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Discussion on Attacks on journalists and Media Freedom


Participants:  Imtiaz Alam, Khaled Ahmed, and Sadaf Arshad

 

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Posted by on October 13, 2011 in Media

 

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Bhatti killing pushes Pakistan closer to the brink


Minority Rights Group International: Jared Ferrie

The assassination of Pakistan’s Minister of Minorities, Shabaz Bhatti, who was brutally killed Wednesday on the streets of Islamabad, was described as an attack on “the values of tolerance and respect for people of all faiths and backgrounds” by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. As the only Christian member of the Pakistani government, the Vatican also considered it timely to comment, calling his death an act of “violence against Christians and religious freedom”.

While it is true that for decades Hindus and Christians, along with Shia, Sufi, and Ahmadi Muslims have suffered persecution in Pakistan, it is necessity to delineate these statements. After all, Bhatti’s death not only speaks to the obvious and continued stranglehold that Islamic extremism has on the Pakistani government, but also, the consequences of its continued influence on the country’s educated middle-class, judiciary and military.

In a claim of responsibility, Taliban spokesmen stated that Bhatti’s murder was a message to Pakistanis of all backgrounds who oppose the country’s long-standing blasphemy law. Introduced in the 1970s, the controversial law makes insulting Islam, the Qur’an, or the Prophet Mohammed a crime punishable by death. Critics claim, however, that it is often used to justify the persecution of minorities.

The real problem facing the Pakistani government over the last forty years is that, while radical Islamic groups enjoy periods of safe haven in the northern tribal regions of the country, they have also proven to be something the country’s ruling elite just cannot rid themselves of internally. Bhatti’s murder joins what has become a tradition of extremists killing liberal politicians at will, and follows the January murder of liberal Punjabi governor, Slaman Tasser, who was killed by his one of his own bodyguards.

Though Islamists have done very poorly in Pakistani elections, the country’s moderates do very little to publicly criticize these types of violent crimes. Further, while Pakistan’s military and intelligence community (ISI) claim to be rigorously hunting down terrorists domestically, Afghan Taliban groups continue to enjoy permanent operating residency in the notorious border region of North Waziristan.

With so much US military financing benefitting Pakistan, the epicenter of the global confrontation with radical Islam, the question remains: has terrorism in these countries become a cash crop? And if so, to what extant is the incompetence, indifference and corruption that allows it to continue to flourish there become an exploitable resource for its leaders?

Trevor Westra is a graduate of Canada’s Laurentian University in Religious Studies. He writes frequently on politics, globalization and the intersections of religion and history at his blog The Theo Log.

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2011 in Assassinations, Blasphemy, minorities

 

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Pakistan: Silence has become the mother of all blasphemies


Mohammed Hanif, Guardian

Two months ago, after Governor Salmaan Taseer’s murder and the jubilant support for the policeman who killed him, religious scholars in Pakistan told us that since common people don’t know enough about religion they should leave it to those who do – basically anyone with a beard.

Everyone thought it made a cruel kind of sense. So everyone decided to shut up: the Pakistan Peoples party (PPP) government because it wanted to cling to power, liberals in the media because they didn’t want to be the next Taseer. The move to amend the blasphemy law was shelved.

It was an unprecedented victory for Pakistan’s mullah minority. They had told a very noisy and diverse people to shut up and they heard back nothing but silence. After Pakistan’s only Christian federal minister, Shahbaz Bhatti – the bravest man in Islamabad – was murdered on Tuesday, they were back on TV, this time condemning the killing, claiming it was a conspiracy against them, against Islam and against Pakistan. The same folk who had celebrated one murder and told us how not to get murdered were wallowing in self pity.

In a very short span of time, Pakistan’s mullahs and muftis have managed to blur the line between what God says and what they say. The blasphemy law debate was about how to prosecute people who have committed blasphemy against the prophet Muhammad and the Qur’an. Since repeating a blasphemy, even if it is to prove the crime in a court of law, is blasphemous, no Pakistani has a clear idea what constitutes blasphemy. Taseer had called the blasphemy law “a black law” and was declared a blasphemer. The line between maligning the Holy Prophet and questioning a law made by a bunch of mullahs was done away with. What would come next?

During the last two months sar tan se juda (off with their heads) has become as familiar a slogan as all the corporate songs about the Cricket World Cup. Banners appeared all over Karachi and Islamabad last week demanding death for a Pakistani writer. The only problem is that nobody quite knows what she has written. Her last book came out more than eight years ago and, if it wasn’t so scary, it would be ironic that it is called Blasphemy. It was a potboiler set mostly in religious and spiritual leaders’ bedrooms. The banners condemning her say that not only she has insulted the prophet, she has insulted religious scholars.

So now disagreeing with anyone who has a beard and armed bodyguards can get you killed. The PPP government has tried to appease this lot by silencing the one-and-a-half liberal voices it had. What it didn’t realise is that you can’t really appease people who insist their word is God’s word, their honour as sacred as the Holy Prophet’s. In Pakistan, silence is the mother of all blasphemies. Most Pakistanis are committing that blasphemy and being punished for it.

Mohammed Hanif is a journalist and author of the novel A Case of Exploding Mangoes

 
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Posted by on March 4, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Debate with extremists in a non-confrontational way?


Karachi Literary Festival

In today’s world, Pakistan is known for all the possible bad reasons. The wave of terrorism and extremism, which was nurtured and well protected by Gen Zia, is  now damaging our homes. How many more to loose their lives is a question which remains unanswered especially after the assassination of Salman Taseer.

Who will be the next to stand up like him and support a victim of intolerance and extremism? Again I have no names in my mind after Sherry Rehman has withdrawn the bill to amend blasphemy laws. Now is silence acceptable or are we going to speak out?
It can be the strategy which is not being productive. I, somehow, agreed to what Karen Armstrong has suggested at Karachi Literary Festival. To a question on how are you going to convince Mumtaz Qadri, she said, “debate with them in a non-confrontational way rather attacking their belief system”.

I am not at all sure that it will work 100 per cent, but the options are already not many to deal with this extremism. It is just to try out anything that pops up and carries logic.

Below is the story:
Express Tribune

KARACHI: At the Karachi Literature Festival, Karen Armstrong laid out a charter of compassion, with the dangers of an overpowering ego at the centre of her argument.

With a packed hall of people eagerly listening, the session began with a question posed by moderator Abbas Husain: if compassion is the prescription for the symptoms of the disease that is intolerance, then what is the cause of the disease? Without a moment’s hesitation, Armstrong answered: “Ego”.

It is ego, argues Armstrong, that makes us place ourselves and our beliefs at the centre of the universe. It is that same ego that then causes us to degrade and denigrate the beliefs and arguments of others, that makes us enter debates not with the intention of learning from them, but with the aim of proving the other wrong and ourselves right.

The remedy Karen Armstrong proposes for this condition is compassion. Were we to place ourselves in the other person’s shoes, the world would be an infinitely better place.

It is hard to argue with that but how on earth, as one audience member asked, do you debate with those who would rather use a gun to win their arguments? In short, how are you going to convince Mumtaz Qadri?

Armstrong responded by saying that in her experience, most hardline religious groups are motivated by fear, the fear that their beliefs and way of life are going to be wiped out. Their violence then, is a reaction to that fear. The answer, according to her, is not to attack their belief system but rather to debate with them in a non-confrontational way.

It is a neat argument, but also one that ignores the fact that for many extremist groups the quest for power is now an end in itself. And that fear is for them more a tool than a motivating factor. She does of course accept the fact that the sentiments of hardline religious groups are often exploited for political purposes, drawing on examples from the United States all the way to Pakistan.

God is not a politician, says Armstrong, but there is no denying that His word is used for political gain.

Another audience member argued that since religious beliefs seem to lead to violent arguments, perhaps the answer is to remove religion from our lives altogether. To this Armstrong responded that Homo Sapiens were in fact Homo Religiosis, and that denying religion is alien to human nature.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 7th, 2011.

 

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A student accused of blasphemy: Is it our future?


The assassination of Governor Salman Taseer has left a deep scar on ailing body of moderate voices.  Only a man like Salman could dare to go sympathising with a woman like Aasia Bibi who was accused of unforgivable crime (blasphemy) which is yet to be committed by her. But the heroic treatment received by his assassin has given a boost to all those forces who were already misusing this law. But they are all now fearless and bold enough to fix their personal disputes through such allegations and more openly.

I was wondering how broad the scope is but this latest incident has answered my thoughts. It has reached to the education institutions where students are being accused of blasphemy based on their personal knowledge which they express in exams on their answer sheets. A teacher exposing answer sheets of his students has just not shaken the trust built between a student and teacher, but also has violated all norms of confidentiality. A teacher is just authorised to pass or fail a student for his knowledge but cannot file a case against him and get his student arrested. But it happened here because Pakistan and Pakistanis have shut their minds and killed their basic wisdom when any random person accuses anyone voluntarily of blasphemy.

Have we realised as a nation that what are we proud of? We have pride in a senseless craze for a version of a religion which only helps in victimising minorities now even majority; we feel pleasure in awarding death to weak so that we do not need to return borrowed money or property; and we take revenge from our minorities for all those things which we could not get even being part of the majority. This is a disease which should be treated. Sooner the better. But the delay is taking more lives and ruining the future of this country. Just a good human being knows that all the deeds done for humanity will be rewarded by the one Who has created him.

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission
February 1, 2011
PAKISTAN: Education officials of Karachi must be prosecuted for
filing a blasphemy case against a student

A case of blasphemy has been registered against 17-year-old Syed
Samiullah, an intermediate student and resident of Mujtaba Colony
Malir Halt. The charge was registered in the Shahrah-e-Noor Jahan
Police Station, Karachi, Sindh province.

The incident was reported to the police by Professor Agha Akbar, the
controller of examinations of the Intermediate Board of Education,
Karachi, who attached copies of Samiullah’s answers sheets as evidence
of his alleged blasphemy. The professor charged that Samiullah wrote
derogatory remarks in his answer sheets (Urdu, Islamiat and Physics)
against the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be upon Him).

He was arrested on January 28, 2011 on the complaint of the chief
controller (Intermediate Board).

The Judicial Magistrate, Central, Ehsan A Malik ordered Samiullah to
be sent to the juvenile prison after the Shahrae Noor Jehan police
produced him in court and requested judicial custody. In an
application to the judicial magistrate, Samiullah submitted that he
had confessed to committing the ‘unpardonable sin’. He apologised and
promised that he would never commit ‘such a sin’ again. An FIR (First
Information Report) (56/11) was registered against him under 295-C of
the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) at Shahrah-e-Noor Jahan police station.

In Pakistan militant Muslim organisations are using the blasphemy law
as the best way to keep the society under their influence and
conservative doctrines. Due to the continuous indifference of the
government and the authorities towards militant expression of power by
the Muslim fundamentalists the malicious use of the blasphemy law has
swiftly seeped in to the educational institutions.

The appeasement policy of the state towards the Muslim
fundamentalists has now reached an alarming stage in that the opinion
of the students can be judged using blasphemy as the rule. It is
condemnable that the institutions which are aimed at providing
education free of bias are obstructing the freedom of expression of
the students. It is a very dangerous sign for the positive growth of
the society that the teachers are also using the blasphemy law to
pressurize the students and suppress their opinions.

This is also a clear demonstration of intimidation aimed at the
student community in regard of their freedom of choice to answer
examination papers through their own understanding of the subject. The
student, Samiullah, and his family, were pressurised by the malicious
intent by the Board of Education, Karachi to confess that he had
committed blasphemy. Samiullah had no other choice other than to
confess after seeing the murder of a governor due to the fake charges
of blasphemy and the glorification of his murderer by the religious
organisations.

Examiners only have the right to pass or fail students based on the
answers they give to the exam papers. They have not right what-so-ever
to grade, fail or take action on exam papers which they feel are
contrary to their religious ideals. Neither do they have the right to
instigate criminal action against students based on these papers or
against the student’s point of view or opinions.

In this instance, the Board of Education is using the blasphemy law
to intimidate and threaten a student for daring to form his own
opinions. By filing a criminal case the officials of the Education
Board are trying to control the mentality of the society and push the
students towards the Militant Muslim organisations. They are utilising
the people to think in this way, that if someone commits such a crime,
he should be killed.

In a country where the literacy rate is below 40 percent (that
includes those persons who can read or write their names and make
signatures) the filing of fake cases of blasphemy against students to
stop them from expressing their own views is nothing less than a
criminal offence on the part of those who are supposed to be providing
education to the society.

It is also an established fact that the examination copy on which a
student answers the questions on a particular subject based on his
personal knowledge, is confidential and no one has the right to make
it public or use it to file a case. In a very explicit manner the
Board of Education has breached the bond of trust and confidentiality
between the students and examiners.

The government must take serious note of the actions of the Board of
Education, Karachi, and prosecute the responsible officials for
misusing the blasphemy laws against a student on a issue which was
totally a matter of opinion on the subject which he understood
according to his knowledge. The case of blasphemy against the student
should be withdrawn immediately and he should be released from the
custody of the juvenile jail so that he can continue his education in
an environment free of intimidation and threats. In any case it is the
responsibility of the government to provide an environment conducive
to education free of religious and sectarian bias.

 
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Posted by on February 4, 2011 in Blasphemy

 

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Living between fear and courage


Moni Mohsin: Moni Mohsin's latest novel is Tender Hooks (Random House). She lives between Lahore and London. She had known Salman Taseer since she was a teenager. "Gutted by his murder and nauseated by the public reaction to it," she mourns the death of a proud liberal.

India Today
Fifteen years ago when I married a London-based Pakistani, my brother-in-law Najam Sethi said laughingly to my mother, “Moni will be the only one of your children to survive the coming storm.” He was only half-joking. As a progressive journalist who has received more death threats from the religious right than I care to count, he has personal experience of the danger to secular liberals from an increasingly intolerant Pakistani polity. He knows that anyone who takes issue with the mullahs or speaks for the rights of our marginalised minorities or even objects to the cynical use of religion in politics, runs the risk of being killed. As the murder of the Punjab Governor, Salman Taseer, showed last week, no liberal is safe in Pakistan.

In London, on the other hand, I have enjoyed a life of safety, stability and the rule of law. But I have also tasted the bitterness of separation from my homeland and of my increasing irrelevance to it. I have tried to mitigate the pain by keeping alive my contact with my country. I contribute regularly to its publications, sit on charitable trusts and maintain property there. I also take my children back frequently so they can grow up feeling at home in what a huge part of me still considers home.

Moni Mohsin’s latest novel is Tender Hooks (Random House). She lives between Lahore and London. She had known Salman Taseer since she was a teenager. “Gutted by his murder and nauseated by the public reaction to it,” she mourns the death of a proud liberal.

On January 4, my husband, children and I boarded a plane back for London. As always, we had spent our Christmas holidays in Pakistan. Though grateful to have spent time with my parents and siblings, I was unhappy with my visit. In the time I had spent in Pakistan, I had witnessed yet again, from close quarters, the depressing spectacle of a fracturing society and collapsing State. In my three short weeks there, I heard from all quarters of kidnappings, shootings, hold-ups and burglaries. No one reported any of the crimes for they knew there would be no action.

Every time the phone rings at an odd hour, my heart leaps into my mouth. I don’t want to be the only member of my family to survive the storm.

During a bitterly cold winter, there was little gas and less electricity; flood victims were pouring into cities; inflation was rampant; people were sullen; and in the background, a cowering, feeble government was anxiously assuring fulminating mullahs of its undying support for the blasphemy law. On New Year’s Eve, religious parties called a countrywide strike to support the blasphemy law. Either out of fear or sympathy, everyone obeyed. So much, I thought to myself, for Jinnah’s dream of a tolerant homeland for Muslims.

As my plane took off from Lahore’s Allama Iqbal Airport, a couple of hundred miles to the north outside Islamabad’s Kohsar Market, yet another blow was being dealt to Jinnah’s dream. Airborne by the time it happened, I did not find out till we landed in Heathrow. As I switched on my phone, a text from my brother-in-law flashed across the screen: Tragedy: Salman Taseer murdered by his own security guard.

I’d known Salman since I was a teenager. His eldest daughter and I are close friends. Our daughters in turn have been buddies from the cradle. So I’d had the opportunity to observe Salman from close quarters for over 25 years. If I were to use one word to describe him, it would be “uncompromising. He was uncompromising in both his political and personal life. Unlike some sermonising politicians who preach Islamic values in Pakistan and party with A-listers in London, Salman scorned hypocrisy. He was a proud liberal in everything and everywhere. He was also a man of wit, charm and above all, courage.

I am gutted by his murder and nauseated by the public reaction to it. Some of it I had expected. I had expected the religious parties to crow. Having already witnessed his own party’s moral cowardice, I had known that all mainstream parties would run for cover. I also knew that some fanatics would issue public threats-of course completely unchecked by the State-to Salman’s supporters. I knew that TV “analysts”, who’d probably envied Salman’s flamboyance all along, would smugly hold forth on his “insensitivity” towards “our people’s delicate religious sensibilities”. I was nauseated but not surprised by any of that.

But what I had not expected was that over 200 lawyers, who until last week were championing democracy and freedom of speech, would shower his murderer, Mumtaz Qadri, with rose petals. I had not expected Pakistanis like myself, who live in the West and enjoy every one of its hard-won liberties, to set up Facebook pages lauding Salman’s murderer as a hero. I had not expected the blogs of ordinary middle-class kids, who salivate over Angelina Jolie and dream of a green card, to condone the murder of “an immoral Westernised liberal”. I had not expected novelist Hanif Mohammed to do a random poll in Karachi and discover that most people he spoke to on the street outside his office did not condemn Salman’s murder.

I had not expected all this because it has long been my sustaining belief that though we are ruled by a venal army and morally corrupt politicians and though we are terrorised by a small but murderous fringe of hardliners, the ordinary person on the street is a decent moderate who yearns for stability and the rule of law. After all, I reassure myself, religious parties have always been humiliated at the ballot box. That belief is why, despite all the kidnappings and the gunnings and the fatwas and suicide bombs, I keep taking my children back. That is the reason why, after 15 years abroad, I am still mentally, emotionally and financially invested in Pakistan.

Of course, I would be lying if I said that no one spoke up for Salman in Pakistan.

As usual it was left to the same small group of embattled progressives to pick up the baton. A few brave journalists condemned Salman’s murder on tv. English language newspapers wrote editorials against mounting intolerance in Pakistan. Human rights groups vociferously registered their protest. Candle-lit vigils outside the fallen Governor’s residence in Lahore and at Kohsar Market in Islamabad, were attended by housewives and schoolchildren and office workers. But compared to the thousands who expressed support for Qadri, a few hundred attended the vigils. Where were all the concerned citizens I meet in Lahore and Karachi every time I visit, who sit in their homes bemoaning the lack of security, the mounting disorder, the brutalisation of society?

The answer is simple: they were still in their homes. As soon as the murder was announced on TV, most people fled to the safety of their homes to barricade themselves in. Streets emptied and shops closed within minutes of the announcement. Most people have experienced enough violence to be truly fearful of it. I sympathise with them. I also fear for my family, as I do for every liberal left standing in Pakistan. Every time the phone rings at an odd hour, my heart leaps into my mouth. I don’t want to be the only member of my family to survive the storm. And I feel guilty that I am not there to struggle alongside them.

If I could have my selfish way, I would immediately spirit each member of my family and every single friend out of there. But I also know that if I did so, all would be lost. And I know that we must continue trying to reach out to the people-still the majority, in my view, despite the depredations in their ranks-who want peace and freedom but are too frightened to ask. We must encourage them to stand up and demand it. So I live every day hovering between hope and dread, fear and courage. May my hope and my friends’ and family’s courage be vindicated in my lifetime.

 

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Appeasement policy towards religious intolerance leads to murder of a governor


A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

PAKISTAN: Appeasement policy towards religious intolerance leads to
murder of a governor

The nation has suffered a great loss due to this tragic murder. A
voice of sanity has been silenced. This has happened at a time when
the kind of political leadership provided by Salman Taseer is most
needed. He stood for basic values which are essential for the
stability of Pakistan. His shocking death should be an awakening for
all right-thinking people of Pakistan about the perils that the
country is facing. Creating chaos is not difficult under the tense
conditions under which Pakistan has functioned for a considerable time
now. The benefits of such chaos will only go to a few. However, the
consequences of this death can seriously harm the population which may
begin to react with fear of such murders. It is time for all concerned
persons and the government to react soberly but strongly on this
occasion in order to ensure that the benefits of this situation will
go to those are bent on creating chaos.

The incident is a clear demonstration of the religious hatred and
fanatical mindset that has seeped into the society. The sin of
Governor Salman Taseer was that he was openly criticising the misuse
of the blasphemy laws not only by the fundamentalists but also by the
courts and politicians. He was opposed to section 295-C of the
Pakistan Penal Code which was promulgated by the former military
dictator, General Zia-ul- Haq which dictates the death penalty to
alleged blasphemers.

It is very ironic that the fanatic Muslim leaders were openly
declaring that Governor Salman Taseer is Wajibul Qatl (must be
killed). They even publically announced reward money for the killings
of any person who opposes the blasphemy laws. However, the government
has made no move to arrest the fundamentalists. The Asian Human Rights
Commission (AHRC) on December 8, 2010 issued an Urgent Appeal
demanding that the government prosecute Muslim leaders who issued
decrees to kill Aasia Bibi. The AHRC also mentioned that Governor
Salman Taseer has been declared infidel so the government should
provide protection.

The policy of appeasement for the Muslim fundamentalists is simply
political expediency. In particular, the governments of Pakhtoon Kha,
Punjab provinces and the federal government have ignored the severity
of the religious madness which has made the society intolerant. The
media and its anchor persons are also responsible for the killing of
the governor as they were enjoying the controversy over the blasphemy
laws and were inviting fanatic Muslim leaders to take part in their
discussions. It was during these media discussions that they openly
urged the masses to act against Governor Taseer and Ms. Sherry Rehman,
the former federal minister who introduced a private bill in the
national assembly against section 295-c of blasphemy laws, as they
were both infidel and Wajibul Qatl.

It is also found that Punjab provincial government is notorious in
providing shelter to the leaders of banned religious terrorist
organizations and in many cases particularly during the election
campaigns, the provincial law minister was taking leaders of banned
religious parties in the processions so as to garner the votes of the
fundamentalists. The Punjab government was holding the conferences of
Tahafuz-e-Namoos-e- Risalat where the religious leaders were openly
threatening death to religious minorities and liberals for blasphemy,
particularly against the Ahmedis.

The governor’s assassin, Police Constable Mumtaz Quadri of the Elite
Force fired a burst from his machine pistol of which 26 rounds struck
Taseer. According to a pre-planned arrangement no security policemen
attempted to stop him. He first fired one shot and this was followed
by a total of 40 rounds. Three days before the shooting Quadri told
his colleagues that he was planning to kill the governor after which
he would surrender so as not to be killed himself. The Elite Force was
created by the chief minister of Punjab in 1997 and since then it has
become parallel to the police force. All appointments are made by the
ruling party of Punjab on political basis. Quadri claimed that he
killed the governor because he was opposed to the blasphemy laws.

Controversies abounded between the ruling party and the governor’s
house. The chief minister never liked his presence because the
governor was very vocal against the lukewarm attitude of the ruling
party towards the militant religious groups. The provincial government
did not obey the orders of the governor and, in fact, they were not
even on speaking terms.

The reports in the media suggest that the incident was not carried
out by a single person but was rather the result of a conspiracy. It
must be noted that the conspiracy was hatched through the Elite Force
which is run by the provincial law minister who was very much against
the governor and supportive of militant Muslim organisations. The
Punjab government was responsible for the provision of the security to
all VIPs in the province. It is a strange that a person with such
extremist inclinations was deployed in the governor’s security detail
which raises eye brows on the murder.

The murder of the Governor Taseer shows that the country is being
controlled by the military and the Mullahs and is rapidly turning into
a fascist state. The use of loud speakers from the mosques, which is
actually already against the law, must be halted firmly so that
religious and sectarian hatred cannot be spread throughout society.
The government must come out from behind the policy of appeasement of
the fundamentalists and put a stop to the cancer that is destroying
the country.

 

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