M A Niazi The assassination of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer shows not only how deeply Muslims resent blasphemy against the Holy Prophet (PBUH), but the disadvantages of not having an Islamic State with a justice system, which would resolve such issues. Governor Taseer became not just the second Punjab Governor to die in office, but the first to be killed. That his killer was deputed on his security shows that blasphemy, or even the suspicion of it, would be punished. At the same time, it could be observed that the killing was of one government servant by another. The challenge to the state has been extreme, for while a Viceroy was assassinated, under the Raj, no provincial Governor has been assassinated before. This should indicate the severity of the challenge, and the depth of feeling among state servants about the blasphemy issue. The positive that can be taken out of the episode is that the framework of the state has held to the extent that the disaffection had not spread to the provincial capital where Governor Taseer was based. However, the disaffection of one policeman does not mean the entire force is now unreliable. However, there is evidence that the police force is about as conservative as the military. While some armed forces officers may not be particularly religious, the other ranks usually are. That is also applicable to police forces, which means that their reliability in the USAs war on terror is reduced. For the defence of the blasphemy law, which motivated the killer, can lead to a progression to a hostile questioning of any aspect of the war, such as the drone attacks, or supply convoys. More dangerous, it can lead any person, not necessarily a practising Muslim, to go against the Americans. It is unfortunate but true that the killer has become something of a poster boy for the religious right, which felt that the late Governor had gone too far in calling the blasphemy law a 'black law. It is worth noting that the blasphemy law is only described as a black law by liberal elements, who claim that it is misused to persecute minorities. The murdered Governor became known as opposed to the law when he visited blasphemy convict Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman under a sentence of death, in jail, and promised to pass on her mercy petition to the President. Instead of sorting out Aasia Bibis case, he only managed to stir up the ulema, who demanded that the law not be changed. If there had been an Islamic legal system, rather than an Anglo-Indian legal system dotted with Islamic laws, perhaps the Governor would still be alive. Leave aside the issue of the Governors visit, the courts would have settled the blasphemy issue, and the Governor would not have been killed, because his killer would have had enough confidence not just in the courts, but in the law, to have left the Governor to them. As it is, he has taken the law into his own hands, which is an expression of lack of confidence in the laws as they are, and as they are made and implemented. The case is also a test of the judicial system, whether it can convict a policeman, even in the presence of a voluntary confession and numerous eyewitnesses, even though the victim of the crime, murder no less, is the provinces Governor. Especially since the provincial administration had its judicial powers withdrawn under Musharraf, the police has acted as though it is not governed by any law, and though Governor Taseers killer will be easily shown to be motivated by religious sentiments, the psychological results of that feeling of immunity cannot be discounted. The abovementioned conservatism of the police may well have formed the atmosphere in which Mumtaz Qadri first formed the intention, and because of it there is such desperation in the search for a motivator. It is possible that one may be found, but the assassination does not lose its resemblance to the murder of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, back in 1984, by her Sikh guards, one of whom was killed on the spot, but one of whom was arrested and brought to trial, later being executed. One major factor has been that a Governor has been killed. The other factors can be removed: That the province is not just the countrys biggest, but over half of it; that the provincial government is held by a party opposed to the President, who is the appointing authority; that the appointing authoritys government at the centre is under severe threat after having lost its majority along with key coalition partners. Even if these factors are to be removed, the President would still have as difficult a decision to make as the original one to appoint Salman, a decision now complicated by the fact that there is no Salman Taseer around to be appointed. The main factor that is being watched is whether the President still wishes to carry on irritating the Sharif brothers, because there is no doubt that Salman Taseer stuck in their gullet, not just as Governor, but well before, when he was a PPP MPA and the elder Sharif brother, now head of the PML-N, was then Punjab Chief Minister. At that time, though Salman was only in his first term, in which Mian Shahbaz, now CM, was too, he was big enough an irritant to merit being arrested. The PPP government, or rather President Asif Ali Zardari, will have to be very careful when making the appointment to the office, presently filled by the Punjab Assembly Speaker, because not only must the new Governor be acceptable to the President, but he should also be acceptable to the provincial government. The PML-N cannot be irritated by this appointment, for its support is needed to shore up the federal government. It must not be forgotten that the PML-N was the first coalition partner to leave the government, and bringing it back would give the new government a permanence it now does not have. It is within this context that the murder was a fortuitous boon to the Gilani government, which was, and still is, on the verge of collapse, but which gained some ill-defined time by this murder, as political circles looked more to this loss of one of their own. This loss cannot be ascribed to the Gilani government, for though the killing took place on its territory, the killer was not one of its servants. Anyhow, the impending collapse of the government makes the appointment of a replacement a rather temporary business. After the 19th Amendment, this will be the first gubernatorial appointment, and thus the first that will be made on the advice of the PM. Previously, the PM was merely consulted, and the President made the appointment in substance as well as in form. Governor Taseer was appointed by President Pervez Musharraf in May 2008, not Asif Zardari, who became President in September, which was an illustration of how the President could act. The present dispositions of office were made before the 18th Amendment made the President the figurehead he is supposed to be under a parliamentary form of government. That Amendment also gutted the governors offices of powers, and though Governor Taseer continued as a sort of head of the PPP in the Punjab even though there was a separate provincial President, as well as a parliamentary Leader, his successor as Governor will find himself more like the first post-Zia Punjab Governor, Gen (retd) Tikka Khan, who tried to observe the constitutional proprieties even though constitutionally empowered. Though Governor Salman Taseer has barely got cold, the federal government has to perform the duty of finding a successor. Because the President is no mere figurehead, but also the head of Parliaments largest party, and thus the governments, he will probably have more input into the choice than is contemplated by the constitutional scheme. But it will have to be a careful choice. Email: maniazi@nation.com.pk