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Asia

Alarming public support for killer of Punjab governor

That Salman Taseer was gunned down by an extremist member of the security forces has raised new concern about the influence of radical Islamists in Pakistan.

Some clerics refused to lead the funeral prayers for Salman Taseer

Some clerics refused to lead the funeral prayers for Salman Taseer

He has been praised on Facebook and on publicly displayed banners. For many in Pakistan, Mumtaz Qadri is a hero. On Tuesday, the 26-year-old security guard shot and killed the governor of Pakistan's largest province, the Punjab.

Qadri turned himself in and said he had done it because Taseer had called the country's controversial blasphemy law a "black law".

Despite threats from the religious right, Taseer had campaigned for a reform of the law to prevent its misuse. This earned him the ire of religious and political leaders, but also of many ordinary Pakistanis.

Praise for the assassin from clerics

Many clerics had issued fatwas against Salman Taseer, and they have publicly praised the assassin since the murder. Others refused to lead the funeral prayers for the governor of the Punjab.

"Salman Taseer did not say anything anti-religious," pointed out Pakistani journalist and commentator Iftikhar Ahmad, who was worried.

"He was concerned with a man-made law that exists today in Pakistan. But a certain faction did not like this – they thought he had committed a crime which hurt their religious feelings. And they decided to solve this problem themselves by killing him," he said.

Despite others praising the killer, many Pakistanis turned out to mourn the governor

Despite others praising the killer, many Pakistanis turned out to mourn the governor

"This tendency, which has come about in Pakistan, is regrettable and cannot be acceptable to society. There are many other things about which people will start taking their own decisions. And the judicial system, the constitutional institutions in this country will become paralyzed."

Killer showered with rose petals

Highlighting a rather unusual understanding of the rule of law, lawyers showered Qadri with rose petals when he first appeared in court in Rawalpindi.

Anatol Lieven, a Pakistan expert at King's College, London, said the level of popular support for the assassin could partly be explained by "additional factors" that were present – "the unpopularity of the present federal government and the personal unpopularity of Mr Taseer, above all in Punjab."

However, Lieven added that it was "very worrying. And it does underline just how potentially fanatical much of the Pakistani population is, at least when it comes to see to the core values of Islam."

Growth of radicalism in police forces

Many observers have pointed out that Salman Taseer's murderer belonged to an elite police force, and that his extremist leanings were apparently known to his superiors.

Pakistani rescue workers and mourners bury the coffin of Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer, in a cemetery in Lahore

The funeral of Salman Taseer in a cemetery in Lahore

Anatol Lieven did not think that the high ranks of the Pakistani army and police were radicals, but he said there was reason for concern.

"The most disturbing thing of all is the fact that these policemen were appointed by and responsible to the Punjab government, which is the government of the political opposition. And there must obviously be, at the very least, grave suspicions that they have been turning a blind eye to the growth of radicalism in their police forces," he said.

Lieven thought that Taseer's assassination would further strengthen the climate of fear in Pakistan, discouraging people to voice dissent especially on sensitive religious issues.

Author: Thomas Baerthlein
Editor: Anne Thomas

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