VIEW: An open letter to President Zardari - II — Shahid Saeed
Wrapped in the coffin of Salmaan Taseer was not just the body of a mortal but ideas, expressions, feelings and socio-political ideals. We buried not just a man, but reason, sanity, tolerance, liberalism, secularism and compassion
The members of Jamaat-e-Ahle Sunnat Pakistan did not bring your party to power nor does the PPP represent the Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan. Tahaffuz-e-Namoos-e-Risalat Mahaz members do not vote for your party and you did not get elected because of the Sunni Tehrik. The Hindu, Christian and Ahmedi citizens of Pakistan do not look up to these parties for their rights; they look at parties like yours. Nearly all of the three million Pakistanis who follow the Hindu faith live in Sindh. Nearly all of them vote for the Pakistan People’s Party.
Investigation from your very own minister for minorities affairs found Asia Noreen to be innocent. A doctor has been accused of blasphemy for throwing away the card of a pharmaceutical company representative. Justice Arif Hussain Bhatti took bullets in the chest for giving justice to an innocent accused of blasphemy.
Extremism and fanaticism manifest themselves in various forms — in the form of hate-mongering against other faiths and in the form of lack of tolerance for any opinion deemed in violation of what is considered divinely ordained law. The cancer of extremism has permeated each and every inch of this society, from those who blow themselves up in the middle of crowded markets to those who sympathise with them or even try to defend them. Zia’s legacy cannot be eroded by an 18th Amendment or removal of his name from the president’s list. His legacy remains alive in the form of the blasphemy laws, the Hudood Laws and all other discriminatory laws. His legacy remains alive in the form of every bomber that blows himself up in the streets and bazaars of this unfortunate country. His legacy remains alive in the form of the assassination of your own wife.
The very basic problem with laws promulgated in the name of religion remains that the doors of any subsequent change are closed forever and the very issue of debate on their legality, their fairness and their effects becomes controversial.
Lately, you have claimed that politics is about making unpopular decisions for the greater good. Here is an unpopular decision that is definitely worth orchestrated agitation. Here is an unpopular decision you can make that will give the six million citizens of minority faiths a nice sleep for the first time in their lives. Here is an unpopular decision that will prove to be the first one in making Pakistan a modern progressive state that does not condone murder in the name of religion.
His death carries a message for all liberals in Pakistan, a mark on their heads for the Qadris to ascend to their imagined heavens. It possibly brings vocal liberalism to an end on the political stage. If the PPP is to continue abandoning principled, courageous, humane and compassionate politicians, then there will be no more Salmaan Taseers or Sherry Rehmans to strengthen the party.
Wrapped in the coffin of Salmaan Taseer was not just the body of a mortal but ideas, expressions, feelings and socio-political ideals. We buried not just a man, but reason, sanity, tolerance, liberalism, secularism and compassion. His presence will forever be missed. It will be missed even more if the PPP fails to honour his memory and continues to act like a crowd of sheep, unwilling to flex its muscles and resist the agitation instigated by bigots.
Taseer’s death should not dissuade you from pursuing an amendment in the notoriously abused law. In his death, Salmaan Taseer has become the symbolic champion of minority rights, the face of liberal and progressive politics in Pakistan. A state that ignores death-chanting slogans from mullahs and lets people garland a murderer has surrendered itself to the extremists. If the PPP wishes to remain silent on the blasphemy laws even now, it might as well have assassinated Taseer itself and became the voice of the street mullahs and the Taliban. Otherwise, it will honour the memory of Shaheed Salmaan Taseer and support the bill put forward by Sherry Rehman. The choice is yours to make.
The writer is interested in history and public policy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org