A rare breed of politician who fought for tolerance

Omar Waraich in The Independent:

Salmaan-Taseer-EPA-640x480 “Who the hell are these illiterate maulvis to decide whether I'm a Muslim or not?” Salmaan Taseer asked me, a month before he was brutally assassinated outside his Islamabad home by his own bodyguard. Taseer, the governor of Punjab, never shrank from speaking out.

When Asia Bibi, the Christian woman accused of blasphemy, was sentenced to death, he was the first to visit her in prison and call for her release, earning fatwas against his life.He was also an usual politician. The son of a poet, Taseer was a rare example of a self-made man who first succeeded in becoming one of the country's wealthiest businessmen and, later, one of its most high-profile politicians.Having endured torture and solitary confinement under the military dictatorship of Gen Zia-ul-Haq in the grim 1980s for supporting Benazir Bhutto, he said he had decided that Pakistan could not afford to suffer under religious hardliners.”You have to have zero tolerance when it comes to militancy,” I recall him insisting time and again. He was constantly frustrated by the state's failure to prosecute those responsible. “When they went after the mafia in Italy,” he said, “the prosecutor, the judge, and witnesses all wore a mask. You can't just wish them away.”It was hardly a popular position to uphold. When two Ahmadi mosques were attacked by terrorists last May, killing over 100 worshippers, he was savaged by the religious right and its supporters in the local media for expressing solidarity.

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