Newsweek journalist based in Pakistan and daughter of Salmaan Taseer, former governor of Punjab who was killed in January after speaking out against the country’s blasphemy law.
Shehrbano Taseer, a Newsweek journalist based in Pakistan, is the daughter of Salmaan Taseer, former governor of Punjab who was shot 29 times by his own bodyguard in January. Before his assassination, Taseer had became embroiled in controversy after he spoke out against the country’s blasphemy law. Last November, a Pakistani Christian woman was sentenced to death after being found guilty of defaming the Prophet Muhammad. We speak with Shehrbano Taseer about her father and efforts to confront Islamist extremism throughout Pakistan. "Extremism is a mindset in Pakistan, and you need to counter that mindset, and you need to provide a counter-narrative. And that’s not being done by America," Taseer says. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We turn to Pakistan. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking in Delhi, said the U.S. would place greater pressure on Pakistan to crack down on militants believed to be operating from in its territory. She pledged strong support for India’s battle against terrorism in light of the deadly bomb attack in Mumbai.
SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: We have made it clear to the Pakistani government that confronting violent extremism of all sorts is in its interest. We do not believe that there are any terrorists who should be given safe haven or a free pass by any government, because left unchecked, the consequences of that kind of terrorist activity and intimidation can become very difficult to manage and control.
AMY GOODMAN: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaking yesterday in Delhi.
Well, we end today’s broadcast with an interview I recently did with Shehrbano Taseer, a Newsweek journalist in Pakistan. But she is not just speaking as a journalist. She’s speaking as a daughter, the daughter of Salmaan Taseer, former governor of Punjab, who was shot 29 times by his own bodyguard in January. Before his assassination, Taseer had became embroiled in controversy after he spoke out against the Pakistan’s blasphemy law.
I started by asking Shehrbano about the circumstances leading to her father’s assassination.
SHEHRBANO TASEER: In November 2010, there was a poor and Christian illiterate woman called Aasia Noreen who had been sentenced to death for allegedly committing blasphemy in a tiny village outside of my hometown in Lahore. And, you know, when my father heard of this case, he was a businessman and he was the governor of Punjab at the time, but above all of that, he was a humanitarian. And so, you know, it really struck him just how unjust this sentence was, and so he tried to get a mercy petition for her from our president. And, you know, he had a press conference, and he gave many interviews in which he said that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are draconian and that they’re being misused far too often to settle personal vendettas and land disputes and that they are unfairly targeting the oppressed and the minorities.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what the blasphemy laws are.
SHEHRBANO TASEER: Well, they were put into place by General Zia-ul-Haq, who was one of the harshest dictators in Pakistan’s history and if not in the world’s history. And these laws basically forbid the defamation of the Quran or of a holy book, and they forbid the defamation of religion and, you know, saying anything against the Prophet. So they’re very vague, and they’re open—very open-ended. And, you know, most often they’re being used as an instrument of oppression and terror. Thousands of people have been convicted for blasphemy in Pakistan, and the conviction rates are just skyrocketing now. And so, this was something that my father felt strongly about. And, you know, these rabid clerics, they took to the streets, and they called him a blasphemer, and they issued religious edicts against him, you know, calling for his murder. And they made something that was about humanity into something about religion.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, describe then what happened as he petitioned for this woman not to be killed.
SHEHRBANO TASEER: Well, you know, the religious right, they began to flare up. They lack legitimacy in Pakistan, because they’ve never managed to get more than 10 percent of the popular vote. But they have a disproportionate amount of street power. So, you know, they’re loud, they’re well armed, they’re well funded, they’re well organized, and they’re lusting for power. And so, they took to the streets, and they protested.
AMY GOODMAN: Who arms them? Who funds them?
SHEHRBANO TASEER: Well, that’s the million-dollar question. You know, a lot of it comes from within Pakistan, and a lot of this funding comes from Saudi Arabia, as well. A recent WikiLeaks cable just revealed that $100 million a year makes its way from Saudi and UAE charities into Pakistan to fund these extremist Islamist groups.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, then go on from there with what happened.
SHEHRBANO TASEER: Well, then, six months ago, on my brother Shehryar’s 25th birthday, a member of my father’s security team, Mumtaz Qadri, casually strolled up behind him and shot my father 27 times until he died.
AMY GOODMAN: Shot him in the marketplace.
SHEHRBANO TASEER: Yes, as he was leaving lunch. And, you know, in his confession statement, Qadri said that he had done so because my father was a blasphemer, and this was the correct punishment for blasphemy.
AMY GOODMAN: And describe those days to us. You had this public figure, your father, who was the governor of Punjab. And you had your father, who had just been killed.
SHEHRBANO TASEER: That’s the thing. I mean, for everybody else, it’s this big, sexy, sensationalist story. You know, the governor of Punjab was gunned down by his own bodyguard. But for me, you know, I have to come home every day to the fact that there’s—you know, my father, I can’t speak to him or laugh with him or be with him again. And it was—you know, it was just so senseless why it happened.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, talk about what came next, what kind of outcry there was.
SHEHRBANO TASEER: Well, you know, I think the aftermath of the murder was really disgusting, because in Pakistan, I think that things work the other way around. Hundreds of lawyers garlanded my father’s assassin at his first court appearance. They showered him with rose petals for having killed a blasphemer. In Karachi, 35,000 clerics took to the streets in support of the murder and in support of these blasphemy laws. It took us one-and-a-half months to find a prosecutor and a lawyer and a judge who was willing to take on this case. But Qadri, on the other hand, was offered pro bono services by the head of the Rawalpindi Bar Association. So it just brought a really frightening reality home, that it’s not just a man or an organization that we’re dealing with. It’s an entire mindset.
AMY GOODMAN: A few months after your father was gunned down, another leader was gunned down, a Christian leader in Pakistan.
SHEHRBANO TASEER: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: He was...?
SHEHRBANO TASEER: Shahbaz Bhatti. He was the federal minister of minorities. You know, when this whole Aasia Noreen case first happened, there were three people who were very outspoken: there was my father, there was Shahbaz Bhatti, and then there was Sherry Rehman, who was a—who’s also a minister. And two out of three of these people are now dead. So it’s a really frightening climate right now in Pakistan.
AMY GOODMAN: Your father took you to meet Mukhtar Mai?
SHEHRBANO TASEER: Yeah, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you describe who she is and where you went to see her?
SHEHRBANO TASEER: Well, Mukhtar Mai, I think, is one of the women that Pakistan should be proud of. She was a poor, illiterate woman, and nine years ago she was gang-raped, because, you know, her brother had had—I mean, it’s a difficult story. But she was ordered by the elders in her village to be gang-raped. And this woman had everything going against her, but she decided to stand up for herself and fight this case. And at the time, I think Musharraf was in power, and he—you know, he didn’t help her out. He accused her of wanting Western power and of wanting, you know, a foreign visa and a passport and things, and this government did not support her in any way.
But when the PPP government came to power, my father’s first official visit as governor was to Mukhtar Mai and to lend his support to this woman. And so, we went to the village, and he—he had been helping her fundraise for some schools that she was setting up. And it was really nice. He asked her to put her hand on my head in front of the entire village so that—you know, so that I could have a semblance of the courage that she has.
AMY GOODMAN: Are you afraid? Are you afraid about speaking out, for your own life, for your family’s life?
SHEHRBANO TASEER: Well, I mean, we’ve certainly seen what—I mean, Pakistan calls itself a democracy, but you’ve seen just what speaking out or thinking or believing in something can do. So, I mean, especially on the topics that I am talking about, it makes a lot of people uncomfortable, so I think that there is a very real security threat. But I also feel very strongly, and especially after my father’s death, that you shouldn’t let fear get in the way of what needs to be done and what needs to be said, and it shouldn’t hinder your progress.
AMY GOODMAN: You’re a journalist now. You’re working with Newsweek in Lahore, Pakistan. Journalists are also increasingly under attack in Pakistan, being killed, being beaten. Can you talk about the situation?
SHEHRBANO TASEER: Well, actually, the Pakistani media is very vibrant. It’s, I think, sometimes a little too free, because of the things that people show and say. I mean, it’s kind of obnoxious sometimes. But at the same time, you have journalists who are being tortured and killed because of writing against the military or the intelligence. So, you know, and it’s a conundrum, because you can say whatever you want and however you want it, but as soon as you start getting specific, as soon as you start talking about certain people and certain events, you know, it’s like a death sentence.
AMY GOODMAN: What is the role of the drone attacks, the effects of the drone attacks on Pakistan, on the population?
SHEHRBANO TASEER: Well, I mean, it’s difficult, because there’s a counterinsurgency tactic in Pakistan, and that is this war and these drone attacks. And what’s happening—what’s missing is the counter-narrative on the ground for the people. And these drone attacks are actually feeding into the dialogue of these Islamist groups, because they’re giving them, you know, something to cry about and to rally up the population and to—you know, they paint this image of big, bad America coming in and killing our people. And so, I feel like it’s actually counterproductive now, these drones.
AMY GOODMAN: So, do you think the United States understands the effect?
SHEHRBANO TASEER: I think the biggest problem is that there’s too much money and too much aid being given to the military to fight this war. And this military and our intelligence often play a double game. There’s not enough people aid, or humanitarian aid. So, you know, they’re giving us billions of dollars, but none of it is going towards infrastructure or schools or education or, you know, electricity and where Pakistan really needs it the most. It’s going towards fighting this war on terror, and a lot of it is being siphoned off because of corruption.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you want people in the United States to understand, before you go back? I mean, you write for Pakistan and for the world, Newsweek in Pakistan. What do you think we should understand about what’s happening in Pakistan?
SHEHRBANO TASEER: I think it’s very important to understand that it’s—you know, it’s not just a country that you’re dealing with. You’re dealing with 180 million people, as well. And that this—you know, America is fighting this war on terror, but you have to understand that extremism is a mindset in Pakistan, and you need to counter that mindset, and you need to provide a counter-narrative. And that’s not being done by America. You know, it needs to be done through curriculum, revision and reversal. You need to give people economic opportunity so that they don’t resort to extremism and to terrorism and to blowing theirself up. And I think that even with aid, like I mentioned before, you know, you have billions of dollars coming in, but it’s just going towards the army. It’s not going towards the people of Pakistan. So the real investment that needs to be made is with the people of Pakistan.
AMY GOODMAN: And how would that be done?
SHEHRBANO TASEER: Through schools, through hospitals, through electricity, sanitation. This is what everybody’s biggest problem is in Pakistan. You know, they worry about democracy and drones later. They don’t have a roof over their head. And the level of poverty in Pakistan is staggering. And, you know, I think that that’s a huge—it’s a huge reason for why people turn to extremism and for why people are so disillusioned with the state.
AMY GOODMAN: Shehrbano Taseer, Newsweek journalist in Pakistan, the daughter of Salmaan Taseer, the former governor of Pakistan who was killed 29 times—who was shot 29 times in January of this past year.