Pakistan buries assassinated leader

Funeral for Salman Taseer takes place despite some Imams refusing to lead the prayer, citing religious concerns.

    The funeral for the governor of the Pakistan's Punjab province went ahead despite some of the country's leading Imams refusing to perform the prayers for him, and even warning others not to do so, on the ground that the slain leader was "blasphemous".

    Salman Taseer was shot 29 times as he stepped out of his car on Tuesday near Kohsar market, an area popular with wealthy Pakistanis and expatriates.

    Some religious scholars issued a joint statement on Wednesday asking people not "to try to lead funeral prayers, express regrets or sympathies over his assassination".

    Taseer, an outspoken politician, spoke out against the country's blasphemy law, vowing not to back down despite pressure from his ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and threats to his life from certain religious groups.

    Rehman Malik, Pakistan's interior minister, said that Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri admitted to carrying out the attack because of Taseer's opposition to Pakistan's controversial blasphemy law.

    The law came under scrutiny after a Christian woman was sentenced to death for allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

    Guards informed

    Qadri, a guard assigned to Taseer from the garrison city of Rawalpindi on at least five or six previous occasions, reportedly told investigating officials that he had informed his fellow guards about his plan to assassinate Taseer.

    Qadri had requested that they (other guards) not open fire at him after killing of Taseer as he had pledged that he would lay down his arms after assassination, investigating officials were quoted to have said.

    Taseer, right, was a prominent PPP member and an outspoken critic of Pakistan's blasphemy law [AFP]

    Taseer, a prominent member of the ruling PPP who is usually based in Lahore, was visiting Islamabad and as a consequence was not being guarded by his usual security detail.

    An outspoken critic of the law and a staunch defender of minority rights, he frequently used the social media platform Twitter to get his views across.

    In one of his last posts he wrote: "I was under huge pressure 2 cow down before rightest pressure on blasphemy. Refused. Even if I'm the last man standing."

    Malik said that Qadri "confessed that he killed the governor because he had called the blasphemy law a black law".

    Killing condemned

    Omar Waraich, the Pakistan correspondent for the British Independent newspaper, said that Taseer had been aware of the threats on his life, but had continued to be vocal on the issues he cared about.

    "He constantly insisted that it was much more important for him to speak out and defend the rights of minorities who were in a far more vulnerable position than him, than to let those threats silence him," he told Al Jazeera.

    The US and UN have condemned the killing, with Philip Crowley, a US state department spokesman, calling Taseer's death a "great loss".

    "He was committed to helping the government and people of Pakistan persevere in their campaign to bring peace and stability to their country," Crowley said.

    Following Taseer's assassination, dozens of supporters took to the streets of Lahore, Punjab's provincial capital, burning tyres and blocking traffic.

    Punjab is Pakistan's most politically important province and the killing of Taseer is the most prominent assassination of a political figure in Pakistan since the killing of Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister, in December 2007.

    Security threat

    Punjab is a major base and recruiting ground for Pakistan's military and security establishment, which many fear is increasingly sympathetic to armed religious movements operating in the country.

    Speaking to Al Jazeera from Islamabad, Talat Masood, a retired army general and security analyst, said Taseer's killing was "one of the most serious events in terms of violence".

    Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, a guard assigned to Taseer, allegedly confessed to the killing [Reuters]

    "It only goes to show that even the top people who are trying to protect themselves with all the state power at their command are still vulnerable," he said.

    Masood said it appeared that Taseer's personal bodyguards had been penetrated by the same radical groups, either sectarian or orientated towards Kashmir, that had made Punjab an increasingly violent place.

    "They [public officials] don't know who is really loyal to them and what sort of ideological indoctrination these guards had been subjected to," he told Al Jazeera.

    An intelligence official interrogating Qadri, Taseer's suspected killer, was quoted by the Associated Press news agency as saying the police commando had said he was proud to have killed a blasphemer.

    The killing is a blow to Pakistan's embattled secular movement and the country as a whole, already mired in crises from a potential no-confidence vote against the government to regular bombings by armed groups.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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