Pakistani social worker and activist Sabeen Mahmud was shot dead by unidentified gunmen in Karachi Friday night. The 40 year old prominent civil liberties activist was headed home after hosting a talk on the troubled Balochistan province.
Balochistan has off late become an emotive issue in Pakistan’s corridors of power as security forces are locked in a battle with the separatists in the south-western province bordering Afghanistan and Iran.
According to the local press, Sabeen was with her mother in a car when two attackers riding on a motorcycle shot her. Sabeen was shot five times and succumbed on way to hospital. Her mother, who was also wounded, is reported to be critical.
A Pakistan based news website reported that Sabeen was holding a discussion in a restaurant she owns under her signature banner ‘The Second Floor (T2F)’. As per their website (http://www.t2f.biz), T2F describes itself “A community space for open dialogue, T2F features a café and bookshop and hosts poetry readings, meetups with writers, talks, debates, theatre performances, film screenings, open mic nights, jam sessions, and standup comedy.”
On Friday, the T2F had organised a talk on Balochistan: ‘Unsilencing Balochistan Take 2: In Conversation with Mama Qadeer, Farzana Baloch, Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur, Wusat Ullah Khan and Malik Siraj Akbar’.
The focus of the talk session was on the “on-going insurgency in Balochistan and the disappearance of political activists” amid the “operations by the state security forces”. Known for her frank an passionate views on human rights and civil liberties, Sabeen had also announced the event using her Twitter handle @sabeen on April 21 and Friday.
“Despite the plurality of opinion, very little space seems to be given to the discussion in Pakistani mainstream media or academia; the debate seems to be shut down before it can even begin. What is the reality? Has the media been silenced on Balochistan? What makes it dangerous for us to talk about Pakistan’s largest province at one of our most celebrated universities? What constitutes national interest? Does Mama Qadeer represent separatists’ interests? What are the mechanics of reportage? Have human stories been shunned? What are the casualties on all sides? How does Chinese investment affect Balochistan and its people’s struggles?” was how her website (http://www.t2f.biz/unsilencing-balochistan-take-2/) had described the event.
Investigating agencies are still looking for headway and identification of the attackers who managed to flee soon after firing at Sabeen and her mother. “It’s an incident of targeted killing, but we are not aware of any threats she had been receiving. The investigations are on and it would be too early to speculate about the motive behind the killing,” senior police official was quoted to have told the press.
Sabeen Mahmud was also the Founder and Director of PeaceNiche, a Karachi based NGO promoting democratic discourse and conflict resolution through intellectual and cultural engagement within and beyond the premises of its multipurpose space.