Death of a Star

What Qandeel Baloch left behind

01 May 2018
The death of Qandeel, loved and reviled for the way she asserted her sexuality, sparked protests and outrage in Pakistan.

On 15 July 2016, Fouzia Azeem, better known as Qandeel Baloch, was found murdered in her parents’ home in Multan, in the Punjab province of Pakistan. Her brother, Waseem, confessed to drugging and then strangling her, and said that she had sullied the family’s honour. Such “honour killings” are prevalent in Pakistan, where they are a brutal method to punish behaviour that is deemed socially unacceptable.

Born to an underprivileged family, Qandeel shot to fame on social media after her audition for Pakistan Idol went viral on the internet. Her posts and appearances on television celebrated a playful, risqué sexuality. This brought her love and admiration as well as intense vitriol. Over time, she became a frequent commentator on the position of women in Pakistani society. A few weeks before she was murdered, she met the senior cleric Mufti Abdul Qavi in a hotel room. Her selfies with him took the internet by storm and resulted in Qavi’s suspension from one of Pakistan’s religious councils. Qandeel started receiving death threats soon afterwards, and although she asked for police protection, it never came.

ON 17 JULY, a day after Qandeel’s body was found, her brother Waseem was arrested. According to many reports, he made no effort to hide and was spotted riding around on his motorbike in Shah Sadar Din’s main market in Dera Ghazi Khan District the morning after he fled Multan. City Police Officer Akram promptly held a press conference. He wanted to let the public know that the police had been searching for Qandeel’s brother Waseem. The murder, he explained “was probably done on the basis of honour.”

He announced, first in Urdu and then in English: “And now I would like to tell you that we have arrested Waseem ... He has confessed to the crime.” He asked someone to bring Waseem into the room. “I’ve called for Waseem to come here now,” he told the journalists. “So you can have an interview with him.”

A purple striped cloth had been thrown over Waseem’s head and shoulders. As he walked in, CPO Akram repeated, “This is an honour-based murder.” He emphasised that Waseem had been apprehended so quickly because the police had used their “technical and operational teams and all the resources possible” in Dera Ghazi Khan. The forensic samples and autopsy report would also be rushed through a laboratory in Lahore, he said. Qandeel’s body had been found on Saturday morning, and CPO Akram promised to have forensic results by Monday. For a third time, he said Waseem had choked and strangled Qandeel because of “ghairat”—honour. The only question that remained in the investigation, he seemed to imply, was the extent to which Waseem’s “friends” had been involved in the murder. Even though Waseem had yet to be fully interrogated, the police had no doubt about his motive.

Qandeel’s brother, Waseem Azeem, appeared remorseless when he confessed to murdering his sister in their family home in Multan.

The journalists requested that the police remove the hood covering Waseem’s face and CPO Akram obliged. Every camera in the room zoomed in on him. A dark, slender man, Waseem wore a pale blue salwar kameez with the sleeves rolled up. He stared nonchalantly at the room. His curly hair, long enough to cover the tops of his ears, was slightly tousled after the purple cloth covering his face was removed. He was handcuffed.

“I would like to ask all of you, my friends, to ask him questions in a line, so that everyone’s questions can be answered,” CPO Akram requested.

A few reporters rushed forward to position the microphones away from the CPO and as close to Waseem as possible. The CPO handed Waseem one of the microphones and he cradled it between his bound hands.

“Yes, sir, what did you want to say?” Waseem asked one the reporters, in a thin, reedy voice.

“What’s your name?” a reporter asked.

“Muhammad Waseem.”

“What is your mother’s name?”

“I don’t know my mother’s name.”

“Why did you do this to Qandeel?”

The confession was broadcast live by every channel that had a reporter in the room. “The reason is the way she was coming on Facebook,” Waseem replied. “Us Baloch people cannot tolerate this.”

The reporters pointed out that his sister had been putting photographs and videos on Facebook for six or seven years. Why had Waseem been angered by them now?

“There were lots of other problems, okay,” Waseem whined. “The problem with the maulvi. The media came to our house. That hadn’t happened before. She made it a problem and so I did what I did.”

CPO Akram helped him out. “So apparently what he is trying to say is that ever since she came in the limelight more and more, he felt pressure to do something.”

Waseem said he acted alone. No one in his family had known about his plan.

“How did you kill her?” a reporter called out. “Can you describe it?” Waseem nodded towards CPO Akram. “I did it the way sir described it.”

When asked to elaborate, he explained, “I gave her a tablet and then I strangled her.”

“Are you ashamed?”

“No,” Waseem said, sticking out his chin. “I have no shame. I am Baloch.”

It was a slap in the face to anyone who said he and his sister were not Baloch. Had he not shown the kind of honour and self-respect that the Baloch were proud of?


Attiya Jaffrey—an investigator from the Multan police who was in charge of Qandeel’s case—cannot forget how cool and relaxed Waseem remained throughout the investigation. During his polygraph test, Waseem told police officials he had given his parents and his sister sleeping tablets in their milk the night before the murder. On 19 July, the regional police officer Sultan Azam Temouri told the media Waseem had confessed that “the modern lifestyle adopted by Qandeel came under discussion with other siblings many a time and they were all against it.” His brother Arif, who lived in Saudi Arabia, asked him to do something about their shameful sister. Their cousin, Haq Nawaz, a man who had been picked up several times for petty criminal cases, could help him out, Arif suggested. By 26 July, Haq Nawaz had turned himself in to the police in Dera Ghazi Khan. But Attiya says she could never find proof of the conversation between Waseem and Arif. When Arif would call his brother, he would do so online. There were no phone records, she says, and by the time she finally found a phone number for him, it had been turned off.

On 18 July, a news report in the Express Tribune quoted Waseem as saying, “I made up my mind to kill (Qandeel) when her controversial video with Mufti Abdul Qavi went viral on social media … I had made up my mind that day, and I was waiting for my sister to come home to Dera Ghazi Khan or nearby Multan.”

Attiya says she was eager to find some link, some shred of evidence connecting Waseem’s actions with Mufti Abdul Qavi and his humiliation after the video of his meeting with Qandeel went viral. “I don’t like Mufti Qavi,” she says bluntly. “But I could never find any connection between him and the brothers. He came for interrogation every single time we asked. He answered all our questions. He gave us his phone willingly. There were no calls to Waseem. Not a single one. I called any number that had called his phone and then Qandeel’s phone.” The numbers belonged to reporters, who would call Qandeel and then Mufti Qavi to get a quote or an interview about their meeting in the hotel room in June 2016.

But there are some people in Multan who whisper that Attiya is not as efficient as she seems. In the rambling warren of lanes near the city’s district and session court, lawyers huddle together in a small courtyard to discuss the case. A man who claims to have been closely involved with the investigation and the court case says that Attiya deliberately left information out of her investigation report. “She has done nothing,” he says with scorn. “That bitch has done nothing. She has only made things worse.” The police are deliberately hiding links—including phone calls between Mufti Qavi and Qandeel’s brother Arif—because they wish to remain in the cleric’s good graces. “Attiya is being dishonest,” he claims. “She’s clearly joined the Mufti. She’s getting his money.”

Waseem did not falter during his interrogation—they could not do much to him because they were scared that the media would pounce on any whiff of news about the use of torture on a suspect. They did not want a single bruise on him and so, at most, the police kept Waseem standing in a cell or forced him to raise his arms without lowering them for hours at a time. Waseem never complained and did not seem to care whether he was allowed to sleep or not. Attiya tried other tactics. “If you scare them and show them what you have on them, they usually cave,” she says. Waseem was not like that.

“She made our lives very difficult and I had no other solution,” he would say about Qandeel. “She just wouldn’t listen. I told my parents so many times to control her, to get her married. But she just would not listen. I had no other way to deal with this.”

He was never disrespectful or rude with Attiya. After 14 days of court-mandated custody, Attiya had one question left for him: Don’t you feel sorry for what you’ve done? She tried to appeal to his emotions. “You and your sister spent your childhood together,” she said. “You must have played together. She was elder to you. How did you decide to do this?”

A news report in the Express Tribune quoted Waseem as saying, “I made up my mind to kill (Qandeel) when her controversial video with Mufti Abdul Qavi went viral on social media... I had made up my mind that day, and I was waiting for my sister to come home to Dera Ghazi Khan or nearby Multan.”

Waseem thought about it briefly. “I do feel sorry,” he replied. “But at the time, this was all I could think about doing.”

As she prepares to leave Qandeel’s case behind her, Attiya says she is still not satisfied with the investigation. She believes she has done all she could within the limited amount of time specified for the police to submit a report of its findings—in this case, extra time was also given due to the publicity the case was getting—but she is bitter about the lack of resources and help she received. “There isn’t the satisfaction of leaving every stone unturned,” she says. “For instance, I’ve only just received a reply from the Federal Investigation Agency, three months after I requested its help in finding information about Qandeel’s social media accounts and her WhatsApp chats. The Saudi embassy never got back to us regarding a request to help locate Arif. The State Bank never got back to us about any accounts Qandeel might have had and we never heard back about any properties she might have owned or rented.”

When Waseem went back to Shah Sadar Din on the night of 15 July, after the murder, he took Qandeel’s phone with him. Waseem had owned a mobile phone shop, paid for by his sister. He knew how to repair phones—and also how to render them useless. By the time he was arrested, he had erased all data on Qandeel’s phone and passed a surge of power through it to destroy it. Any photographs, videos or messages were irretrievable.

Safdar Shah and Qandeel’s parents informed Attiya that they had found a laptop and a few diaries in Qandeel’s apartment in Karachi. But these items proved equally useless in providing a thread to follow for the investigation, Attiya says. The diaries were filled with quotes, some poetry and lyrics to songs. There were notes scribbled down to remember what Qandeel would like to say on her social-media pages. Attiya gave them all back to Qandeel’s parents. As far as the police was concerned, these were just scraps of paper. The parents say they have been unable to use the password-protected laptop. Attiya says she searched the laptop, but did not find “anything of use.”

On 6 December 2016, a judge indicted Waseem, Haq Nawaz and Abdul Basit—accused of driving the getaway car on the night of the murder. “We have all the forensic evidence we need, DNA reports, a polygraph test and the mobile phone data of the accused,” Jam Salahuddin, the district prosecutor, told me, before the hearings in the case commenced. “They murdered her. Ye bach nahin saktay.”—They cannot be saved.

But Attiya isn’t hopeful of the outcome of the court case. “I don’t have faith in the justice system,” she says. “Some judges can be very cooperative, while others are not. The court follows its own will. I’ve seen this with a lot of cases—despite all the evidence, nothing happens.”

And then, as we wrap up our meeting, Attiya says she wants to clarify something. “This case is important to me,” she explains. “It’s important because Qandeel was a human and this should not have happened to her. But I don’t agree with what she was doing.” She is confused by the people who say Qandeel is someone to look up to, and especially by the women who praise her attitude and behaviour. “Qandeel is no role model,” Attiya feels. “To make her a role model for young girls is very wrong. Look, Benazir Bhutto is a role model. She integrated with her society. Did you ever see the dupatta fall from her head? She knew how society thinks of women. We need to consider our society, our religion and a modern way of life equally. Of course women have the right to employment, the right to education, the right to good living standards. You can say you want to be totally unfettered, to have freedom, but is becoming Qandeel Baloch ‘freedom’?”

Why did Qandeel have to break so many rules so quickly? Attiya wonders.

The senior cleric Mufti Abdul Qavi and Qandeel Baloch met in a hotel room a few weeks before she was murdered. Later, she accused him of inappropriate behavior.

When I say that I am surprised by her question, especially when I consider all the rules she says she has broken to reach this point in her career, she gently explains, “Society cannot change so quickly. You need to give it time. Maybe in time it will become how you want it to be. No matter how modern we become, as Muslims, we cannot expect to have total freedom to do whatever we like. After all, we won’t live in this world forever, will we? We will return to Allah and then we will have to answer for all that we have done in this world. So you have to think about that.”

She cringes when she recalls how she had to watch some of Qandeel’s videos with her colleagues. “The men couldn’t look at me and I couldn’t look at them. It was so awkward.” So when women talk about freedom to behave as they please, Attiya wonders if they consider that one day, we will leave this world and return to Allah. We will have to answer for what we have done in the name of freedom. “I don’t think as women we are missing some kind of freedom,” she says. “Do you?”

It is time for her to meet the next investigating officer, the man who will take over the case from her. Some of her colleagues need to sit in on the meeting, but the room does not have enough chairs for all of them. Three of them go to a charpai that has been pushed into a corner and take a seat. One puts his feet up, another leans against the wall and dangles his legs off the side. It is the same charpai that Attiya first saw Qandeel’s body lying on.

“THE DAY SHE WAS MURDERED, I got a phone call from a friend,” the journalist Malik Azam told me. “He said, ‘It’s you. You did this.’” The Daily Pakistan story revealing Qandeel’s identity set in motion a chain of events that would end in her murder, Azam’s friend said.

“So when she was putting up all those photos and making videos about Imran Khan, her brother didn’t feel ghairat then?” Azam retorted. “When she posed for the whole world, he didn’t feel ghairat then? But when I run a story he suddenly feels ghairat?”

He hung up on his friend. They have not spoken since.

When I met Qandeel’s parents in November 2016, Anwar bibi made the same accusation. She said that the media was responsible in part for her daughter’s murder. If the media had not revealed her real name or made such a big deal out of the Qavi meeting, no one from Shah Sadar Din would have cared about Fouzia Azeem.

People would not have jeered at her son, and he would not have been driven to kill his sister.

It is an accusation that Malik Azam and his bureau chief have heard many times since July 2016—not just from Qandeel’s supporters and parents, but from colleagues in the industry as well.

Azam’s bureau chief Shaukat Iqbal is scornful of the accusation. “All we revealed was her real name,” Iqbal says. “That’s it. The issues that arose after that were her own family’s problems. We didn’t create those.” He and Azam do not believe they did anything wrong by printing pictures of Qandeel’s passport. “A passport is nothing personal,” Iqbal says. “If you go to an embassy or apply for a visa, don’t you give them your passport? So what?”

Whose honour was at stake when Qandeel was murdered? It depends on who you are talking to.

He does not regret the Daily Pakistan story. “I think we underestimated the story,” Iqbal says. “Someone else would have run a bigger story, made a bigger deal of it.” As for the journalists who criticise Daily Pakistan, he just has one question for them: if the story about her real name was such a threat to her, then why did every news outlet run the story as well? If the Daily Pakistan is responsible for what happened to Qandeel, then so is every other newspaper and television channel that ran a story on Qandeel’s real name and where she was from.

Iqbal believes that Anwar bibi is blaming the media because she does not want to admit that Qandeel’s whole family conspired to kill her. They were greedy for her money, he explains. They watched Qandeel’s interviews and saw the clothes she was wearing, the lifestyle she boasted of, the “side businesses” she claimed to have and the cars she was driven around in. They believed that she was withholding money from them. “This hen was laying golden eggs for them, and they wanted all the eggs at once,” Iqbal speculates. “They didn’t get that and they slaughtered their hen.” After all, Iqbal and Azam say, go look at the pictures of Qandeel’s parents on the day that they called the police to their home in Multan. Look at the clean white shalwar kameez and turban that the father is wearing and the embroidered kameez the mother has on. Did they change their clothes after they found their daughter’s body and called the police? Or did they sleep in such clean, ironed clothes? “The mother is wearing a party dress!” Iqbal exclaims. “Who goes to sleep in such nice clothes?” Their daughter, he says, was nothing special. Of course he feels sad that she was killed, but he does not understand why she is still being talked about. “What was her profession?” he asks. “Simply, she was a call girl. No other word for it. I’m sorry to say this, may Allah forgive me, but that’s what she was.”

On 18 July, police officials told the media that while Qandeel’s father had stated in his FIR that his daughter’s murder had been committed “for money” as well as “in the name of honour,” Waseem says he acted purely for honour. In fact, he had tried to kill Qandeel two times before, but had been unsuccessful.

But whose honour was at stake when Qandeel was murdered? The answer to that question has varied since the day she died. It depends on who you are talking to. Was it Mufti Qavi’s, Qandeel’s family’s or her brother’s honour that was sullied by her actions? Or was it the honour of the place she came from, the place she had never felt she belonged to?

“If her brothers had not killed her, and if the people in her extended family had not killed her, then it would have been any other man from Shah Sadar Din,” says Javed Siddiqui, a reporter from Dera Ghazi Khan. He believes Qandeel would not have been allowed to live as long as people in the village felt she was giving Shah Sadar Din a bad name. They were content to watch her videos and look at her photos online as long as no one knew her real name and where she came from. “I suppose you could say that this was not a murder for honour. It was a murder by the people who passed judgement on Qandeel and her family. Her brothers knew what she was doing. Her parents knew what she was doing. But once people started talking about what she was doing, her days were numbered.”

When Waseem returned to Shah Sadar Din after Qandeel was murdered, news of what he had done quickly spread. People in the village say his cousins, uncles and friends congratulated him. They said he had done the right thing. It did not matter if they had called him shameless. “Beghairat ko ghairat kissi bhi waqt aa sakti hai”—a person with no honour can discover his honour at any moment, they assured each other.

It would be hard to find someone in Shah Sadar Din today who does not know Qandeel’s name. In a large graveyard in the village, I made my way down uneven sandy trails, stepping past empty chocolate wrappers and biscuit packets and dried dog shit as I searched for her grave. In October 2016, Qandeel’s father had told a reporter, “Following my daughter’s wish, I have installed Pakistan’s flag on her grave.” But I cannot see a flag anywhere in the graveyard. Two villagers standing near a grave ask me who I am searching for. They point to a corner of the graveyard to the far left. They have become used to people—mostly the media—coming here searching for Qandeel. Someone has planted a sapling, a thin, reedy plant a few feet tall, next to the grave, which is just another mound of dirt indistinguishable from the many others around it. It is not covered in concrete or marble like some of the others. There is no marker, no sign of her name and no Pakistani flag. Without the villagers, it would have been impossible to find Qandeel in this graveyard.

This excerpt is adapted from The Sensational Life and Death of Qandeel Baloch, a forthcoming title from the Aleph Book Company.

Sanam Maher Sanam Maher is a Karachi-based journalist, and tweets as @SanamMKhi.

Keywords: Pakistan religion murder women’s rights honour killing