Salman Taseer, the governor of Pakistan's most populous province, was assassinated by a member of his security detail today, reportedly because Taseer opposed killing blasphemers against Islam. The brazen murder of another non-Islamist politician edged Pakistan closer to chaos.
Taseer was a liberal political leader in Pakistan, governor of Punjab province, and a vital ally of Pakistan's president Asif Ali Zardari—who himself had come to power only after his wife Benazir Bhutto was assassinated by Al Qaida in 2007. Taseer had boldly taken up the cause of a Christian woman named Asia Bibi who was convicted last year of insulting Muhammed under Pakistan's atavistic blasphemy laws and sentenced to death; he visited Bibi in prison and pledged to personally present her appeal to Zardari.
Bibi's case was enormously controversial, and Pakistan's religious parties have been preemptively taking to the streets to protest any potential change to the blasphemy laws. Taseer was gunned down today at a market in Islamabad; the bodyguard who killed him was immediately apprehended (that's him at right) and reportedly confessed that Taseer's support for Bibi was the reason he killed him.
Taseer's murder, according to the Times, "came as a severe blow to Mr. Zardari, whose government is close to collapse...." It is also as clear a message as imaginable to any Western-friendly political figures left in Pakistan that they will never be safe if they defy the Stone Age mullahs.
Taseer was a frequent Twitter user, and his feed shows him to be an urbane, witty, and occasionally vulgar man who delighted in provoking the zealots who threatened, and ultimately took, his life. Here he is taking on Twitter trolls:
[Photo, top, via AP]