Pakistani Governor of Punjab Province Salmaan Taseer was gunned down reportedly by one of his own guards on January 4th in Islamabad. His slaying marked the most prominent assassination in Pakistan since former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's death three years ago. Governor Taseer was known for speaking out on behalf of women and religious minorities. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton strongly condemned the assassination. She said, "I admired his work to promote tolerance and the education of Pakistan's future generations. His death is a great loss."
Governor Taseer's apparent killer reportedly cited his boss's position against a controversial anti-blasphemy law in justifying his actions. The laws have drawn criticism since a Pakistani Christian woman, Aasia Bibi, was sentenced to death in November for allegedly criticizing the Muslim prophet Muhammad. Governor Taseer had called for her pardon, leading Muslim extremists to denounce him as an apostate and burn effigies of him during a recent nationwide strike.
These extreme religious views, however, do not reflect the position of the majority of Pakistanis. As Governor Taseer pointed out in an interview last summer, "Extremist people are not in the majority. This is a very narrow minority." That is borne out by polls showing that extremist views are not widely shared by the Pakistani people.
Those supporting Taseer's progressive policies have vowed to not remain silent. Shahbaz Bhatti, the federal minister for minorities affairs, said Governor Taseer's murder "shows how the religious extremists want to impose their agenda to terrorize the society. This cowardly act," he said, "cannot stop us who are raising their voice." Indeed, most Pakistani political parties condemned the killing of Mr. Taseer. Government spokeswoman Farahnaz Ispahani said, "The governor of Punjab was the bravest person in our government, and the stands he took for women, minorities and on the blasphemy law were incredibly brave and will never be forgotten."
The voices of reason and tolerance in Pakistan must not be allowed to be silenced by a minority of extremists. The United States remains committed to helping the government and people of Pakistan as they persevere in their campaign to bring peace and stability to their country.