Salman Taseer Memorial

French President Charles DeGaulle cautioned the overly ambitious with the admonition that cemeteries are filled with the indispensable and irreplaceable. Regarding Pakistan, the good general was wrong.

Punjab’s late governor, Salman Taseer, gunned down last week by a member of the provincial government’s Elite Police security unit, was as close to being indispensable to assuring Pakistan’s evolution to a democratic and secular state as anyone in that nation.

Taseer was, and his family remains, close friends. Labeled Pakistan’s leading liberal voice, that description is akin to calling Beethoven and Mozart merely “musicians,” Taseer was an intellect of huge proportion. A realist, pragmatist and humanist, he would have found appropriate company in America’s leading intellectual founding fathers — Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton.

Two of his virtues I particularly admired were his irreverent sense of humor and courage. In a discussion over the rise of America’s Tea Party, Taseer quipped its origins must have been from Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” and the Mad Hatter. Regarding courage, I have seen little equal in politics or in my own experiences in war. Dressed in his customary black sun glasses and attire, he had the charisma of a Hollywood star.

His self-admitted killer, Mumtaz Qadri, acted on his radically distorted views of the Koran which the governor rejected publicly and often, calling Pakistan’s blasphemy laws “black” and urging clemency for Aasia Bebe, a Christian Pakistani woman sentenced to death for violations of that law. Hundreds of black-bearded clergy and Pakistani lawyers called Qadri a hero and promised an acquittal at trial.

Even in a conspiracy-obsessed nation such as Pakistan, the political overtones of this assassination mandate a high level and immediate investigation as the security detail was approved and selected by the elected government and not by the presidentially appointed governor who were from opposing political parties. But in our mourning over this immense loss, three overriding issues cannot be ignored.

First, in the United States and the West, this killing magnifies the paranoia over radical Islam, al-Qaida and global terror.

In truth, virtually all religions have an evil or, to use Taseer’s phrase, “black” side: It was an ultra-orthodox Jew who assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin 15 years ago virtually ending any chance of peace in the region. And today, ultra-right American Christians have bombed abortion clinics and killed physicians for killing the unborn and unprotected.

Stamping out these extreme and unacceptable aspects of religion is the issue, not blaming and holding accountable only one for all evil.

Second, as Taseer frequently reminded us, Pakistan has some 70 million-80 million youth 18 and under with few prospects for jobs, education or the future. Bringing them the tools in terms of education, employment and a vision for a hopeful future was one of his highest priorities. He could hear this time bomb ticking. It still is.

Finally, the United States must get serious about Pakistan; what must and can be done; and then do it. The editorial pages of The New York Times and Washington Post notwithstanding and despite the hue and cry of complaints from Congress about Pakistani corruption and apathy to fighting the war on terror, does the United States and the West wish to succeed or not in bringing stability to the region? If the answer is yes, then real action must be taken.

Critics argue that since Sept. 11, 2001, billions have already been sent to Pakistan and more won’t help. But money isn’t the major issue although if emergency loans from the International Monetary Fund don’t continue, the nation will go bankrupt and collapse financially.

Crucial are, as Taseer argued, political, strategic, economic and psychological support. First is textile tariff relief that won’t cost U.S. workers a single job. Second is agreeing to discussions on a nuclear treaty similar to the one signed with India. Third is using the United States and other major powers to encourage negotiations between India and Pakistan to reduce tensions and flash points whether over Kashmir or Mumbai-style threats.

Last, and the administration may be moving in this direction, the United States must decide how critical Pakistani military action in North Waziristan is to success in Afghanistan. If vital, then Pakistan needs the tools in terms of military equipment to do the job. After spending many hundreds of billions of dollars in oil rich Iraq and Afghanistan in equipping those security forces, several tens of billions of dollars for Pakistan seems a bargain despite our own financial hardships.

Make no mistake: without these actions, the current Pakistani government will fall. The opposition, headed by Nawaz Sharif, is no friend of the United States or our Afghan policy. If that happens, in 2012, many will ask “who lost Pakistan?” The answer will be the Pakistanis. But we will have allowed it to happen.

Harlan Ullman is Senior Advisor at the Atlantic Council, Chairman of the Killowen Group that advises leaders of government and business, and a frequent advisor to NATO. He was and is a good friend of the Taseer family. This article was syndicated by UPI. Photo credit: AP Photo.