Salmaan Taseer, the outspoken PPP governor of Punjab who was assassinated yesterday in Islamabad by a 26 year old member of his elite security detail named Mumtaz Qadri in an apparent protest against Taseer's liberal views on Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws, was buried today in Lahore amid tightened security (BBC, AP, ET, Tel, AFP, ET, AJE, LAT, AP). Qadri, who is said to have told his fellow guards about his plan to kill Taseer ahead of time and asked them not to shoot so he could be taken alive, reportedly told photographers as he was led away that he was proud to have shot a "blasphemer" (Geo, Guardian, Times, Independent, McClatchy, Daily Times, FT). The governor was reportedly shot more than two dozen times in the back with rounds from a Kalashnikov rifle, and hospital officials said they recovered 26 bullets from his body (AP, Dawn, CNN, Geo). An investigation is underway to determine how Qadri, who had previously been flagged in Rawalpindi as a potential security risk, was assigned to Taseer's detail (Dawn).
A group of 500 Barelvi scholars, a sect of Sunni Islam usually described as moderate, offered praise for the assassin and warned in a statement, "There should be no expression of grief or sympathy on the death of the governor, as those who support blasphemy of the Prophet are themselves indulging in blasphemy" (ET, Reuters, BBC). Qadri was reportedly associated with the Barelvi group Dawat-i-Islami (Dawn).
Taseer, publisher of Pakistan's liberal English-language Daily Times, was an active user of Twitter, and on December 31 wrote, "I was under huge pressure ...2 cow down b4...pressure on blasphemy. Refused. Even if I'm the last man standing" (WSJ, Daily Times, Guardian, NYT, The News). Sherry Rehman, a Pakistani parliamentarian who proposed a bill to soften the blasphemy laws in November and has just been given increased security, said that Taseer's death "is a loss to progressive forces," and the NYT assesses that the assassination "will serve as a chilling warning to any politician who speaks out against the religious parties and their agenda and will certainly end immediate attempts to amend the blasphemy laws" (Dawn, NYT, Post). Bonus reads: Mosharraf Zaidi and Imtiaz Gul on Taseer's assassination (FP, FP).
Children hurt in Baluchistan bus bomb
Yesterday in Turbat, some 435 miles from the southwest Pakistani city of Quetta in Baluchistan, a remote controlled bomb exploded through a school bus carrying more than 30 children, whose parents are part of the paramilitary Frontier Corps in the area, wounding five seriously (ET, Daily Times, AJE, Independent). There have been no claims of responsibility yet.
The Committee to Protect Journalists released a study yesterday finding that of the 44 journalists who were killed in 2010, eight died in Pakistan, making it the deadliest country for reporters (NYT). Most of those killed in Pakistan were television reporters caught in cross-fire or bombings.
Stopping and going
The BBC reports that the Taliban have attacked and kidnapped a tribal leader from Sarwan Qala, a town in Sangin district of Helmand province, who was leading a group of 40 elders in negotiating a peace deal with the Afghan government (BBC). The Post provides more context for the arrangement, writing that the "Sangin pact is different because it is built upon the lessons of previous failures. The deal was negotiated by the Afghan government, not the Americans, and it will not involve no-go zones for international forces" (Post).
Afghanistan's intelligence services said they have recently stopped two major attacks planned in Kabul: a Haqqani network plot to assassinate first vice president Marshal Mohammed Qasim Fahim and a car or suicide bombing near the presidential palace (AP, AFP, Pajhwok). Coalition forces have suspended operations of two contracting companies owned by an American woman named Sarah Lee, Bennett-Fouch Associates and K5 Global, over allegations that they failed to pay Afghan subcontractors (AP). And the AP reports on the case of Gul Rahman, who allegedly died of hypothermia in a CIA prison called the Salt Pit near the Kabul airport after being detained for suspected links to al-Qaeda in 2002, as his family tries to obtain his remains for burial (AP).
Frank Ruggiero, acting replacement for the late Richard Holbrooke, the Obama administration's envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, reportedly plans to visit the region later this week to "focus on preparations" for talks with top American, Afghan, and Pakistani officials next month (AFP). And a delegation from the Afghan government's High Peace Council -- which a U.S. official described as so far "all a lot of glittery generalizations, but it's happening; there is some energy behind it" -- is in Pakistan to meet with leaders there and try to build trust (Post).
Apples to apples
Afghanistan's Wardak province exports 130,000 tons of apples annually, according to local officials, to domestic and international markets (Tolo). 100,000 of these tons have been sent to Pakistan, India, and the UAE.