Foreign Policy Blogs

Junior Taseer’s Abduction Stuns Pakistani Liberals

A son of Salmaan Taseer, the liberal governor of the country’s powerful Punjab province who was shot dead by his own security guard in Islamabad in January, has been kidnapped by masked gunmen in Lahore. Taseer’s loss did not end the family’s miseries nor did the tragedy dissuade them to speak up for liberal values and the rights of religious minorities in Pakistan.

While Shahbaz Taseer, Taseer’s abducted son, lived in low-profile after his father’s assassination, his sister Shaherbano Taseer, a journalist, has emerged in Pakistan and overseas as a liberal celebrity. She has defended her father’s views on the controversial Blasphemy Law which prosecutes religious minorities in the Muslim majority nation.

Lahore is Pakistan’s second largest city and the capital of Punjab, the most populated province.

The Taseers say militant Islamic groups had been threatening them since the killing of the secular governor whose murder, ironically, drew plaudits from majority of the orthodox Pakistanis,  educated lawyers and journalists mainly those hailing from middle class families.

“Lets not spew hate against a nation of 180m ppl bcz of cruelty of a few.We love Pakistan.Inshallah my brave beloved brother will B home&safe,” Tweeted Shehrbano Taseer. In a second Tweet, Shahbaz’s optimistic sister said, “We have not lost faith. We love our country and are not going anywhere. Inshalla my brother will be home soon.”

Punjab has recently come under spotlight because of the rise of local militants known as Punjabi Taliban. The ruling Pakistan Muslim League of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif is not only known to have a soft corner for the Punjabi Taliban but it has also reacted angrily to the use of this term by terming it derogatory. Shahbaz Sharif, the province’s chief minister, once went to the extent of publicly begging the Taliban to spare his province because he said, “we share a common stance.”

There is no such thing as Punjabi Taliban,” said Sharif, whose older brother, an orthodox Muslim industrialist,  is currently the country’s most popular opposition leader.

A prominent scholar Dr. Mumtaz Ahmed, who presides over Islamabad’s International Islamic University, says both the ruling Pakistan People’s Party of President Asif Ali Zardari as well as the Pakistan Muslim League of Nawaz Sharif covertly support the Islamic hardliners because of political compulsions. According to him, at least twenty-eight members of the current parliament belonging to both the parties were elected with the help of the votes offered by militant Sunni group Sipha-e-Sahaba.

No group has accepted responsibility for the fresh kidnapping, although the Taseers have registered a case at a police station in Lahore against ‘unknown’ people. Police in Lahore say the abduction does not seem to be  linked with kidnappings related to ransom because the kidnappers did not take away the victim’s car, laptop and i-pad.

Pakistan’s tiny minority of liberals, which predominantly comprises of the western educated rich urban families,  has faced the heat of the wave of Islamic radicalization that has engulfed the post-9/11 Pakistan. Besides Taseer’s murder, the liberals in Pakistan were further shaken after Islamic militants killed Shahbaz Bhatti,the only non-Muslim minister because of his support for the rights of the religious minorities.

A prominent investigative journalist, Saleem Shahzad, who leaked reports about Al-Qaeda’s penetration inside some sections of the Pakistani Navy was also kidnapped and murdered.  Many blamed the  rogue Directorate of  Inter-Services Intelligence for the reporter’s killing.

When the BBC asked the younger Taseer soon after his father’s murder if his family intended to leave Pakistan, he said, “We will live in Pakistan even if they [the extremists] kill us a hundred times. This is our country and we will continue to live here.”



Malik Siraj Akbar

Malik Siraj Akbar is a freelance journalist based in Washington DC. A 2010-11 Hubert Humphrey Fellow, Malik is the editor-in-chief of The Baloch Hal, the first online English newspaper of Balochistan, Pakistan's largest province. He worked for five years as the Bureau Chief of Daily Times, a reputed Pakistani English newspaper.