Pakistan vs. Pakistan

It is a fake fight for the soul of Pakistan. This happens whenever there is a high-profile murder. Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province, was shot down by his security guard; 26 bullets were pumped into him while the others in the posse looked on. Mumtaz Hussain Qadri did not attempt to escape; he raised his hands and confessed that he was opposed to Taseer’s liberal stance on the country’s blasphemy laws against the minorities.

No one is now talking about how in a Muslim majority nation mosques are targeted or Shia doctors have been killed. It won’t fall into the secular pattern that is sought to be upheld. Following a westernised prototype, the country is now being divided into good Pakistanis and bad Pakistanis. The good ones are those who have the luxury to stand and stare. Salman Taseer’s death is a political one, not a religious one. It is the political establishment that could not contain fundamentalist forces, that plays with them when it suits the powers, that has not managed to make any changes in its laws. And specific to this case, Qadri had earlier been removed from duty as he was a security risk. So, what was he doing there?

Taseer, contrary to the prevalent view, was not going against the tide. He, in fact, took a populist position. As in most countries of the subcontinent, while religious fanatics dictate the social behaviour of the masses, it is the divine right of kings that continues to prevail. This coterie, in the present case a dynastic one propped up by contemporary noblemen like Taseer, afford themselves the luxury of a liberal pantomime. For the most part they are unconcerned about what the fundamentalists do. Their supporters in the media salons rarely raise their voices against what the Taliban does to its own women and men. This is not their world, their Pakistan. The extent of their superficiality is evident when they use a starlet who appears on an Indian reality show, not to speak about applauding a fashion show that was held as a courageous protest against the mullahs, or a politician who talks about seeking pardon for a Christian woman as the secular and aware face of Pakistan.

In the enthusiasm to find the right people, they even forget recent history. Benazir Bhutto was killed in 2007; no one still knows who did it. There has never been a reference to any fundamentalist group. However, like vultures, they are now swooping down on a comparison. Said the aide to President Asif Ali Zardari: “He (Taseer) was the most courageous voice after Benazir Bhutto on the rights of women and religious minorities.”

What has the Pakistan People’s Party done to ensure these rights? It was Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto who divided the country in several ways. No wonder he was the hero to people like Taseer. I recall meeting a Leftist who said that almost everyone in college and student politics at the time was enamoured of the senior Bhutto; it was the aura of the much-touted liberal Pakistan with its made-to-order anarchists. The country was coming into its own, having got rid of its Bengali segment. It could now play one region against another. The picture of a Muslim country was slowly turning yellow in a tattered frame. The PPP decided that the creamy layer will live like royalty, away from the shackles of religious bigotry, but not topple the frame. It was a smart tactic and it continues.

The sepia frame of the Islamic republic is what constitutes the other Pakistan in the minds of the good Pakistanis. Those who do not follow religion in word or deed or spirit are ready to quote some holy verses to beat up the clerics with. It is a rather dark comedy. They don’t see it this way. They are in Gothic mode. Yet, most tributes to Salman Taseer have mentioned how he loved the good life and did not care about social mores. A few hundred kilometres from where he lived people are tortured due to the same social mores.

The Indian media, hungry for another angle, finds in this sharp set a pan-Asian identity they are comfortable with; these are the people they can invite for panel discussions, follow on Twitter and Facebook. It is the acceptability factor, not the secular one, for Indians are in no position to discuss how to treat minorities given our not-so-honourable record.

Also, rather ignorant of the different dynamics, many have compared his death to that of Indira Gandhi. There is talk about a backlash and the Talibanisation of Punjab. This is the core problem. It is Pakistanis who are creating fissures within their own country. The now-beleaguered hero of the region, Nawaz Sharif, had the support of Saudi Arabia. The armed forces with their own religious fervour are largely Punjabi. Where is the need to reinvent new demons when they exist already?

Salman Taseer’s assassination may have extracted a huge price for his family, but it will benefit his party, including its leader who has cases of corruption against him. This is one Pakistan. The other is an imagined one that changes each time this clique clicks its heels to attend to another stereotype. The killer, we are told as though it is crucial, had a beard and the victim was coming out of a posh restaurant in Islamabad when he was shot dead.

The real Pakistan lies somewhere in between living through several deaths.

FARZANA VERSEY is the Mumbai-based author of ‘A Journey Interrupted: Being Indian in Pakistan’. She can be reached at



Farzana Versey can be reached at Cross Connections