Friday, January 7, 2011

Late Salman Taseer- A profile

Upright Opinion
January 7, 2011

Late Salman Taseer- A profile
By Saeed Qureshi

Humans are mortal and so was late Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab. His assassination at the hands of a religious fanatic guard on January 4 is tragic and must be mourned with prayers that God almighty bless his soul with eternal peace.

Salman Taseer has distinguished himself as a defiant bulwark in Punjab by fighting on the front foot on behalf of Pakistan People’s Party. Cast in an uncompromising and bellicose mould, Salman Taseer was temperamentally adept in stunning bouts of repartee and incessant verbal feuds with the PPP’s political adversaries; the scions of Punjab, Messers Sharif Brothers and their clan. In the wake of this tussle a time came when the imposition of governor rule seemed to be around the corner. That bleak moment somehow passed away, perhaps due to a succession of forbidding events.

Late Salman Taseer was always strident and continued to exude an overbearing and tough demeanor as the governor of the largest province of Pakistan. He was the closest confidant of Pakistan’s president Zardari. Mr. Zardari spurned all calls from diverse quarters to replace him with a discreet and pliant person who would know the art of benign politicking.

The discerning people of Pakistan even with scan interest in national affairs would watch with disbelief as to how the political brinkmanship in Punjab was degraded to vituperation and foul mouthing between the rival political forces. The governor and the chief minister of Punjab with his cohorts remained daggers drawn and vilifying each other to any extent.

As such the late governor with his unguarded, sweeping and hard-hitting outpourings directed at his political or religious foes, narrowed the popular support for PPP in Punjab. In the face of governor’s propensity to be irrepressibly aggressive, the PPP has, all along, remained in a defensive posture in Punjab. The coalition between PPP and PMLN in Punjab has never been harmonious or friendly.

Understandably, the bigger share of making matters worse in Punjab can be apportioned to late Salman Taseer. The verbal salvos of mutual diatribe between the law minister of Punjab and that of Salman Taseer must be expunged from the annals as these were not only distasteful, but demonstrated what ugly proportions, the politics can assume.

His non- chalant and combative conduct finally landed him into a controversy with the religious right that woefully culminated in his tragic death. The dare-devil way he liberated Asia Bibi from the prison and then held a press conference heaping smears on the clergy and denouncing the blasphemy law, betokened his poor judgment about the power of the religious outfits in Pakistan. His projections and pronouncements against the blasphemy law were most unwise and a kind of unwarranted challenge to the unmerciful and fanatical clerics in Pakistan. Even for a common man with perfunctory knowledge of religion Islam, such clarion calls again the entrenched beliefs were simply suicidal.

Pakistan’s citizenry, on the whole, is rather liberal and overly casual in relation to the performance of religious rituals or even mandatory obligations. The liquor is prohibited by law but a predominant segment of population drinks and partakes in other epicurean, mundane and merry making activities. But they seldom come out in the public and prove them right. More than the political opponents, this time the foes of the late governor were lethal, brutal and unforgiving religious demagogues.

That is why the whole religious lot despite their mutual deep-seated sectarian disputes and differences rallied on one platform of launching a movement against him. There were looming threats to his life with religious zealots shouting revenge. But as the ill -luck would have it; he did not take those threats even marginally serious. Such was the level of imperviousness that the late governor suffered from.

Nevertheless, there is another dimension to the whole grievous scenario. Salam Taseer was a great political stalwart of PPP and a resolute defender and unswerving warrior for his party and specifically for the president of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari. But, his outlandish policies and muscle- flexing postures were making the matters worse for this leading party not only in Punjab but elsewhere in the country. As such Salman Taseer was becoming a kind of millstone around the neck of PPP and causing embarrassment even among the party cadres.

There was simmering concern within the PPP echelons about the way Salman Taseer as governor was running the show in Punjab. So his demise although a heart wrenching event might pave way for the PPP high command to appoint someone as governor of Punjab who is cautious and discreet. There is always a silver lining to the clouds. Even the worst of tragedies some time trigger good tidings. Although, Salman Taseer can never come back, yet his untimely demise should prompt the PPP leaders to fill his place with a person who is cool, shrewd, a pacifist and possessing abundance of political acumen.

One pernicious ramification or fallout of the blasphemy controversy is that the religious extremism that seemed to be on the wane has been reborn with a new vigor and vitality. Any government in Pakistan might not be in a position to amend Zia’s enacted blasphemy law that patently lacks rationality and needs to be brought in conformity with the veritable Islamic jurisprudence and made compatible with the traditions of the prophet of Islam. The manifest or professed secularism of PPP would remain elusive till the time the civil society resurges and is in a position to reassert itself against the myopic religious extremism and dogmatic conservatism.

There are countless liberal and forward looking people in Pakistan. But they lack courage to come out and counter the obscurantist and reactionary elements in Pakistani society. The religious orthodoxy and conservatism is still dominant and would remain so until a monumental movement germinates in Pakistan to lessen the role of religion in daily lives and in the affairs of state.

Unless the civil society, the human right organizations and progressive forces are strong enough to put up a dogged resistance to the intimidating dictates and exploitative antics of the religious mavericks and papacy, one single person like Salman Taseer, howsoever he may be outspoken, is not going to change the stifling ground situation.

One can gauge the powerful influence of the clerics in Pakistan’s society by the fact that the impoverished people care less for their socio-economic sufferings and instead zealously take part in processions led by religious zealots and spiritual chieftains. Perhaps the social awareness is dormant and still at a much lower level in Pakistan.

(The writer is a Dallas-based freelance journalist and a former diplomat writing mostly on International Affairs with specific focus on Pakistan and the United States)

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