Wajid Shamsul Hasan: Taseer's assassination is a great loss for Pakistan

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The Independent Online

The assassination of the Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer is a great loss for the Pakistani nation, the Pakistan People's Party, President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and the government. He was brave, courageous and daring—a great man who spoke for the rights of the people including minorities. He was totally committed to the high democratic ideals and the egalitarian vision of [Pakistan's founder] Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, and of Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto.

Salman was held in the highest esteem by the people who respected his boldness to proclaim loud and clear that he believed in liberal and secular politics. He was targeted for elimination for having defended the rights of minorities against discriminatory laws introduced by dictator General Ziaul Haq to terrorise the people into submission to his totalitarian rule.

I had the distinction of knowing Salman Taseer for 30 years as an unflinching fighter for democracy and defender of the rights of the people. He not only braved the worst persecution and prosecution at the hands of anti-democratic forces in power; he was tortured and given third degree treatment for his commitment to democracy. His tragic demise—a sacrifice in blood-- at this critical juncture when Pakistan is carrying on a battle to defend Islam's values of compassion and tolerance, to save the country from falling a victim to extremism—has carved for him a permanent niche in the hall of fame of those great leaders who preferred death to surrendering to obscurantist forces.

Besides being a political activist of the highest calibre, in his prime of life he was not only at the top of his profession as a chartered accountant of international stature, he also made his mark as an entrepreneur and contributed to objective and bold journalism through his newspapers Daily Times, Weekly Friday Times, the TV channels Auj Aur Kal and Business Plus.

As a politician he was a member of the Punjab provincial assembly, and suffered long periods of incarceration, braving torture inflicted on him in the dungeon of notorious Lahore's Old Fort—a hell on earth.

We shall always remember him by rededicating to his high ideals and pledge that his commitment to truth will be the agenda to follow—to pull out extremism from its roots - after all its perpetrators have penetrated deeply into our otherwise peaceful society.

His sacrifice will be remembered as a landmark in the ongoing battle for the survival of Pakistan and to return to the Quiad's vision. We will have to separate religion from politics. Those elements that create and nurture extremists and jihadis and the politicians and the people in the media who support religious extremism and incite violence will have to be isolated. This is the need of the hour. If we remain complacent and follow a policy of appeasement of running with the hare and hunting with the hound—we will end up sliding down the eddy of doom.

Salman Taseer was deeply preoccupied with the consequences of support given to the extremists from the days of General Zia. His warnings were apt: "Beware of the mullahs. They have to be confronted or they will take over our lives."

Taseer was a trusted associate of martyred Benazir Bhutto. According to the leading columnist/author Ahmed Rashed: "Taseer could talk for hours on his favourite subject: the price that Pakistan had paid for jihad and the need to turn back from this 'deadly legacy'".

When Zulfikar Ali Bhutto took to challenging the well-entrenched forces of the status quo, Salman became his staunch supporter and later after Bhutto's judicial murder he joined his daughter Benazir to continue the democratic mission of her father and to save Pakistan from falling into the hands of religious extremists god-fathered by General Zia.

Salman made his mark as an outstanding secularist in a country when there were very few who could speak out for fear of intimidating religious extremists. Many times he was warned that "they were after him". Always he brushed the death threats aside with contempt. Following Benair's footsteps, he preferred to do and die for the cause that was dear to him—secular democracy, empowerment of the poor, women and the less privileged.

The writer is High Commissioner for Pakistan to the UK