Salman Taseer: A Brilliant Romantic – OpEd
By Mohammad Aslam
The slain Pakistani politician was beautiful, bold and larger-than-life. His death in a hail of bullets was unsurprising in a country beholden to the forces of evil and intolerance.
If there was any such thing as romanticised politicians, the late Salman Taseer would have few rivals. The media mogul-cum-politician was a man of extraordinary insight, inescapable charm and regal haughtiness in a country which has been on the throngs of failure and collapse – ever since it bloody creation some sixty five years ago.
As the son of one of Pakistan’s greatest literary figures who died when his one and only son was six; he started life on the periphery but eventually would pinnacle into a self-made businessman prior to entering the dangerous world of his country’s politics. A chartered accountant by profession, he was intermittently placed into solitary confinement for opposing both military dictatorships and their civilian benefactors in a turbulent career that was exposed to malice, spitefulness and ultimately death.
He was one of the few notables in his country that was articulate and passionate about bringing romanticism to his nation’s makeup. Indeed, he lived the life of a romantic. He was known for dapper inspired extravagances, expensive designer suits, Dior shades, and like an adherent to theory of romanticism – an advocate of aesthetic, artistic, literary and intellectual enlightenment. Depressingly, there are few, if any, such political role models in the developing world for the young and eager to look up to. Taseer was a man above his time.
Being bilingual and of mixed race, his personality was one that was synthesised with the best of two cultures. The confidant raconteur in which his wit and charm was expressed in his many speeches and interviews, is sadly one that will be filled in no time soon.
Ever since he was sanctioned with becoming the Governor of Pakistan’s largest province, Taseer was thrust like never before onto the national, and to an extent, world stage. He was the man everybody wanted to hear. Always one to encourage debate, he refused kowtow to conservative demands in the society he lived, he was man that would live in his own way, by his own desires and in his own time.
Perhaps it was this very audacity which sealed his fate. Like any other human beings he was not without his faults, but when you live in a country whose birth was in the name of its religion, be it largely practised or not, its difficult to live a life so estranged to it. Indeed it would be somewhat disingenuous to depict a life like his, without analyzing conservative indifference in this largely Muslim country to his fondness for raucous late-night Champaign-fuelled parties, amongst the many other vices they bemoan.
But then who in Pakistan has the right to judge anyone on how they should live their lives or gauge how good or bad a persons religious credentials are? Pakistan was certainly a country built for the Muslims of India at partition, but it is not, and never has been, an Islamic state where their is a precedence for divine law over man made ones. Instead, modern day Pakistani customs and laws are derivatives of political-religious concoctions to appease conservative elements in this ever intolerant society.
In hindsight, perhaps the late Governor Taseer’s only miscalculation was to utilize the offices of the Pakistan’s Peoples Party as a vehicle in which to engage in acts of political romanticism. The party was founded by former Pakistan premier Zulfikar Bhutto (later to be found guilty of murder) more than four decades ago and in whose memory Taseer would say he was beholden. It has a reputation tainted with corruption – one to which Taseers detractors point to as ultimately placing him in circumstances that created the appearance of impropriety in the minds of many. But which political party in this heavily corrupt country is free from such accusations?
Taseer was on the left throughout his career, he was outspoken and liberal, the only recourse to an open and romantic Pakistan in his day was the party of Bhutto. Perhaps, although he never openly questioned his support for the principles of his party and its leaders, he felt that the alternative would have been doomed. His politics was not one of confrontation; it was about abolishing opponents with bitingly delivered sound bites, in the end it was this outspokenness that killed him.
As his killer awaits trial, there is cause for concern. The balance of fair justice and protection is overwhelmingly against Taseer’s family – not surprising if one considers the near delightful reactions of many lawyers, politicians and news anchormen to his death. All that is asked for is sustained judicial fairness; but not the kind of fairness that Pakistan has had in the last few decades. A return to such activity would not be fulfilling that requirement.
**The writer is a PhD candidate in Political Science at the department of Middle-East & Mediterranean Studies, King’s College London.