Tens of thousands of Pakistanis on Tuesday joined the funeral of Mumtaz Qadri, the policeman who was executed for assassinating Governor Salmaan Taseer over his call for changes to the controversial blasphemy law.
Hundreds more joined prayers offered in Islamabad and principal cities across the country. No untoward incident was reported as security personnel remained on high alert through the day.
Schools and colleges were closed in most cities because of fears of violence after Qadri’s supporters vowed to protest against his hanging on Monday.
Thousands of policemen were deployed at key junctions and sensitive buildings in the capital Islamabad and neighbouring Rawalpindi, from where the funeral procession started. Police blocked roads to Liaquat Bagh in Rawalpindi, where the funeral prayers were held, but thousands arrived on foot.
Supporters cheered and threw flowers at the coffin of Qadri, hailed by his supporters as a hero for gunning down Taseer in 2011. Qadri, who was angered by the governor’s criticism of the law that mandates the death penalty for insulting Islam, was hanged on Monday.
“He lives! Qadri lives!” chanted supporters who surrounded the coffin. “From your blood, the revolution will come!”
Activists of Sunni Tehreek, a right wing religious group, supervised the funeral procession. They recited religious verses and abused the government for hanging their “hero”.
“He was the man who stood up against blasphemy and look what the government has done to him,” said Sunni Tehreek leader Saleem Qadri.
At the same, a large number of Pakistanis quietly praised Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government for going ahead with the hanging. The head of the Council of Islamic Ideology declined to endorse Qadri’s action. “No one is above the law. I respect Qadri’s religious sentiments but I respect Pakistan’s Constitution more,” Mohammad Sherani told reporters.
Analyst Imran Sherwani said Qadri’s execution meant the government “was finally getting serious about fighting religious extremism”.
Sherwani said the Sunni Tehreek may be at odds with more radical Deobandi groups, which included those who support the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, “but the message had gone out that the government would not allow extremists to hold the country hostage”.
Analysts also gave credit to army chief Gen Raheel Sharif, who is believed to have pressured the civilian government into action. “Gen Raheel is behind the move and it is significant not only because the army is pushing the government to take firm action but also because in the past, the Sunni Tehreek was supported by the army,” said journalist Abid Hussayn.
The media maintained a near-blackout of protests for the second consecutive day, a move that analysts said had helped limit the fallout from the execution.
While the hanging is largely symbolic, it paved the way for more action against religious extremism, said another observer.
At the time of the killing of Taseer, a senior leader of the Pakistan People’s Party, Nawaz Sharif and his brother, chief minister Shahbaz Sharif, had distanced themselves from condemning the murder for fear of upsetting their political allies in Punjab, which include a number of religious groups, some of them banned under anti-terror laws.