Pakistani Activist Sabeen Mahmud Slain

Apr 27, 2015

Famed Pakistani activist Sabeen Mahmud was gunned down last week while driving her mother and her driver in downtown Karachi.  

Two unidentified gunmen on motorcycles repeatedly shot the 40-year-old woman and her elderly passenger at close range on Friday, April 24, 2015, leaving the chauffeur in the backseat unharmed, but killing Mahmud and critically injuring her mom.

As intended, the vicious attack silenced the voice of a brave activist for Pakistan’s disempowered and an outspoken crusader for women’s rights, as well.

In 2007, the courageously liberal Mahmud founded a combination café and arts setting called The Second Floor (T2F) that also functions as an arena of lively political and social discussion.

She won international fame in part for her strong advocacy for women’s rights in the deeply misogynistic Pakistan, and, even more daringly, used T2F as a forum to discuss the concerns of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans-gendered people -- the first in the nation to openly deal with LGBT issues.

However, it appears to have been her sympathy for insurgent movements in the Pakistani province of Balochistan that led to her assassination.

Balochistan is one of the poorest provinces in the country and, while some insurgents there demand greater autonomy, others fight for complete independence.

The armed insurgency started in 2005 and ever since the conflict began thousands of people have mysteriously gone missing, often to be later found killed.

Some charge that those who vanish are Baloch activists that Pakistan's security forces have covertly detained, although the government stoutly denies involvement in the disappearances.

Sabeen Mahmud had herself just been invited to a program entitled “Un-Silencing Balochistan” that had been scheduled to take place this month at Pakistan’s respected Lahore University of Management Sciences. However, Lahore officials canceled the program after being ordered to do so by the Pakistan Inter-Service Intelligence Directorate.

Coincidentally, on the day the social activist was slain, she was returning from a T2F talk entitled “Un-Silencing Balochistan (Take 2)”, an event she organized with Balochistan activist Mama Abdul Qadeer whose own son went missing in 2009 and was discovered murdered and mutilated in 2011.

Qadeer grabbed headlines with his 2013 protest in which he walked 1,900 miles from Quetta, the capital of the Balochistan province, to Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan.

His recently slain colleague Mahmud is not the only prominent Pakistani to face gunfire for speaking out for Balochistan’s insurgents: In 2014, Pakistani news anchor Hamid Mir was also shot, in what many observers believe was retaliation for the journalist’s sympathetic reporting on Qadeer and the Balochistan movement for autonomy.

Many blame the government itself for these violently oppressive acts, as well as the Taliban, but the day after Mahmud’s public killing Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif denounced her assassins, directing police to thoroughly investigate the case.

The United States Embassy in Pakistan also condemned the murder, extolling Mahmud as “a courageous voice of the Pakistani people.”

Violence has stilled that voice, unfortunately. But perhaps indignation at the brutal attack may now inspire others to raise their voices in her stead.

DENISE NOE

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