Pakistan has renewed its vow to root out extremism after a fresh wave of attacks, but a rose-covered shrine in Islamabad built by radicals to glorify an Islamist murderer sends a different message. Followers of Mumtaz Qadri feted him as a hero at his tomb today, the start of a three-day festival marking the anniversary of his hanging on February 29, 2016.
Qadri assassinated liberal Punjab governor Salman Taseer in 2011, angered by the politician’s reformist stance on Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws. The state’s decision to execute him provoked uproar among Islamists.
“There could be 400,000 people,” Qadri’s father Malik Bashir Awan told AFP this month as he supervised preparations for the commemoration from his plastic chair at the shrine.
Up to 200 followers were praying and enjoying free food at the shrine today, many coming and going through police-manned entry points, with more expected ahead of a conference Wednesday where clerics will make speeches about Qadri’s “sacrifice”. Pakistan will also host a regional economic summit in Islamabad Wednesday that will be attended by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with high security expected.
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Yet authorities appear unwilling to oppose the Qadri commemorations. And while the government showed unexpected determination by executing Qadri, his family say it did not prevent them from sanctifying him with the white marble tomb, adorned with four tapered minarets and a tiled green dome.
Each day dozens visit the shrine, built on a family plot bordering Islamabad but within the capital’s territory, to seek divine intervention and leave flowers. The gestures glorifying the fundamentalist are a perverse echo of popular South Asian traditions venerating mystical, tolerant Sufi saints, many of whom helped spread Islam through the subcontinent.
Qadri’s family do not intend to stop there. His father hopes to build a madrassa (religious school) on the site and donations are already pouring in.
The shrine is a glaring demonstration of how, despite military success in fighting insurgents, Pakistan has made little progress in tackling the underlying causes of extremism. A military-led crackdown supported by the government’s vaunted National Action Plan led to a dramatic improvement in security since 2014.
But critics have long argued the initiatives do not go far enough. Then, a wave of apparently coordinated attacks over the last fortnight killed 130 people and shredded optimism. Analysts say there are “visible signs” militants are regrouping.