Pakistan, Islam face danger from Islamists

By Qasim Yousafzai

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Islam’s greatest threat comes from those who claim to be serving it – extremist militants, Shehrbano Taseer, daughter of slain Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, said June 27.

Shehrbano Taseer, daughter of slain Pakistani Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer, speaks at a panel discussion at UN European headquarters in Geneva March 8. Islamists endanger Pakistan and Islam, she said in a speech in Washington, D.C., June 27. [REUTERS/Denis Balibouse]

Shehrbano said that militants, whom she repeatedly called “hate mongers,” have misinterpreted Islam. “Islam is a peaceful religion,” she said.

Her father died for “a progressive Pakistan and moderate Islam, she said. In a speech titled “My Father Died for Pakistan” at the Middle East Institute in Washington, she called extremism a mindset that poses a great danger to Pakistan.

Shehrbano expressed the hope militants would not ultimately succeed by killing individuals like her father, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and Shahbaz Bhatti, but warned, “The militants are successful now.”

Taseer was killed in Islamabad January 4, allegedly by a bodyguard angered by Taseer’s opposition to the country’s controversial blasphemy law.

Bhutto was assassinated in Rawalpindi December 27, 2007. Bhatti, federal minister for minorities and the sole Christian in the cabinet, was killed by unknown militants in Islamabad March 2, allegedly over his criticism of the blasphemy law.

Talking about the country’s blasphemy law, Shehrbano said, “The law is not a protector of religions … These laws deserve to be criticised.” Courts have sentenced a large number of defendants under that law, she said.

Regarding her father’s death, Shehrbano refused to attribute it to a security lapse even though a bodyguard is the alleged assassin.

“You don’t know who your enemy is anymore,” she said.

Fighting extremism

Pakistani madrassas are teaching religious intolerance and gun violence, she said. An entire generation is growing up with a violent jihadi mindset, she added.

“Pakistan is fighting the militancy and operations are going on, but no counter-extremism measures can be seen on the ground,” Shehrbano said.

She urged strict steps to deal with that violent mentality and strengthening of Pakistani democracy. “Moderation, inclusion and progression is the need of every society,” she said. Moderates in Pakistan need to reclaim the public sphere, she said.

The international community can help Pakistan by offering a counter-narrative to extremism in addition to weapons to combat terrorists, she said. The government, for its part, should strive to create economic opportunities for the people and work to reform madrassas, she added.

Social media can raise awareness and generate discourse on containing violent trends, she said, calling an uninterrupted process of democracy vital.


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