Political murder disrupts Pakistan.
A campaigner for Pakistan’s democracy has been shot dead by one of his own bodyguards, who thought the moderate politician was wrong to favour free speech over religion.
As he stepped out of his bullet-proof car in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital city, Salman Taseer, a businessman and governor of the country’s Punjab province, should have been protected from any attackers in the crowded shopping area by his bodyguards.
Instead, one of them turned a gun on his boss and shot him dead, making Mr Taseer the latest in a long line of high-profile, moderate politicians in Pakistan who have been assassinated – often by killers motivated by a belief that Islamic values should win out over Western ideas about democracy. Previous victims of assassination include Benazir Bhutto, the prime minister, in 2007.
The killer, who gave himself up for arrest after the attack, said he was angry about the politician’s campaign to free a Christian woman sentenced to death under the Islamic country’s blasphemy laws.
Islamic scholars say the bodyguard was right to kill the politician as punishment for supporting blasphemy, warning that anyone mourning his death would also be regarded as a blasphemer and risks punishment.
The Punjab region, where Mr Taseer was appointed governor in 2007, borders India and has been the site of repeated attacks by Islamic jihadis or “holy warriors”. India and Pakistan were created by the partition of India in 1945 at the end of the Second World War when the British Empire was crumbling.
Pakistan became the Muslim state while India has a majority Hindu population. Both countries have seen regular religious violence ever since, and their democracies are dominated by powerful political families and their allies.
Mr Taseer said recently he believed his country was “a vibrant democracy. It has an educated middle class, a civilian government and a free press.” But successive governments, both democratically elected and imposed by the military, have struggled to remain in control because of violence by religious fundamentalists who want to discourage Pakistan’s links with the West.
Gunman versus politician
Mr Taseer was part of a rich and well-connected group of individuals and families, often called dynasties, that dominate Pakistani politics. He dismissed pro-Islam militants as “brainwashed, illiterate tribes” but many or even most of his fellow Pakistanis may believe their religion is more important than the values of a Western-style democracy.
Both powerful politicians using money and position, and the religious militants using violence claim to be representing the people of Pakistan – who is right?
- Could it ever be acceptable to break the law if it conflicted with your religious beliefs?
- Elected political leaders say they represent ordinary voters. Do they, or are our leaders always drawn from a small group of people?
- Powerful families that have become political dynasties include the Kennedys and the Bushs in America, the Ghandis in India and the Bhuttos in Pakistan. Think of some other examples of a dynasty either in politics, business, in other walks of life or in history and draw a family tree.
Some People Say...
“Pakistan is now a failed state and should no longer govern itself.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- Where has this murder happened?
- In Pakistan, the Muslim country in Asia which borders India, Iran and Afghanistan.
- Who has been killed?
- Salman Taseer, a senior politician and high profile campaigner for democracy and human rights in his country. He was imprisoned and tortured by the military dictatorship after a coup in 1977 and spent many years in exile in the UK until returning to Pakistan and becoming governor of the Punjab province.
- How do we know?
- We know because these criminals were caught by the UK Borders Agency. It’s their job to stop drugs getting into the country.
- Why did he die?
- Mr Taseer was shot dead by his own bodyguard this week because he opposed a law protecting Islam against blasphemy – he was campaigning to free a Christian woman who is sentenced to death.
- Why does it matter?
- Pakistan is on the frontline between societies which operate as functioning nation states with full diplomatic links to the rest of the world, and the chaos of what are called ‘failed states,’ often dominated by religious or ethnic warlords.