Sabeen Mahmud, forty-year-old Pakistani activist, was seen in Karachi last Friday night. She has a long-haired, loud laugh, and a keen interest in human rights. Eight years ago Mahmud opened The Second Floor as a coffee shop and community space. It became a hub for her activism and a popular meeting place. The shop was located next to a small lot on a narrow street. You felt like you were in another world the minute you entered its narrow front door. Sheba Najmi, Mahmud’s friend, wrote an e-mail saying that she would forget that Pakistan was there. It turned strangers into friends.” A cozy room was filled with bookshelves and had brick walls. The walls were decorated with murals. Blue skies and black crows were painted on the staircase. Questions such as “Mama should I trust government?” were also answered.
Mahmud, along with other social activists from Balochistan hosted a panel discussion on the current situation in Balochistan that evening. Balochistan, while it is the least developed and poorest region of Pakistan, is also one of the largest and most rich in natural resources. It has been the site of a separatist uprising for the past decade. This is the third such revolt in the province since the nineteen-sixties. Baloch nationalists are also missing. It is possible that as many as twenty-one hundred people have disappeared, although it is difficult to verify. Mama Qadeer (an activist in her seventies who was one of Mahmud’s participants) began marching from Quetta, Pakistan to Islamabad in October 2013. This distance is five hundred and sixty meters. Qadeer wanted to draw attention to the victims. Qadeer claims that many of them were “killed, dumped,” and his own corpse was discovered in 2011.
However, what is happening in Balochistan remains a controversial topic that many Pakistanis aren’t comfortable discussing. Lahore University of Management Sciences (one of the most prestigious universities in Pakistan), cancelled an event called “Unsilencing Balochistan” earlier this month due to government pressure. Mahmud called her event “Unsilencing Balochistan, Take 2” and invited many of the same speakers. Mahmud was aware that she was taking a chance by hosting the event. She discussed the possibility with a Facebook friend about the potential for “blowback”. She wrote another friend that she wanted to quit everything and join the Baloch march to protect the rights of the missing. What is there to do?
Mahmud asked the audience to keep the evening polite, even when there was disagreement. Then, she presented a brief documentary about Balochistan’s missing. After several panelists had spoken, there was a question and answer session. Mahmud and Mahenaz Mahmud, Mahmud’s mother, left The Second Floor at 9:15 p.m. The three of them got in a white Suzuki. Mahmud drove the car, Mahmud was the passenger, Mahenaz Mahmud was the driver, and her mother was in the back. Nosheen Ali, a friend, said that Mahmud enjoyed driving, even though she rode a motorcycle to work in Karachi, a city where women are not allowed to own a motorcycle. Zaheer Alam Kidvai, a friend, stated that Mahmud did what she wanted.
Soon after Mahmud had pulled away, an armed group of motorcyclists approached her as she approached the Traffic Signal near the Defense Central Library. They opened fire on the car. Mahmud was twice hit in the chest and once in the neck. One round hit Mahmud in the cheek, and one went to her neck. It also struck her mother. The shooters began to move as Mahmud fell over.
Mahmud’s mother called Mahmud, but she did not respond. Mahmud was probably killed immediately. Her mother was taken to hospital by a number of witnesses who helped to move her body from the front seat to the back. According to the Express Tribune_, police officers who responded to the scene described the incident as “targeted” and “seemingly targeted”. Mahmud was receiving threatening phone calls, e-mails and threats. Intelligence agencies claimed that Mahmud’s name was on a hitlist that they had released in January.