RECENT fatwas (edicts) where mullahs have declared someone or the other punishable by death for alleged blasphemy go a long way in establishing how successive elected governments and even a non-elected regime which was keen to be seen as having socially liberal credentials have done nothing to dilute or wash away the toxic effects of the Zia years. When Punjab Governor Salman Taseer was gunned down by a member of his own police special protection unit the fact that the then President Asif Ali Zardari did not even make an appearance at his funeral talked of the ground conceded to the runaway zealots who were so feared that nobody tried to stop them supplanting the State and applying their own laws via edicts and summary executions. Not once did Salman Taseer say anything that could remotely be mistaken for blasphemy. But that he was not afraid to stand in the corner of an illiterate woman belonging to the Christian community who was convicted less for any crime and more because she neither understood the charges that were brought against her nor was afforded an adequate legal defence, was enough for the standard-bearers of the faith to declare him as a blasphemer. What followed was tragic both for Pakistan and dozens of victims of laws that are in no way reflective of our faith or the religious tenets. (In fact, these laws came into being because a dictator, Gen ZiaulHaq, wanted to consolidate his hold over power by creating and playing to the religious right lobby.) Unlike the top leadership of the governing PMLN and the Opposition PPP, Salman Taseer, who built a successful business empire, was never once accused of using public office for personal gain or any similar impropriety. In fact, historically his enterprises grew when the political party he was associated with was not in power. Clearly, his success was down to his business acumen. Today, we see many politicians, who cannot explain the source of their enormous wealth, invoking faith to defend the indefensible. When you can’t say how you have managed to acquire a portfolio of multi-million pound properties in London, Dubai, continental Europe and US, ‘Allah kaa karam he; Malik ki dein he’ is supposed to suffice. There aren’t too many politicians in trade and industry like Taseer, who can show their books to justify their riches apart from divine benevolence. It is this conflict of interest, this desire to amass and protect personal wealth that makes many of our elected leaders shy away from taking tough decisions, from establishing State write. And when popular political parties such as PMLN and PPP shirk, a military-led regime such as Musharraf’s for example would lack the legitimacy and courage to act decisively so we end up with the mess we have. When the current government, at the military’s bidding, gave the go-ahead for the troops and special forces to dismantle terror networks in the country’s remotest, most inaccessible parts and smash their bastions, optimism was triggered that perhaps a larger perspective would come into play and concrete measures would be seen to curb intolerance, bigotry and exploitation of religion for vested gain. Alas, recent events have demonstrated that any such optimism was unfounded. The State seems only interested in eliminating those terrorist groups that challenge its pre-eminence and monopoly over tools of coercion. Anybody else does not need to be challenged. Nobody is saying that it is easy to root out deeply embedded bigotry but surely if a few steps in the right direction could be identified it would lift the morale of many who find the oppression of the semi-informed and semi-educated clergy unbearable and suffocating. The failure to curb such uninformed zealotry can and will only lead to an increase in incidents where the mullahs continue to accumulate power and influence way beyond mere nuisance value. Some six years after Salman Taseer was felled by bullets fired from the weapon of the man assigned to protect him, it is tragic that one of his sons is also facing blasphemy allegations and on as spurious grounds as his father. A mullah has also issued afatwa that he is punishable by death. For its part, the State watches in silence, wishing the problem would somehow go away. It won’t. The government must exercise its democratic mandate and establish the rule of law. Those issuing such edicts are clearly culpable for incitement to murder. The book should be thrown at them and they be prosecuted. Instead what we see is one of the leading lights of the PMLN, the prime minister’s son-in-law CaptSafdar, glorifying Salman Taseer’s murderer in all probability to appease the mulla. (Search youtube and you will be horrified to watch what CaptSafdar had to say). Not just Salman Taseer’s family and friends but the whole country needs to be freed from the tyranny of the mullah. We owe at least this much to the brave Salman Taseer. Self-preservation warrants no different. Every yard gained by the bigoted clergy is a mile lost by elected government and the rule of law. If there is still no realisation of the ticking bomb and the urgent need to address the perils posed by it then help us God. Abbas Nasir is a journalist and former editor of Dawn.