South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

The Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER) and the Pakistan Peace Coalition have condemned the brutal murder of Governor Punjab Salman Taseer, terming it a wake-up call for the society to the alarming threat of religious fanaticism that is eating the roots of the country.

In a statement issued on Monday, PILER and the PPC said that Salman Taseer’s tragic murder at the hands of his own security guard to avenge his bold stand on the Blasphemy Laws is not a single-day development. There is a history to it and unfortunately, there is a huge direct and indirect contribution by the state, non state forces, civil society, media, and political parties in promoting this monster and ignoring the repercussions of its creation.

The state’s official and unofficial policy of projecting religious fanaticism as a means of crafting a national identity and also preparing an army of civilian forces to counter perceived threat from India and the West has led us to a point where our own citizens are dying at the hands of extremist everyday.

PILER and PPC condemned that over the years, the state has played with religion as a policy tool. Both the military-led governments and the civilian governments have actively or indirectly promoted religion as an instrument to prolong their rule, sometimes pursuing it as a state policy and at other times bowing down under the pressure of the religious forces to follow anti-human rights provisions.

The current government demonstrated an extremely cowardly behaviour last week when they pleaded the religious parties to call off their bogus strike against amendments in the blasphemy law. In its bid to appease the non-elected and undemocratic religious lobby, the Gillani Government even went to the extent of disowning a bill by its own Party member for amendments in the black laws addressing the blasphemy issue.

PILER and PPC demanded that those who issued death edicts against Salman Taseer, MNA Sherry Rehman and Asia Bibi must be immediately arrested and tried for harming the life of Pakistan’s citizens. It is the test of the independent judiciary to pursue action against these fatwa-issuing individuals and organisations; it is a serious attempt to create a parallel justice system. The government also needs to enact a law to ban the issuance of edict by the religious lobby.

PILER and PPC stated that the Federal Shariat Court, addition of Sections 295-B and 295-C in the Blasphemy Laws (prescribing strict punishment for ’insulting’ the Holy Quran and using ’derogatory’ remarks about the Holy Prophet, allowing shameless abuse of these provision), the declaration of Ahmedis as non-Muslims, the insertion of religious section in the passport form, and the curriculum that breeds bigotry and fanaticism are all a result of state’s blatant abuse of religion to promote its own goals. Not only has it negatively influenced our culture, it has also foiled all efforts to promote equal distribution of resources for an equitable society. It is the same Federal Shariat Court that reversed the principle of equitable sharing of natural resources by all, overturning the Land Reforms undertaken by the Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto Govermment in 1972, in the infamous Farooq Leghari case.

PILER and PPC noted that a section of the religious lobby has hailed the late Governor’s murder and warned people against attending his funeral; this is shameful and inhuman.

PILER and PPC urged civil society, media, political parties and the government to recognise religious extremism as a serious threat and take up fight against it as the single biggest agenda. The state of basic rights including right to live is in danger if we move on with life as usual after Mr Taseer’s tragedy. The unofficial license granted to the extremists to hold the nation hostage to their definition of morality means the lives of each one of us is in danger at the hands of these self-appointed guardians of religion.

PILER and PPC also stated that there is need to hand over the foreign and the national security policies back to the civilian government. In all democracies, these policies are pursued by the elected government and not by the un-elected and unaccountable military establishment, as is the case in Pakistan. All efforts to clamp down on religious extremism will fail if the military, as an independent entity, continues to breed and nurture extremist forces. This policy is creating enemies against Pakistan’s own citizens. The government must demonstrate responsibility towards protecting the rights and the wellbeing of the people of Pakistan, who pay taxes and work hard to run the country.

PILER and PPC also called for the government to revamp the education curriculum basing it on more tolerant lines, withdrawal of state support to religious institutions and structures and bringing them under state regulation, amendments in the blasphemy laws, disbanding of Federal Shariat Court and separating state from religion at all levels.