Worries over Pakistan's future deepened dramatically after Tuesday's assassination of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer by one of his own bodyguards. The guard says he did it because of Taseer's opposition to blasphemy laws which allow executions for people who insult Islam.
While some mourn the loss of "a voice of tolerance in society," an Islamist group considered moderate used the murder and Wednesday's funeral to issue a threat against Taseer's allies. The Jamaat-e-Ahl-Sunnat, which opposes the Taliban, issued a statement saying 500 of its scholars "have advised Muslims not to offer the funeral prayers" for Taseer. "Also, there should be no expression of grief or sympathy on the death of the governor, as those who support blasphemy of the Prophet are themselves indulging in blasphemy."
Taseer was shot 14 times as he got out of his car in Islamabad. Most of the bullets struck him in the chest and head. Some reports indicate his other body guards stood by as the shooting erupted. He had spoken on behalf of Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman accused of insulting the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad. Islamist groups have called for her execution, but others are concerned the accusations are baseless.
The Jamaat-e-Ahl-Sunnat praised Taseer's confessed killer, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, as a hero. "Salman Taseer is a blasphemer and this is the punishment for a blasphemer," Qadri told Pakistani television.
The Jamaat-e-Islami, a leading Islamist political party, issued a statement saying "there wouldn't have been the need for someone to shoot him," had Taseer simply been removed from office.
In a column published by the Daily Beast, Newsweek Pakistan editor Fasih Ahmed mourned the loss of a friend and former colleague, and what it means for Pakistan. "Taseer's death closes the door on any discussion of the [blasphemy] laws," he wrote. "The mullahs and their sympathizers have probably succeeded in scaring reason and rationale into retreat."