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Assassin of Pakistani Governor Driven by Belief in Blasphemy Laws

An intelligence official interrogating Mumtaz Qadri, Commando of Pakistan's Elite force, right, who allegedly killed Punjab's governor Salman Taseer, Islamabad, Jan 04 2011

The man who allegedly killed the governor of Pakistan's Punjab province, Salman Taseer, in broad daylight in the capital, Islamabad, on Tuesday has been arrested and confessed to the crime, according to Pakistani officials.

The assassin was Mr. Taseer's bodyguard. Once in police custody, officials say he defended murdering Mr. Taseer, a senior member of the ruling party and a close associate of President Asif Ali Zardari, because the governor was an outspoken critic of Pakistan's strict blasphemy laws.

VOA's Sarah Williams spoke with Nafees Takar, chief of VOA's Pashto language radio broadcasts to the border regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan, about Tuesday's assassination.

Why are Pakistan's blasphemy laws so controversial?

"Pakistan's blasphemy laws are controversial in the sense that it is so easy for a Muslim to charge a non-Muslim of blasphemous acts or blasphemous comments. For example, if a Muslim neighbor, for example, says that his non-Muslim neighbor has committed blasphemously about the Prophet or the Quran, he can easily be arrested. The other problem with it is that even if he is released from police custody, even then, his life is in danger because members of the community know him, know that he has committed blasphemous remarks or acts."

The governor of Punjab was a member of the ruling party and the ruling coalition has just fallen apart. What impact might this have on the larger political situation in Pakistan?

"Of course thas a huge impact on Pakistan's security. Salman Taseer was the governor of a major province of Pakistan, Punjab, and he was one of the liberal forces of Pakistan. In the current political turmoil, where the ruling party has lost its majority in the parliament, it will give 'breathing space' to the party to rule for a few weeks. Meanwhile, they will get a chance to get support for themselves from the other, minor political parties. The problem is that it has an impact on security in the sense that if gives the message to the people that nobody is safe in the country. If a bodyguard can kill a governor, so other people are also very worried about the overall security situation and, also, about the economic conditions of the country. Of course, when the politicians are busy saving their government, they are not focusing that much on the war on terror that is going on in the northwest of the country or the overall security situation in Pakistan's major city, Karachi, the hub of the economy of the country. So, of course, his murder has a huge impact on the political turmoil in Pakistan and the overall security."