Salman Taseer and Raymond Davis Highlight Confusion In Pakistan

Farzana Shaikh discusses recent developments in Pakistan in Mumbai on February 22, 2011. (Asia Society India Centre)

MUMBAI, February 22, 2011- Recent developments in Pakistan have highlighted its ideological confusion and exposed fractures among groups within the state.

This was the primary concern illuminated by Farzana Shaikh, Associate Fellow of the Asia Program and Director of the Pakistan Study Group at the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) in London.

Shaikh was joined in conversation by Sudheendra Kulkarni, Chairman of the Observer Research Foundation, Mumbai, ifor a talk entitled, "Pakistan’s Floundering Government: What’s at Stake for Pakistan and the World."

Shaikh elaborated on the effects and implications of current events in Pakistan, from the assassination of Salman Taseer on January 4 for his opposition of the strict blasphemy law, to this month's Raymond Davis case, in which the American Davis allegedly gunned down two men in Lahore on February 14.

The immediate fallout of Taseer’s death, Shaikh said, was to expose deep divisions in Pakistan, separating so-called liberals (formerly equated with the elite) from the so-called conservatives (associated with the pro-Islamic underclass). Lawyers' groups who were once celebrated as forces of progress and moderate politics came out as fundamentalists, praising Taseer’s murderer and offering to defend him in court for free.

Shaikh explained that this signalled the onset of a significant new development—groups and individuals that were once moderate voices are now becoming more hard-line in order to garner support by proving their adherence to a more stringent version of Islam, and hence to Pakistan. This includes the ruling party and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.

Commenting on such events, Shaikh suggested certain constitutional reforms, and spoke of the need for the state to adopt a principled distance from all religions. While consensus on Islam may always vex Pakistan, the state can at least work to ensure that the status of an individual does not depend on their religion.

While Pakistan struggles with its internal and external conflicts, Shaikh predicted that it wouldn't be allowed to sink, because the international community has too high a stake in this militarized, nuclear country. But even as it somehow holds together, the people of Pakistan need the support of their neighbours during these trying times.