Shahbaz Taseer’s kidnapping
In a startling development, slain Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer’s son Shahbaz Taseer was abducted from Lahore in broad daylight yesterday morning. Shahbaz was on his way to his office when he was intercepted by a group of armed men in cars and motorcycles and whisked away along with a friend who was riding with him. The friend was later released, but there is no word where and why Shahbaz was taken away by his abductors. So far there has been no claim of responsibility, therefore conjecture as to the possible perpetrators and their motives must lie in the realm of speculation. There appear at first glance to be three likely suspects: ‘friends’ of Mumtaz Qadri, the self-confessed assassin of Salmaan Taseer, with the possible motive of pressurising the authorities to release the murderer; fanatics who think the Taseer family is fair game for their unwanted attentions in the light of the warped perception that Salmaan Taseer’s criticism of the misuse and abuse of the blasphemy law was itself tantamount to blasphemy; and criminals of the kidnapping for ransom variety. A joint investigation team has been set up, all exits from Lahore have been sealed, and the incident has attracted the notice of the president, prime minister and the Punjab chief minister. Condemnations of the kidnapping have flown in thick and fast, including statements from Human Rights Watch and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. We pray that Shahbaz is returned to his distraught family well and safe.
Having said that, there are some unanswered questions and suspicions surrounding the whole affair. Whoever is behind this heinous crime seemed to know Shahbaz’s routine, timing and route every day to his office, etc. That gives rise to the suspicion that either the perpetrators had been watching Shahbaz’s movements for some time, or they had insider information. Suspicion is further aroused by the fact that, contrary to Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah’s repeated statement on television that Shahbaz had been provided a security detail but was in the habit of sometimes not taking the detail with him (a patent distortion of the truth), on the day of the occurrence, the security detail failed to turn up. Let us not forget that it was one of Salmaan Taseer’s own official security guards who shot him down in cowardly fashion and in cold blood in broad daylight. The rest of the security detail that day did not even twitch in response. Mumtaz Qadri’s lionisation by the right wing and religious extremists, including sadly sections of the lawyers community, focused minds on how far the influence of such warped ideas runs, including questions about how far the police and security forces are themselves imbued with extremist notions. The Taseer family, including Shahbaz, had been receiving threats since Salmaan Taseer’s assassination. That should have been enough to alert our somnolent security forces to take greater care. Even if, for the sake of argument, the mea culpa put forward by Rana Sanaullah and the high ups of the Punjab police that Shahbaz refused to take the security detail with him is accepted, why, in the light of the obtaining circumstances, were the security people so lax as to ‘surrender’ their clearly defined responsibility and duty? In the light of the above, there must remain questions whether Shahbaz Taseer’s kidnapping is merely a security lapse or a deep conspiracy.
The law and order and security situation in Punjab has given rise to concerns across the board in recent days. Not only is crime increasing, including kidnapping for ransom, a phenomenon to be expected when economic hardship is producing incremental desperation amongst the marginalised, the security situation is far from satisfactory, a result perhaps of the Punjab government’s acknowledged ‘soft’ approach to extremists and terrorists. In Punjab at least, such forces have been emboldened by the ruling PML-N’s kid gloves attitude to them, if not active collusion in some instances. It is a sad comment on the justice system that the Supreme Court’s suo motu notice produced a death sentence for the Rangers involved in the Sarfaraz Shah murder in Karachi within a month, but in Salmaan Taseer’s open and shut case with a self-confessed murderer, seven months have passed but the case is not being dealt with with any despatch. Had Salmaan Taseer’s murderer been administered swift and deserved justice by now, perhaps the right message would have gone out to Mumtaz Qadri’s ilk that such blatant murderous intent and actions would invite the full sanction of the law. Instead, the tardy pace of the proceedings in that case may well have encouraged such elements into believing they can get away with it. That view may be reinforced by the lack of closure in Federal Minister Shahbaz Bhatti’s assassination as well. It is now incumbent on the Punjab government and the provincial and federal law enforcement authorities to ensure the safe and unharmed recovery of Shahbaz Taseer. His family has already suffered grievously. We need to apply balm to their wounds, not sprinkle salt on them.