The horrific and brutal murder of the charismatic Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer has plunged the nation into a state of shock and grief.
Fearless and outspoken, he won people over with his generosity of spirit, courage, sardonic humour and unique flair and style.
As Governor of the Punjab, the multifaceted Taseer patronised Pakistani art, music and culture which flourished during his tenure. Not isolated or blinded by success and power, he engaged with people in open debate, setting him apart from his political contemporaries and making him an arresting political figure.
A liberal progressive and formidable intellectual, he spoke up for Pakistan’s marginalised minorities. He condemned religious extremism as a misrepresentation of Islam and emerged as a symbol of passionate defiance against religious obscurantism. An eloquent speaker and powerful communicator, Salmaan Taseer raised the bar as the Governor of the Punjab with regular updates on Twitter and Facebook where he had built up a strong constituency of ardent fans and supporters. In support of Pakistan’s minorities,
he recently posted on Twitter, “My observation on minorities: A man/nation is judged by how they support those weaker than them not how they lean on those stronger.”
As a young boy, Salmaan Taseer was surrounded by culture and learning. His father, Dr Muhammadin Taseer was a renowned poet and scholar who had graduated with a PhD from Cambridge and had also been the principal of Islamia College. His uncle was Pakistan’s revolutionary poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz. His house was frequented by post-Partition literary stalwarts like Sufi Tabassum and Hafiz Jullhandri.
Salmaan Taseer was just six-years-old when his father passed away. After graduating from Government College Lahore, his mother sent him to London to study accountancy.
While studying in London, he immersed himself in the vibrant politics of the day. He spent a great deal of time with his uncle Faiz Ahmed Faiz who had fled to London after being awarded the Lenin Peace Prize. “He fired all my political ambitions,” Salmaan Taseer once said. During this time, Taseer was meeting with Third World leaders and revolutionaries including famed Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.
Like his father and uncle, he was a prolific writer and an avid reader. He wrote a book on Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto called Bhutto: A Political Biography.
Passionate about politics, Salmaan Taseer joined the Pakistan People’s Party in 1979, just after Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s execution. A champion of democracy, he was imprisoned for speaking out against General Zia-ul-Haq’s military regime in the 1980s. He spoke of his harrowing ordeal at the Shahi Qila prison where he was kept in solitary confinement and complete darkness for six months. He was imprisoned a total of fourteen times – three times during the Nawaz Sharif regime.
Widely acknowledged as one of Pakistan’s most successful entrepreneurs, Salmaan Taseer established a wide array of businesses. He set up the premiere chartered accountancy firm Taseer Hadi Khalid & Co. He pioneered telecommunications in Pakistan with the introduction of WorldCall broadband and fibre optic cables – an unprecedented innovation in Pakistan. In 2008, he sold a majority stake of WorldCall to the internationally renowned Omantel. He established a media empire with his English language newspaper, the Daily Times, his progressive Urdu newspaper AajKal and television channels Business Plus and Zaiqa. He also acquired and reinvented PACE, Pakistan’s first shopping mall.
A national icon who elevated politics to a new level, Salmaan Taseer will be remembered for his dynamism, humility and generosity. The death of the inimitable and indefatigable Salmaan Taseer is an irreparable loss for the country.