The governor of Pakistan‘s largest province has been killed by one of his own bodyguards, apparently because he had spoken out against the country’s controversial blasphemy laws.
Qur’an (33:36) “It is not fitting for a Believer, man or woman, when a matter has been decided by Allah and His Messenger to have any option about their decision.”
In the most high-profile political assassination since the murder of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in December 2007, Punjab governor Salman Taseer was shot nine times at Kohsar market, an upmarket shopping area less than a mile from the presidential palace.
The interior minister, Rahman Malik, said that the gunman had told police he had killed Taseer for criticising the country’s blasphemy legislation.
Taseer, who was close to President Asif Ali Zardari andÂ an outspoken critic of militant groups, was pronounced dead at the nearby Poly Clinic hospital. He had recentlyÂ courted the anger of Islamist extremists by defending a Christian woman condemned to death for blasphemy. Taseer called for the repeal of the “disgraceful” laws after Aasia Bibi was sentenced under the colonial-era law.
“He was the most courageous voice after Benazir Bhutto on the rights of women and religious minorities,” said Farahnaz Ispahani, an aide to Zardari and friend of Taseer. “God, we will miss him.”
Pakistani cleric Maulana Yousef Qureshi says if the government does not hang Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five convicted of blasphemy against Islam, then his mosque is offering a reward of $6,000 to anyone who kills her.Â Pakistan’s Minister for Minority Affairs Shabaz Bhatti has recommended that Bibi be pardoned or released from prison if her pending court appeal is not quickly addressed.
Local women claimed that Bibi made derogatory remarks about the Prophet Muhammad which Bibi has denied. Muslim villagers were pressing her to accept Islam, Bibi told the court during her trial. She is the first woman condemned to die under Pakistan’s blasphemy law.
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Witnesses said a member of Taseer’s security unit opened fire as the governor left his vehicle. Other police officials returned fire at the attacker who then surrendered. Five other people were wounded in crossfire.
Early television pictures showed police officers swarming around a bloodstained street littered with bullet casings, with a lightly damaged vehicle parked nearby. “The governor fell down and the man who fired at him threw down his gun and raised both hands,” said the witness, Ali Imran.
Taseer was believed to be meeting someone for a meal, Malik said. Other members of his security detail were being questioned, he said. The security for Taseer was provided by the Punjab government.
“We will see whether it was an individual act or someone had asked him [to do it],” Malik said of the attacker.
Taseer, a leading member of Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party,Â frequently used Twitterto get across his views.
His death is likely to heighten theÂ political instability triggered when one of the government’s main allies pulled out of the ruling coalition at the weekend.
Taseer lived in Lahore, the capital of Punjab province, but had a large official residence in Islamabad and was a frequent visitor.
Minorities in Pakistan are routinely convicted in blasphemy cases on hearsay and scant evidence, with charges often brought to settle personal scores or unrelated disputes such as property ownership. The charge itself is often enough for vigilantes to take matters in their own hands and kill the accused.