KARACHI, Pakistan – A day after her father was gunned down by an Islamist extremist, a grieving Shehrbano Taseer wrote on Twitter, “A light has gone out in our home today.” It wasn’t long before the 22-year-old realized something else: Her father’s death had lit a fire in her.
In the months since, the daughter of the late Punjab province Gov. Salmaan Taseer has emerged as one of Pakistan’s most outspoken voices for tolerance. Through her writing and speaking, she warns any audience who will listen of the threat of Islamist extremism, and impatiently waits for her father’s killer to be brought to justice.
And yes, sometimes she gets scared. She’s received threats from militants, who’ve warned her to remember her father’s fate.
“These extremists, they want to tell you how to think, how to feel, how to act,” says Taseer. “It has made me more resolute that these people should never win.”
Salmaan Taseer was assassinated on Jan. 4 at a market in Islamabad by one of his own bodyguards. The confessed killer, Mumtaz Qadri, boasted that he’d carried out the slaying because the outspoken politician – a liberal in Pakistani terms – wanted to change blasphemy laws that impose the death sentence for insulting Islam.
Shehrbano Taseer majored in government and film at Smith College in Northampton, Mass., and is by profession a journalist. She spends much of her time now writing columns and traveling in and beyond Pakistan to speak about Islamist extremism.
When she singles out a politically marginalized community, either on Twitter or other outreach, Taseer recalls how well her father treated that group, how he was often the only public official to visit their homes after an attack or publicly speak on their behalf.
Once, Salmaan Taseer took his daughter along on a visit to meet Mukhtar Mai, a Pakistani woman allegedly gang-raped on the orders of a village council. The governor asked Mai to put her hand on his daughter’s head, so that Shehrbano Taseer could gain the same courage to stand up for her rights.
Like her father, Taseer wants the blasphemy laws amended to prevent their misuse.
Taseer bemoans how for decades moderate or liberal leaders in Pakistan have appeased the religious right for short-lived political gains – whether it was by banning alcohol and nightclubs or passing laws that discriminate against certain religious sects.
Taseer says she views Pakistan as an enticing challenge akin to a Rubik’s Cube because of its many, convoluted problems. But she says she has no plans to run for office. “It’s such a dirty profession,” she says, laughing.
Taseer wants Qadri to spend his life in prison, in solitary confinement. A death sentence is “too easy,” she says.
“In Pakistan, we have very few brave and honest leaders,” she says. “We need our heroes alive.”