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#3314, 10 January 2011
Reading Pakistan-II: Four Implications of Salman Taseer’s Assassination
D Suba Chandran
Director, IPCS
email: subachandran@gmail.com

A voice of reason against the abuse of blasphemy law in Pakistan has been brutally silenced. What are the implications? If his assassination is a loss to the moderate voices in Pakistan, who stands to gain? What does this loss and gain mean for the future of Pakistan?

I. End of the campaign against the abuse of blasphemy law?
The first and foremost implication will be on the campaign against the blasphemy law led by moderate voices of the Pakistani society. While the human rights organizations and a few well meaning individuals have been highlighting this concern since the 1990s, during 2010, there were signs of these scattered voices of reason mobilizing into a movement. Ever since the  November 2010 verdict of death sentence for Aasiya Bibi (a Christian woman who was accused of blasphemy by her fellow villagers), a section of Pakistani civil society campaigned in the local electronic and print media against the abuse of this law for narrow political and economic benefits. Sherry Rehman, a PPP member of the National Assembly and a former Minister, even submitted a draft bill to amend the blasphemy law.

The above mentioned activism to amend the law will decline now, if not come to a complete halt, after Taseer’s assassination. There is no support at the highest level, even within the PPP, to which Salman Taseer belonged and Sherry Rehman is a representative of. There were no statements of outright condemnation from either Zardari or Gilani; instead there was a muted ‘political conspiracy’ theory purposefully floated by the PPP, as neither the President nor the Prime Minister had the courage to stand up and face radicalism within the country. After his assassination, even as rhetoric, there was no vow against those who oppose any amendments to the blasphemy law.

II. “Thank you, I’m here to stay, continue and be abused: Blasphemy law”
As a result, the second most important implication will be the continuation of the blasphemy law with all its abuses, as one sees in Pakistan today. Forget about making any positive amendments to the blasphemy law, there will not be even an effective debate within Parliament. By now, every legislator in Parliament would have got the message, even within the PPP, that opposing the blasphemy law will not only affect their physical security but also will cost them politically.

Amendments to the blasphemy law will be violently opposed even outside Parliament. According to a Dawn report, there were no Public Prosecutors to file a legal case when the assassin was brought to court and apparently the police officials, who apprehended the assassin, submitted a case against him! With Parliament and legal institutions afraid to pursue any amendments, the fight against the abuse of the blasphemy law will be relegated to occasional opinion articles in newspapers and panel discussions in the electronic media. For all practical purposes, civil society activism will turn into an academic discussion.

III. Islam: The war within
The third implication of the assassination will in terms of those who will gain from the incident. Rreligious political parties led by the JI and JUI-F are likely to be the clear winners. They now have an internal issue to discuss in Parliament which will clearly pose benefits for them. In the streets, they are likely to get bolder and expand their sphere of influences against minority communities such as the Shias and Ahmediyas.

The radical groups, led by various franchisees of the Taliban within Pakistan, and sectarian organizations are likely to continue their violence not only against the minority communities but also against Sufi Islam. This in fact is the greatest threat that looms large on the Pakistani horizon - a war within Islam inside Pakistan. In fact, the war has already begun, and the initial battles have been already won by radical groups.  The recent attacks on Ahemdiya mosques, growing sectarian violence and suicide attacks against Sufi shrines in Karachi and Lahore are signs of this internal Islamic war in Pakistan.

It is unfortunate that even a section of the middle-class educated elite is unwilling to blatantly oppose this rising fracture within Islam. How does one explain the showering of rose petals by lawyers, when Qadri, the assassin of Salman Taseer, was brought to the court?

IV. Renewed “academic” debate on the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear assets
The final implication will be in terms of international reactions. Ignoring the above internal implications, the international community is increasingly likely to engage itself (more in terms of academic discourse, of course) in the security of nuclear installations and the process of radicalization amongst Pakistan’s security forces. Qadri, the assassin of Salman Taseer belonged to the elite guard. The argument will thus be: what if those who guard Pakistan’s nuclear installations emulate Qadri? A section of the nuclear ayatollahs might expand the argument that nuclear weapons in the hands of such failing states ought to be rolled back.

Alas, the moderate voices of reason in Pakistan are unlikely to garner support - either from within or from outside.

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