On Monday 5 January Salman Taseer, governor of Punjab (Pakistan's largest province) and a former Pakistani People's Party MP was shot 27 times by his bodyguard Mumtaz Qadri in Islamabad. Taseer was killed by Qadri because of his support for the reform of the long established blasphemy law which has led to people being incarcerated for insulting the prophet Muhammed.
The shooting is the latest symptom of the rise of religious conservatism and right-wing radicalism in Pakistan, and Islamist attempts to rid the country of what they call 'Western extremism'. In fact Pakistan already has some of the world's most draconian laws regarding religious freedom and the right of expression.
Last November a Christian woman, Aasia Bibi, was sentenced to death under the blasphemy laws (the sentence has not yet been carried out). At the time Taseer went to visit her to express solidarity; on his return home he was met by an Islamist mob, burning an effigy and calling for his death.
In the immediate aftermath of the murder, Qadri was hailed as a martyr and people gathered to shower him with rose petals as he was led to court. Facebook groups and blogs praised him for his act and Pakistani news featured vox pops of young Pakistani's supporting him, some going as far as to say that they wished they had done it themselves.
Many right-wing religious leaders either failed to comment or, in some cases, claimed that he got what he deserved. Many of his colleagues refused to support him when he was alive, with Pakistan’s legal minister refusing to even contemplate reforming the blasphemy laws and President Zadari backing down on an earlier suggestion he might pardon Aasia Bibi under
pressure from the conservative dominated Lahore high-court and the mullahs.
Farooq Tariq of the socialist Labour Party Pakistan said: “The blood of Salman Taseer should not go in vain. Pakistan People’s Party should abandon all policies to please the religious fanatics. There should be a resolute fight back against the Mullahs who want Pakistan to become another Taliban control country.”
Pakistani workers cannot rely on their own government to defend and increase democratic rights - they are far too willing to acquiesce to the demands of the mullahs and the continuing 'talibanisation' of the country in order to preserve their rule. But nor should they put their faith in those politicians like Taseer who do the decent thing and stand up for secularism – the man was a wealthy businessman who made a lot of money out of the exploitation of Pakistani workers.
The growing support for Islamism within Pakistan can and will only be curbed by a working-class alternative. But in order for this to be realised foundations of secularism and democratic rights must be maintained and extended. This means defending secularist politicians like Taseer while simultaneously fighting for socialist solutions to the chronic poverty and exploitation so ably exploited by Islamism. Our first priority must be solidarity with socialists, secularists, women's rights activists and the labour movement in Pakistan.