By Dr. Haider Mehdi
“I hold it to be a virtue to be disaffected toward a government which in its totality has done more harm to [people] than any previous system.” Mahatma Gandhi, quoted by Kalpana Sharma
“In an atmosphere where everything is reduced to ‘you are either for us, or against us,’ there is no place for people…who are fighting for social justice [and against political oppression] without violence.” Kalpana Sharma, Guardian News
I would not elevate the assassinated Punjab Governor, Salman Taseer, to a “shaheed” (martyr) nor eulogize that “he died for a cause” as some apologists are already claiming, nor would I call the assassin Mumtaz Qadri a “ghazi” (a Muslim soldier, a hero) as the emotionally charged “jiallas” of Islam would like to make him. Notwithstanding the emotional chasm between the two sides of the divide, the Pakistani urban westernized so-called liberals and the special brand of Islamic “jiallas,” this crime has its fundamentals rooted in the massive political mismanagement and political incorrectness which is the hallmark of the incumbent PPP Zardari-Gilani regime in Islamabad, post-Musharraf’s decade- long heinous dictatorship. This kind of violence does not happen out of the blue; its roots are much deeper than meet the eye – it is conceived in the larger and far more potent and powerful political dynamics of actual existentialist experiences of social-cultural oppression and its expression in violent acts that are outside the accepted norms of civilized behavior. It is in the anatomy of cause and effect that Mumtaz Qadri’s actions can be understood – though it must be said here that comprehending the causes does not condone the act itself. Let us also be clear, mere condemnation of an action does not provide us with the means and methods of resolving a problematic. It is the understanding of the motivating causes behind such acts of violence that gives us the tools and knowledge to fix the problem.
We need to put this entire episode in its proper perspective. First and foremost, provincial Governorship is not a political office. In fact, it is an apolitical position that explicitly requires that the integrity of this office be guarded with absolute non-partisan dignity of the incumbent Governor. Unfortunately, as the facts are, Salman Taseer, may Allah bless his soul, violated the very fundamental tenants of the constitutional requirements of his office. Taseer, a political product of Musharraf’s dictatorship and its “Mafioso” creed, acted on a purely partisan basis in every step of his tenure and remained, until his last moment, a symbolic extension of a political conduct reminiscent of a dictatorial era. There was absolutely nothing in the political behavior of the late Governor that would be even remotely considered democratic or at par with the dignity of his office.
The late Governor, in his political behavior, remained a belligerent participant in national and provincial politics who deliberately and willfully promoted adversarial relationships with his opponents – and went as far as to antagonize the public sentiment on various occasions on several political issues. It is ironic, unfathomable, politically suicidal and incomprehensible that Salman Taseer would jump into the blasphemy law controversy and would publicly visit the accused woman in the case to show his solidarity with her while alienating a large segment of society politically opposed to the amendment in the said law. Irrespective of the merits and demerits of the proposed amendment in the blasphemy law, the important question is: What were the political motives of the deceased Governor to take such a strong and staunch stand in a political issue that was basically outside the domain of his office and political integrity? Indeed, what Taseer did was a slap in the public’s face.
It is an emotional struggle to an enhanced level of moral-political sophistication to conduct oneself with dignity and composure to meet the public expectation in such a sensitive public office as the Governorship of a province. Salman Taseer failed himself, his office, and was a phenomenal failure in the public eye – he failed in public confidence, in his political integrity and, above all, in the public perception of his political role.
A provincial Governor cannot make choices based on his personal views, party affiliations, private relationships or political patronage – the incumbent is not only expected but bound to remain above those individual considerations. Salman Taseer did not know or care that he could not make personal choices in his political conduct – that every choice he made every time in his omnipotent mindset was fatal – that every time every choice he made was an error – as soon as it was made – and the undignified choice of going public on the blasphemy law amendment was a hasty improvisation that demonstrated absence of well-thought-out political wisdom and its appropriateness to the urgency of conflict management. Salman Taseer was way out of line in his political role – way out of line with the political correctness of our times.
This was a mistake – and he paid for it with his life.
In retrospect, the late Governor’s political behavior can also be examined in the context of an organized, planned and foreign-sponsored socio-cultural assault against Pakistani society. The so-called liberal westernized urban class in the country is hell-bent on cultural transformation of the society and it is backed by the vested interests, foreign political establishments, and the media; this is implicitly an extremism of a kind. The Pakistani ruling elite is also part of this minority segment and is pushing towards secularism to bow to the demands of the west. Be mindful that Samuel Huntington, in his book The Clash of Civilizations, stated blatantly that Third World nations have to espouse Western values or face annihilation. The trouble is that the majority of Pakistanis do not and cannot subscribe to this notion – and yet, they are pushed on a daily basis to alter their religious, social and cultural values; in other words, the ultimate demise of their national identity.
Isn’t it ironic that amidst national crises of monumental scale involving poverty, socio-economic deprivations, massive unemployment, unprecedented fiscal hardships, natural disasters, drone warfare, and name any human catastrophe in the book, the deceased Governor of Punjab, the largest province in the country, jumped on the bandwagon and went on a large scale political expedition and publicly took a stand to get the blasphemy law repealed – as if everything else in the country was hunky dory – that the blasphemy law was the only thorn in our democratic dispensation and national existence that needed to be fixed urgently. The fact is that Salman Taseer, if he had acted out of compassion, could have quietly requested the President to pardon the accused woman and it would have been done. Instead, he chose to play politics with the issue, pleasing his patrons and offending an entire nation, or nearly so.
Salman Taseer’s fate was predetermined. As history tells us, when an entire society experiences political, social, cultural and religious oppression, violence becomes a self-propelled, a self-induced proclivity to counter the rising tide of this turbulent and tyrannical abuse of power and its proponents. That is what happened in Islamabad on the afternoon of January 4th, 2011.
It was the anatomy of violence in its absolute crude, naked and venomous shape and form – expressed, undeterred, unmindful and yet, historically relevant and understandable!!
But that does not make Salman Taseer a “shaheed” nor Mumtaz Qadri a “ghazi.”
The writer: a professor, published author, political analyst and conflict resolution expert and a regular contributor to Opinion Maker.