Mumtaz Qadri’s Execution May Just Be A Turning Point In Pakistan

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Supporters and family members of Mumtaz Qadri gather near his body after his execution in Rawalpindi, Pakistan February 29, 2016. Pakistan on Monday executed Qadri who killed governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer over his call to reform the country's strict blasphemy laws that carry a death sentence for insulting Islam. REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood

By Omar R Quraishi

Mumtaz Qadri was a member of an elite police detachment tasked with guarding important people in the Pakistan government.

On January 4, 2011, while deployed in the security detail of then Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer he pumped 28 bullets into his body in an affluent neighborhood of the country’s capital Islamabad. He immediately gave himself up to his fellow police guards saying that he was against Taseer’s comments on the blasphemy law and had killed him because he had considered what Taseer had said was blasphemous. Taseer had publicly expressed sympathy for Aasia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman imprisoned on blasphemy charges, and had said that since the country’s blasphemy laws were often misused, there should be discussion on ways to minimize such misuse.

Qadri was convicted and sentenced to death after which his lawyers filed an appeal through the country’s superior courts, and this culminated in the Supreme Court of Pakistan in late 2015 turning down his mercy petition. In doing so, the court said that Qadri had committed his act on “nothing but hearsay” and quotes from Quranic verses to point out that raising allegations of blasphemy against another which turned out to be false and baseless was a very serious offence.

The last and final step lay with the President of Pakistan Mamnoon Hussain and his decision to reject Qadri’s mercy petition was not even reported in the media, presumably to minimize the protests that would inevitably follow. In fact, news of his execution came as a bit of surprise to most people, since the rejection of his mercy petition by the president was never made public.

Qadri was executed at around 4 am on February 29 at Rawalpindi’s Adiala Jail and as expected sporadic protests broke out all across the country by his supporters and sympathizers. Later in the day, the country’s largest religious party, the Jamaat-e-Islami also joined in, organizing funerals in absentia for Qadri in various cities. Its chief, Sirajul Haq, who is also a member of Pakistan’s Upper House of Parliament, strongly criticized Qadri’s hanging saying that he was “not just an individual but the embodiment of religious fervour” and that by executing him the government had “challenged the faith of 180 million Pakistanis”. Earlier in the day, the Islamabad Bar Association had called a ‘black day’ saying that Qadri’s hanging was “judicial murder”.

Having said that, while protests have followed the execution—and are expected to continue for some days—large segments of Pakistan have welcomed the news because they feel that for a change the state did not cave in to the conservative elements and went ahead with Qadri’s execution. A large part of this may be due to the momentum built up among Pakistani society following the terrible December 2014 tragedy when the Taliban attacked an army-run school in Peshawar and killed close to 150, most of them students. That led to the ongoing military operation against militants and has helped build a narrative—in which the public has widely participated, especially by way of social media—which in turn put pressure on the state to deal with all sources of extremism and militancy.

This is perhaps why the execution of Taseer’s convicted killer Mumtaz Qadri may well be a turning point for Pakistan.

The writer is Editor, Web & Online, ARY News. He tweets @omar_quraishi

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