The murder of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer is a further blow for progressive forces in Pakistan โ€” not least because the late politician was an outspoken voice for women's rights.

Taseer's death is a major loss for his Pakistan People's Party, already struggling to maintain a grip on power. But Taseer โ€” in many respects a philosophical heir to the assassinated Benazir Bhutto โ€” was a particularly brave and vocal supporter of minorities and women. The New York Times called him "exceptional, even within the secular-minded Pakistan Peoples Party, for his vocal opposition to the religious parties and the extremism they spread." His murder at the hands of a bodyguard is believed to be a direct result of the governor's opposition to a blasphemy law that would punish insults to Islam with death, and specifically his recent defense of Aasia Bibi, the first woman to have been convicted under the law. His visit to Bibi in jail was greeted with protests; his opposition to the law was so controversial that many on the far right are hailing his killer as a martyr and a Facebook page dedicated to the bodyguard went up almost as soon as he'd been arrested.

Says Shehla Akram, president of Punjab's Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry, "With Salman Taseer's death, a voice of reason and tolerance has been silenced forever....He was one of the most progressive leaders of Pakistan and one who was wholly committed to improving conditions for women in the country." She added that his death would set women's rights back. And presumably, may seal the fate of Bibi, given that he was her most powerful defender and loudest opposition to her execution. But as his colleague Sherry Rehman told the Times, "You can recoil in fear, or you can have a considered action and regroup sensibly at a time when it is approachable and applicable."

Murder In Islamabad: Pakistan's Deepening Religious Divide [Time]
Pakistani Governor Taseer Is Buried Amid Renewed Fear of Islamic Extremism [Bloomberg]
Killing Of Governor Deepens Crisis In Pakistan [NY Times]