Shehrbano Taseer, daughter of murdered Pakistani Governor Salmaan Taseer is currently doing a whirl wind tour of the United States. Her father was killed by an extremist in his security staff for his campaign against misuses of blasphemy laws in Pakistan. Ms Taseer has visited many US cities and was interviewed on many popular News and Commentary shows such as National Public Radio and the Rachel Maddow show. These interviews can be seen or read at http://www.npr.org/2011/06/27/137441962/shehrbano-taseer-recalls-her-fathers-assassination and http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21134540/vp/43488526#43488526 . Last Monday (June 27, 2011), she was in Washington D.C. and had a discussion with the local Think-Tank community and other members of public. Her key message was that although extremists are well-organized, the liberal spirit of Pakistanis that has ruled minds and hearts of many Pakistanis is still thriving and with little courage and encouragement by world communities, the liberal ideas will triumph in Pakistan.
The Middle East Institute is one of the few organizations that have been in forefront of hosting Pakistani leaders and analysts (http://www.mei.edu/) to promote views of Pakistanis. The institute was established in 1916 and now has a program called “The Center for Pakistan Studies”. The Center is non-partisan and does not support any political party. The well known Pakistan expert Dr. Marvin Weinbaum heads the Center and Ambassador Wendy J. Chamberlin is the President of the Institute.
Dr. Weinbaum introduced Shehrbano Taseer and mentioned that Shehrbano works as a journalist with the Newsweek Pakistan magazine and has spoken at the UN, the British House of Commons and has been interviewed by Al Jazeera, CNN, BBC, and The New York Times. He talked about the contribution by Governor Salmaan Taseer for his liberal values and in protection of human rights, particularly those of women and religious minorities. He noted that Governor Taseer may have been physically taken away from us but he is now speaking to us through his daughter, who is now campaigning for liberal ideals in Pakistan.
Shehrbano Taseer said that the last time when she was in the USA was when his father visiting this country. She continued to give few more details about herself including that her hometown was Lahore. She remarked “My father’s ideals were to see Pakistan as a moderate, tolerant and inclusive country as cherished by the founder of Pakistan”. She said in spite of these ideals, extremists issued edicts against him. What is shocking that there were many people at the first hearing at a court shouting slogans in favor of the murderer and blasphemy laws. Even many lawyers were afraid to represent the family in her father’s murder case. She added that “We are not dealing with a person or persons, or a group or groups but rather with a mindset that muzzles any voice with which they do not agree.” She added that several prominent liberals have either left Pakistan or living severely curtailed lives shunning visits outside of their homes. The government is acting helpless. She remarked when top officials in Pakistan are afraid to speak against bad side of the blasphemy laws, how ordinary people can muster their courage to openly criticize extremist views. She said that the current blasphemy laws are not protecting Islam but rather they are undermining our religion. She talked about the plight of Ahmedis and other minorities, who are subjected to extreme pressure as many of them practice underground. She added that when a massacre took place at an Ahmedi mosque, her father was the only government official who visited the mosque to comfort the affected people.
During the follow-up Question-and-Answer session, a member of audience said that the odds against liberals are quite high. The downfall of liberalism started when the former President and Prime Minister, Mr. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto scrummed to the pressure from extremists and declared Ahmedis as non-Muslims. The rule of Zial ul-Haq was the most severe on liberals as many of them were subjected to punishment and sent to jails. Zia enacted rules and regulated the day-to-day lives of people to create a mindset that has become hostile to liberals. Pakistan now needs a massive educational and social awareness program to offset the impact that madrasa culture has perpetuated for many years. Shehrbano responded that all is not lost yet and challenged the questioner to join her in opposing the extremists.
In concluding the discussion, Shehrbano said “the fight is not lost”. Many people are also realizing that the extremists are touching their lives in many ways and they do not like that. It is time that all liberal in Pakistan shun their apathy and come out to oppose extremists.
About Author: Mr. Khalid Hashmani is a Washington DC-based veteran human rights activist. He is the founding President of Sindhi Association of North America (SANA) and a Coordinator of Sindhi Excellence Team (SET) that participates in advocacy activities on behalf of rural Sindhis.