The outspoken Governor of Pakistan's Punjab province, Salman Taseer, was gunned down, allegedly by one of his own security guards, here on Tuesday afternoon.
The guard, who surrendered to the police soon after, is said to have been upset with Taseer for his support to a Christian woman charged with blasphemy.
The police said assailant Malik Mumtaz Husain Qadri from the elite force of the Punjab Police, shot Taseer several times from close range as the Governor was getting into his car on a side lane of Kohsar Market, which is a favourite with foreigners based here.
The Governor was rushed to a nearby polyclinic, but eyewitnesses said he was already dead. Doctors said he suffered nine bullet wounds. His body was later removed to the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences as the polyclinic did not have a morgue.
As condemnation poured in from across the political spectrum and civil society, the government declared a three-day mourning. The Pakistan People's Party (PPP), to which Taseer belonged, has called for a fortnight-long mourning, with its spokesperson Fauzia Wahab underscoring the point that yet another party stalwart had made the ultimate sacrifice.
Taseer angered the ‘religious' right wing after he visited Aasia Bibi — who was sentenced to death by a sessions court in November last for allegedly committing blasphemy — in the Sheikhupura jail. He also forwarded her mercy petition to President Asif Ali Zardari and stuck to his guns despite threats from hardliners.
An avid user of Twitter, Taseer tweeted on Thursday — the day before the shutter-down strike called by the ‘religious' right wing against any amendment to the blasphemy laws — that: “I was under huge pressure to cow down before rightist pressure on blasphemy. Refused. Even if I'm the last man standing.”
Soon after the assassination, a high-level investigation team, comprising members from the Inter Services Intelligence, the Federal Investigation Agency and the Intelligence Bureau, was set up to oversee the probe.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik said the team would examine whether the assailant — who is based in Rawalpindi and was assigned to Taseer a couple of times in the past when the Governor was on a visit to Islamabad — had acted on his own or under any instruction.