Taji Khokhar, a scion of the wealthy Khokhar family of Islamabad, has offered to pay Rs50 million on behalf of the Sunni Ittehad, a loose alliance of religious parties, as blood money for the release of Mumtaz Qadri, the man awarded the death sentence for killing Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer. Other religious parties have also started a collection drive for Qadri, who they regard as a hero, and vow that they will have released in the near future.
However, for this to happen under Pakistan's controversial Qisas and Diyat laws, the family of the murdered has to accept the payment. At this point, the Taseer family has refused to make any comment - either on the talk of blood money or on the sentence awarded to Mumtaz Qadri. The family has troubles of its own - one of the sons, Shahbaz Taseer, who was kidnapped in broad daylight from a busy Lahore street, remains untraced. And the rumour on the street is that the kidnappers have given a proposal that they would release Shahbaz Taseer in exchange for the release of Mumtaz Qadri.
The Qadri case continues to be an issue of much debate and controversy. The Sunni Ittehad Council, of which the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammadi are also members, has called for a struggle to get Qadri released. The decision of the Anti Terrorism Court to award the death sentence to Qadri will be challenged in the Lahore High Court shortly, say his lawyers. More important, religious parties have said that they will protest on every Friday in main cities till Qadri is released.
In the Urdu media, Qadri is referred as "Ashiq-e-Rasool" (Lover of the Prophet). "There are many who would love to change places with Qadri," says Maulana Ilyas Qadri of the Sunni Tehreek, the party in the forefront of the movement to get Mumtaz Qadri released. His pictures are regularly published in the local media and he is shown as a hero. "He stood up to Salmaan Taseer, the man who had not values or morals," says Ilyas Qadri.
The fate of Mumtaz Qadri, say observers, is far from sealed. Analyst Nasim Zehra says that another worry is for the safety of the Justice Pervez Ali Shah, who announced the death sentence in the Anti Terrorism Court. Following death threats, he has gone on an indefinite leave. There are many who are firm in the belief that Mumtaz Qadri will be released. But how that happens remains to be seen.
Questions are also being asked about the progress in the case of Shahbaz Taseer. Interior minister Rehman Malik says that the young Taseer "may now have been smuggled to North Waziristan." Local media has quoted intelligence officials as saying that he is now in the hands of the Pakistani Taliban. This is neither confirmed nor denied.
In all this, Pakistan's otherwise vocal liberal quarters have remained silent. "There is a fear over what to say on the Mumtaz Qadri case," says Ghazi Salahuddin of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. "Most people are worried that they will be targeted if they criticize the blasphemy laws or Qadri's actions." The fate of minorities affairs minister Shahbaz Bhatti, who was shot dead in Islamabad, after he was vocal about Taseer's killing, has silenced many.