Christopher Lydon of the excellent Radio Open Source interviews Mohammed Hanif, the acclaimed author of A Case of Exploding Mangoes on the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the murder of Salman Taseer and the sociology of extremism.
by Tariq Ali
Mumtaz Hussain Qadri smiled as he surrendered to his colleagues after shooting Salman Taseer, the governor of the Punjab, dead. Many in Pakistan seemed to support his actions; others wondered how he’d managed to get a job as a state bodyguard in the carefully screened Elite Force. Geo TV, the country’s most popular channel, reported, and the report has since been confirmed, that ‘Qadri had been kicked out of Special Branch after being declared a security risk,’ that he ‘had requested that he not be fired on but arrested alive if he managed to kill Taseer’ and that ‘many in Elite Force knew of his plans to kill Salman Taseer.’
Qadri is on his way to becoming a national hero. On his first appearance in court, he was showered with flowers by admiring Islamabad lawyers who have offered to defend him free of charge. On his way back to prison, the police allowed him to address his supporters and wave to the TV cameras. The funeral of his victim was sparsely attended: a couple of thousand mourners at most. A frightened President Zardari and numerous other politicians didn’t show up. A group of mullahs had declared that anyone attending the funeral would be regarded as guilty of blasphemy. No mullah (that includes those on the state payroll) was prepared to lead the funeral prayers. The federal minister for the interior, Rehman Malik, a creature of Zardari’s, has declared that anyone trying to tamper with or amend the blasphemy laws will be dealt with severely. In the New York Times version he said he would shoot any blasphemer himself.
Taseer’s spirited defence of Asiya Bibi, a 45-year-old Punjabi Christian peasant, falsely charged with blasphemy after an argument with two women who accused her of polluting their water by drinking out of the same receptacle, provoked an angry response from religious groups. Many in his own party felt that Taseer’s initiative was mistimed, but in Pakistan the time is never right for such campaigns. Bibi had already spent 18 months in jail. Her plight had been highlighted by the media, women had taken to the streets to defend her and Taseer and another senior politician from the Pakistan Peoples Party, Sherry Rehman, had demanded amendments to the blasphemy laws. Thirty-eight other women have been imprisoned under the same law in recent years and soon after a friendly meeting between Yousaf Gillani, the prime minister, and the leader of the supposedly moderate Jamaat-e-Islami, a member of the latter offered a reward of ten thousand dollars to whoever manages to kill Bibi.
Yesterday I appeared on Dori Smith’s excellent Talk Nation Radio, which runs on Pacifica, to discuss the situation in Pakistan. Among other things I discussed the devastation wrought by the US drone war, the folly of seeking military solutions for political problems, the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, and the murder of Salman Taseer.
To date there have been 215 drone attacks, including 3 on 1 January 2011 in North Waziristan which killed 19 people. In 2010, there were 116 strikes, over twice as many as in 2009. The total deaths from the drones number over two thousand. According to reports in The News and Dawn about 98 percent of the victims are civilians, a figure confirmed by David Kilcullen, the former senior advisor on counterinsurgency to Gen. David Petraeus. According to the Brookings Institution the drones kill at a ratio of 1 militant for every 10 civilians. According to Frontier Constabulary men I spoke to last year, the drones once in a while do get their targets but their victims are largely civilians.
Looking at the smug and self-righteous face of Salman Taseer’s murderer, I was remined of George Bernard Shaw’s warning that ‘There is nothing more dangerous than the conscience of a bigot.’ I didn’t agree with Taseer on much but I agree that former Pakistani dictator Zia-ul-Haq’s Blasphemy law is a ‘black law.’ It has been used repeatedly to victimize minorities and to persecute the weak. It is a tool in the hands of the most intolerant elements in the Pakistani society. I hope the government stands firm and does away with this travesty of justice post-haste.
P.s. The Pakistani liberal intelligentsia is positively atwitter over the murder, as indeed it should be. Their protestations would be more meaningful had they shown similar outrage regarding the murder of 19 Wazirs killed on new years day in three drone strikes as part of the war which many of them support.
Rahimullah Yusufzai is a Senior Analyst with the Pakistani TV channel, Geo TV, and the Resident Editor of The News International in Peshawar, an English newspaper from Pakistan. Rahimullah has served as a correspondent for Time Magazine, BBC World Service, BBC Pashto, BBC Urdu, Geo-TV, and ABC News. Mr. Yusufzai has interviewed Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar, and a range of other militants across the tribal areas of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Rahimullah joins us from Peshwar, Pakistan.