MARDAN, Pakistan — Farooq Khan, doctor to the poor, scholar of Islam and friend of America, represented everything the Islamist extremists hated.
A week ago, two Taliban hit men, disguised in casual clothes and with stubble on their chins instead of beards, climbed the stairs to Dr. Khan’s second-floor office and, as he had lunch between streams of patients, shot him at close range.
The assassination of Dr. Khan, cool and quick, was the latest in what appears to be a sustained campaign by the Taliban to wipe out, or at least silence, educated Muslims in Pakistan who speak out against the militants, their use of suicide bombings and their cry of worldwide jihad.
At least six Muslim intellectuals and university professors have been killed or kidnapped in the past year in Pakistan, each death met with momentary notice in the media, promises of inquiries by the government and then a frightened quiet.
The pattern has become almost familiar, so much so that Dr. Khan’s death was called unsurprising by many moderate Muslims, who complain that the government has become powerless in the face of the extremists.
Last year, Maulana Sarfaraz Naeemi, a moderate preacher, was killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up at the school where Mr. Naeemi had spoken out against jihadist ideology. Another popular moderate preacher, Maulana Hassan Jan, was killed in Peshawar in 2007 after he denounced suicide bombings.
Public figures associated with the secular Awami National Party, the main political group in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province, have been kidnapped and killed. Ajmal Khan, a university official and a prominent personality in Peshawar, was kidnapped last month, most likely by the Taliban, and has not been heard from since, the police said.
The extinction of enlightened religious thought is one more element, the moderates say, in a long-term campaign by the Taliban — aided by Al Qaeda — to undermine the state.
“The government doesn’t have the will or capacity to do much. It’s unrealistic to expect them to do anything,” said Rahimullah Yusufzai, a journalist and longtime friend of Dr. Khan. The doctor, like others who have been assassinated by extremists, had received threats, he said. “This is not the first and the last of these kinds of killings,” Mr. Yusufzai said. “People are already scared of discussing the issues. Now they will be more scared.”
There were many strands to Dr. Khan’s energetic life that the Taliban would have found objectionable. In the past year, Dr. Khan, 56, who was trained as a psychiatrist in Vienna, taught what he called a “worldly” Islam to 150 young boys who had been corralled by the Taliban and then freed by the Pakistani Army in the Swat Valley. “He said: ‘This is my passion,’ ” his wife, Dr. Rizwana Farooq, a gynecologist, recalled of her husband’s weekly sessions at a vocational school, called New Dawn. The school was established by the Pakistani military with financing from international aid organizations.
In recent years, Dr. Khan grew intrigued by American democracy. He visited the United States as a guest of the government in 2002, he met Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on her first visit to Pakistan last year, and he was among those chosen to attend a farewell lunch for the departing United States ambassador, Anne W. Patterson, last month. “Dr. Khan has been a longstanding and valuable contact, a strong and central voice in denouncing extremism,” said Elizabeth Rood, the consul general in Peshawar.
But perhaps most challenging to the Taliban was his position as the vice chancellor of a new, liberal university in Swat, whose inauguration was scheduled a few days after Dr. Khan was killed. The Taliban effectively governed Swat, an area of scenic beauty within easy drive of the nation’s capital, for several months in 2009 before being driven out in a major military offensive.
The university had been a sore point with the Taliban for some time, partly because the government originally decided the campus would be built on land where the Taliban ran their biggest mosque and school. That site was later abandoned for a more neutral location on the edge of Mingora, the capital of Swat, and over the last year Dr. Khan had taken charge of hiring the faculty, shaping a curriculum devoted to the social sciences and recruiting a student body, said the rector of the university, Sher Alam Khan.
Of 280 students selected on merit, 50 were women, Mr. Khan said. Three of the 20 faculty members were women, he added.
The father of four children ages 22 to 27, all of whom are professionals, Dr. Khan may have been particularly irritating to the Taliban because his roots were in the rough and tumble of the nation’s right-wing religious parties, not the elite academies and mainstream parties.
He had been a member of Jamaat-e-Islami, the anti-American religious party devoted to turning Pakistan into an Islamic state. Dr. Khan broke with that group and joined another anti-American party, Tehrik-e-Insafi, led by the former cricketer, Imran Khan. From there he staked out more independent positions, and in the last few years participated in international conferences on women, democracy, and improving relations between Muslims and non-Muslims. Soon after his death last Saturday, a faction of the Pakistani Taliban, the Abdullah Azzam Brigade, claimed responsibility for his killing, saying he had misinterpreted jihad and Islam.
While numerous Muslim scholars and professionals have been killed in recent years by the Taliban, the death of Dr. Khan seemed to cut deeper than the others. The News, a daily English-language newspaper that is critical of the government, denounced in an editorial the “dismal record” of the authorities in capturing suspects in such killings. “But merely because the murderers roam free, should they also be allowed to win?” the paper asked.
In the soft fall air in Swat on Thursday, a memorial service was held for Dr. Khan at the campus of the new university. Government officials were not invited, because of security concerns and emotions, said Mr. Khan, the university’s rector. “We are all his imams, we will stand silent in his memory,” he said. “That is a true form of prayer.”
Source: The New York Times