been no executions resulting from a charge under the blasphemy laws thus far, 30 individuals have been killed at the hands of lynch mobs.

Growing frustration has called for the law’s abolition. The government has attempted to distance itself from the issue to escape criticism.

Taseer’s assassination has contributed to certain systemic problems as well. Many have claimed that his death has effectively asphyxiated Pakistan’s liberal voice. While supporters have praised Qadri, extending their sympathies and showering him in rose petals at his arraignment, others have been cautious to condemn his actions for fear of persecution.

Tensions peaked when Taseer called for the pardon of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman accused of blasphemy towards Islam. The laws have long been perceived to target religious minorities and many shared Taseer’s apprehensions with their perpetuation.

As such, Taseer has been perceived by the media to be a very charismatic and popular politician. However, many Pakistanis do not share this optimism with regards to his legacy. In fact, it could be argued that focus on the blasphemy law as the true reason for Taseer’s death is only part of a larger issue plaguing Pakistani politics.

Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan’s president, has largely been held accountable for the growing instability looming in Pakistan. Widespread corruption has been the principal complaint concerning his leadership, but the mismanagement of aid intended for flood victims, extrajudicial killings in Kirachi and the sharp increase in armed gang violence throughout Pakistan have all been attributed to his rule.

Cases have been built against Zardari with substantial evidence for prosecution. However, an incumbent President cannot be prosecuted in Pakistan. As such, Taseer was known throughout Punjab as Zardari’s right hand man. Many perceived him to be a part of the same corrupt regime. Taseer’s removal has been viewed by many as a step closer towards Zardari’s prosecution.

Despite this, Taseer’s death has only contributed to the bleak outlook forecasted for the new year in Pakistan. Gilani has been in negotiations with the opposition party attempting to prevent the loss of their majority status. The unpopular government is also struggling with a failing economy. The International Monetary Fund has agreed to assist Pakistan but many are cynical of any reformation in the near future.

Authorities will continue their investigation into Taseer’s assassination. Police will try to ascertain whether Qadri acted alone, or whether the attack was orchestrated by an organization. Given the nature of Qadri’s attack however, it is difficult to believe he was able to shoot Taseer 26 times without the intervention of an honest security staff.

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