Salman Taseer murder throws Pakistan into fresh crisis

January 5, 2011

Declan Walsh, The Guardian

Pakistan lurched into a fresh crisis after an outspoken secular politician was shot dead by a fanatic who opposed reform of the country’s draconian blasphemy laws.

Punjab’s governor, Salman Taseer, was gunned down by one of his own bodyguards as he stepped from his car in Islamabad’s Kohsar market, a favoured haunt of westerners and wealthy Pakistanis.

The assassin, who belonged to an elite police force tasked with protecting Taseer, shot the governor at least nine times before dropping his weapon and surrendering to colleagues. Officials named him as Mumtaz Qadri.

“A guard jumped out of a car with a flashing light on top of it. He pointed his Kalashnikov at [Taseer’s] window and blasted it,” said one witness.

As he was led away Qadri, a 26-year-old with a curly beard, told photographers he was “proud” to have killed Taseer because he was a “blasphemer”.

Taseer’s death is a blow to Pakistan’s embattled liberal minority and comes at a disastrous moment for the ruling Pakistan Peoples party, which lost its parliamentary majority at the weekend.

As tributes to the slain politician flowed in from across the political spectrum, dazed Pakistanis struggled to come to terms with the death of another political leader, just three years after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

“This is a clear and present danger; it shows how deep the problems of Pakistani society are,” said Sherry Rehman, a PPP politician who shared many of Taseer’s convictions. “If we don’t act now, this tide will swallow us whole.”

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