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.
AKHTAR SOOMRO/REUTERS

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.

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

Keywords: Pakistan religion murder women’s rights honour killing
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