Punjab Governor’s Assassination a Sign of Larger Problems

Salmaan Taseer

Salmaan Taseer, the Governor of Punjab, was assassinated on Tuesday.

Salmaan Taseer, the outspoken secular governor of Punjab, was shot dead by one of his guards Tuesday in Islamabad. More than a murder, Taseer’s assassination speaks to the political climate engulfing Pakistan these days, with his death following news of the country’s second-largest political party, Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), withdrawing from the ruling coalition on Sunday.

“The razor-tongued governor of Pakistan’s most populous province was known for speaking out on behalf of women and religious minorities,” according to the Washington Post. The case of Aasia Bibi, a Christian Pakistani woman, made international headlines last fall when she was sentenced to death under the blasphemy laws. On November 20, Taseer met with her in prison, after which he vowed to take her case to President Asif Ali Zardari to secure a pardon for her.

His public opposition to the blasphemy laws and support of Bibi’s case led many people to condemn Taseer. A member of the ruling secular Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Taseer refused to give in to pressure to repeal his call for Bibi’s pardon. He tweeted on New Year’s Eve:

The Washington Post reports that MQM’s pullout from the coalition “[imperils] the U.S.-allied government by leaving it without a parliamentary majority.” Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, the elite-force security guard who confessed to shooting Taseer, said he was motivated by the governor’s opposition to the blasphemy law.

Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, here in police custody, confessed to shooting Taseer.

In light of the controversy surrounding the now-infamous blasphemy laws, some believe Taseer’s assassination is an indication of the Pakistani government’s inability to fight religious extremists within its borders. Beyond such problems lies the issue of the dissolution of Pakistan’s U.S.-allied ruling coalition, without which further threats to the government’s stability seem inevitable.