Stop Killing My Friends, Pakistan

09 May 2015
On 24 April 2015, Sabeen Mahmud, a social and human rights activist from Pakistan was shot dead by unknown assailants in Karachi. In this picture, Sabeen stands against a wall in at her cafe The Second Floor, sprayed with the words "Mother, should I trust the Government?"
Insiya Syed
On 24 April 2015, Sabeen Mahmud, a social and human rights activist from Pakistan was shot dead by unknown assailants in Karachi. In this picture, Sabeen stands against a wall in at her cafe The Second Floor, sprayed with the words "Mother, should I trust the Government?"
Insiya Syed

On 24 April 2015, I was having a lazy evening in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad. We were having dinner—a group of friends, and me, the only journalist, all of us equally bored with the taciturnity that grips this seemingly serene city. Suddenly, the calm was broken. One of us, a private security official, got an alert, and we started hysterically checking with friends to verify the news. Sabeen Mahmud, an old friend, mentor and one of Pakistan’s bravest remaining rights activists had been shot in Karachi. She succumbed, almost instantaneously, to five bullets fired by unidentified assailants into her face, neck and chest. I do not know of anyone who knew her and was able to accept what had happened without initial disbelief. Coming to terms with it would incapacitate us in some ways—and it seems it has, despite all the protests against her murder around the world in the past few weeks.

In 2007, with her grandmother’s health fund, and her family’s blessings, Sabeen had opened The Second Floor, an art and culture café and bookstore in Karachi, which also functioned as a community space Also known as T2F, it was a platform for poets, musicians, writers and scientists alike, to display their work, and reach out to a city, so restless and so diverse. However, her murder was ominous in its timing, as it took place moments after a talk on Balochistan was conducted in T2F, a discussion the country’s military explicitly despises in public space.

The attack by the “unknown men on motorbikes” came after Sabeen had been subjected to several warnings and visits from the Inter Service Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s premier spy agency. She had received threats as she prepared to conduct the talk, called “Unsilencing Balochistan (Take 2).” Sabeen rescheduled the event due to the intimidation, before finally hosting it on the evening of her murder at The Second Floor. The same talk had earlier been cancelled, following threats at the Lahore University of Management and Sciences, where it was originally scheduled to take place on 9 April. This cancellation sparked outrage among the university’s students and faculty, all of whom accused the ISI of attacking civil liberties in the country.

Kiran Nazish is an independent journalist who covers conflicts and crises. She has reported from the Middle East and South Asia for the New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, Al-Jazeera and Forbes among others. She can be followed @kirannazish

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