“Live amongst people in such a manner that if you die they weep over you and if you are alive they crave for your company.”
This famous quote by Imam Ali perfectly fits the personality of Salmaan Taseer. Taseer, who was recently killed by his own bodyguard due to the statements he has made regarding blasphemy laws in Pakistan, has a very interesting life story. He was half English and half Pakistani and was young when his father passed away. He was a self-made billionaire, and according to his own telling, had to struggle very hard and to make his own decisions from day one. He studied chartered accountancy in England and went back to Pakistan, started his own business and his own style of politics. Taseer was liberal, open-minded and outspoken; he was who he was.
Taseer’s life was also full of controversies; he had an open relationship with an Indian journalist Tavleen Singh, with whom he has a son, Aatish Taseer. Aatish, who is the author of Stranger to History: A Son’s Journey Through Islamic Lands, was not happy with his father, and blamed and questioned his father`s character throughout the book. Taseer was moderate enough to not only have an illegitimate child, but to publicly admit it, which is no small thing in a country like Pakistan. This openness was very unique in the history of the country. Additionally, he openly drank alcohol, despite the fact that most politicians or public figures in Pakistan avoid publicly consuming alcohol.
Although he was a prominent figure in business and politics, he was not as famous until he became the governor of the province of Punjab. His fame was not due to his appointment as a governor, but the objections people — mainly the opposition party —voiced upon his appointment. Due to these massive objections and media coverage, Taseer became famous in the blink of an eye. Moreover, in an example of the divisive effect he had, while presenting a gold medal to a student, the student publicly rejected him on live television. To sum it up, he was not a traditional politician. His lifestyle, either good or bad, was totally different than others.
The reason why I have given a bit of his background is for the readers to understand his personality. It was not possible for him to remain silent on any issue he did not agree with. The same happened with the blasphemy controversy; while the rest of the politicians were silent on this crucial issue, Taseer was the only one speaking out.
Aasia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman, was sentenced to death for committing blasphemy. Bibi, after being sentenced from a local court, appealed to the supreme court and the president of Pakistan for a pardon. This received a lot of attention from the international media and different non-governmental organizations. It was not an easy decision to make, since on one hand, the whole world was concerned about the result and on the other, religious parties within the country were demanding Bibi’s execution. Bibi was in a district jail from more than one and a half years, waiting for a pardon. Taseer, the governor of the province, visited the prison a few weeks back and had a press conference with Bibi sitting next to him.
The world was not expecting something huge, since protests by religious parties are part of everyday life in Pakistan. But what happened on the evening of Jan. 4, 2011 was unexpected to say the least; Taseer was killed by his own bodyguard. Subsequently, the murderer has received support from religious extremists, in the form of dozens of Facebook pages created in support of the assassin.
It was not only Taseer who was attacked on that January evening; it was the liberal and moderate people of Pakistan — who were already in minority. When a governor speaking freely can be killed, what about the ordinary man? Taseer was the bravest man in the history of Pakistan, and while is true that he is not with us anymore, we can hope that his death has given birth to thousands of other Taseers.
Shuja H. Safavi hopes that the legacy of Saalman Taseer lives on.