It is doubtful if the death sentence awarded to Mumtaz Qadri, the policeman who shot dead Salman Taseer, the Governor of Pakistan's Punjab province, can stem the extremism that has the country in its grip. Qadri confessed to the January 4 killing, proudly defending his action in court as a religious duty. He argued that Taseer had offended the sensibilities of all Muslims by his campaign to save a Christian woman sentenced to death on the charge of apostasy, and by supporting a move to amend the country's blasphemy laws. A frighteningly large number of Pakistanis approved of Qadri's act of murder. He became a hero, and lawyers volunteered to defend him in court. Nine months later, his popularity has not waned. After the court verdict, his supporters were out on the streets protesting it and threatening that “by punishing one Qadri, you will give rise to a thousand Qadris.” His lawyer has said that as the judge read out the verdict, Qadri recited verses from the Koran, accepting his death sentence as a sacrifice of his life for the Prophet. It is not clear if that means he will not contest the verdict in a higher court. There has been an undeclared moratorium on implementing the death sentence since the Pakistan People's Party came to power in 2008. It is admirable that the judge, who was asked by Qadri's defence to decide the case on religious rather than legal grounds, had the courage not to succumb to the pressure. With Qadri's supporters already announcing rewards for killing the judge, it falls on the Pakistan government to provide him protection.
Since Taseer's assassination, and the killing soon thereafter of Shahbaz Bhatti, the Minister for Minorities who supported Taseer's campaign, the fear of death has silenced the bravest moderate voices in Pakistan. The world-wide shock and outrage over the killings seem to have had little effect in the country — a 13-year-old Christian girl who misspelled the Prophet's name was expelled from school recently on the charge of blasphemy. The government has dropped the move to amend the blasphemy law so as to make the process of registering complaints far more difficult than it is now; the member of Parliament who moved the Bill lives under the shadow of a death threat. This sorry state of affairs owes much to the long-term policies of the Pakistani state. Its policy of encouraging religious radicalism in the pursuit of regional strategic goals has perpetrated such horrors that there should have been a serious rethink by now. If this has not happened, it is because Pakistan has yet to produce a truly visionary leadership.