Taseer’s murder signifies the hegemony of the far right in Pakistan
The murder of Governor Salman Taseer by Mumtaz Qadri, a member of the Elite Police Force was a shock but the bigger shock came when an organization of Barelvi sect forbade prayers for Taseer, when hundreds of lawyers came out to defend and garlanded Qadri, when thousands thronged his house to show support, when majority of SMS among youth were congratulatory and when various guests on electronic media either openly justified or attached the various ifs & buts implicitly justifying murder.
Why is it that Taseer’s categorization of Blasphemy Law, a law first promulgated by colonial authorities provided teeth by a military dictator Zia ul Haq and later sharpened by a centre right party, as black law led to his murder and hero worshipping of the murderer? The answer being quite simple that far right forces including media anchors, columnists, orthodoxy, religio-political and religio-militant parties ran a successful campaign linking and suggesting that Taseer by this act had committed blasphemy against the prophet and called the Holy Quran a black law. Thus duty bounding a Muslim to kill him, prompting few to announce his head money while forcing the Government to go on the defensive and back track on amending the law. But questions remain if Qadri acted alone or had active participation and planning by an organized group.
Given that Pakistan had 49 suicide bombings in 2010 targeting tribal elders, security forces, moderate clerics and secular politicians, Taseer’s murder was not an anomaly but its aftermath shattered a number of accepted notions: 1- Religious extremism was limited to a particular social class with roots in the orthodoxy. 2- The ‘moderate’ Barelvi sect which was targeted by the Taliban through the bombings of shrines and killing of scholars could become a partner of moderate forces. 3- A silent moderate majority existed?
The shock was of mullah’s (clergy) hegemony as public justifications of murder were not countered by the State, by Taseer’s political party while small protests against the murder were publicly threatened. This hegemony is an outcome of 30 years of rapid gains made by the far right. Islamization that began with Zia when religious groups were provided state patronage, universities were given to Islamist groups and education curriculum was changed along fundamentalist lines was partly halted but never rolled back and thus carried with its own momentum. While America and West supported religious warriors in their fight against the Soviet Union during the 1980s Afghan war for their strategic interests, the Pakistani State practically run by the Pakistan Army continued with same strategic assets in fighting Indian forces in Kashmir and supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan. By 2000, jihad had become a major business and about 100,000 civilians had been trained in religious ideology and militancy. After 9/11 when the Pakistani State tried to curtail Jihad under American pressure, few dissidents groups joined Al-Qaeda and started targeting the Pakistani State instead. But this has yet to change the state centric strategic thinking of the security and intelligence apparatus as Pakistan Army still considers India and America a bigger threat than Al-Qaeda and home grown terrorist outfits.
Decades of State indifference have led to a three tier far right hegemonic structure, which encapsulates culture, politics and physical threat. At the ground level are peaceful missionary groups propagating fundamentalist religiosity. The largest is Tableeghi Jamaat whose three day yearly congregation is attended by more than a million people. The first floor is managed by religio-political parties, which have measurable political strength in two provinces but can at most muster 10% of the popular vote. Still these parties are cadre based, some use the vast Mosque-Madrassa network for mobilization while Jamaat-Islami’s student wing controls the largest university of the country. The second floor belongs to militant organizations, who are either patronized by the State or generate resources through religious, sectarian and social services based donations. The largest, Jamaat-ud-Dawa (earlier Lashkar-e-Taiba) has a network of 1200 offices across the country and runs multiple publications. Although this structure is divided into multiple religious sects and varying interests, still Taseer’s murder shows that even the most moderate religious group – the Barelvi sect is not willing to tolerate a different interpretation of Islam.
Time is running out as the war continues next door facilitating the hawks, as the left and liberals continue to bicker if Imperialism or Religious Extremism merits the highest priority, as incompetent and indifferent political leaders continue to misrule, as Pakistan Army continues a hands off policy towards the Jihadi infrastructure and as the moderate people of this land struggle with economic hardships and inflation while the dominant religious framework of the orthodoxy attracts them to social justice in this life through the sharia slogan and to heaven at in the afterlife.