Sabeen Mahmud: Martyr for freedom


Pakistani civil society activists on April 28, 2015 hold pictures of rights campaigner Sabeen Mahmud during a protest in Islamabad against her killing in a driveby shooting in Karachi. (AFP PHOTO / Farooq NAEEM)

You speak you die. ISI’s message to all those speaking up for Balochistan


Sabeen Mahmud joked on her Twitter profile she was willing to “die for Hugh Laurie”.

Instead, she was assassinated last Friday night, a martyr for Balochistan’s war of independence from Pakistan.

Mahmud, 40, was not your typical human rights activist.

She flaunted her love of Pink Floyd and Bruce Springsteen on social media, even as she hosted lectures in her Karachi cafe-cum-library on the “forced disappearances” of Balochistan’s rag-tag nationalist rebels.

After being warned not to play host to Balochistan activists and refusing to back down, she was shot dead by “unknown gunmen”, according to reports.

But to informed observers, the prime suspects were obvious.

Declan Walsh, the London-based Pakistan bureau chief for the New York Times, who was expelled in May 2013, tweeted:

“Pakistani military, facing accusations of involvement in killing of @Sabeen, says it will assist investigators.”

A prominent female opposition member in Pakistan’s parliament tweeted, “You speak you die. ISI’s message to all those speaking up for Balochistan.” Within hours, she had deleted her tweet.

(The ISI is Pakistan’s military intelligence agency.)

Pakistan’s military denied any involvement, tweeting that its, “Int(elligence) agencies (have) been tasked 2 render all possible assistance 2 investigating agencies 4 apprehension of perpetrators & (to) bring them to justice.”

Few paid heed to these hollow words.

To suppress challenges to its authority in the past, the Pakistani military has routinely intervened directly, or used its “non-state” Islamist militias, to do its dirty work.

The army is trying to portray Mahmud’s killing as the act of Islamist jihadis, upset by her liberal views.

However, the words of the murdered activist recorded last year, suggest otherwise.

In 2014 while visiting London, Mahmud told the BBC she was facing death threats from unidentified individuals and harassment from Pakistan’s military intelligence agencies, upset about her human rights work for Balochistan.

She said at the time:

“We’ve done a lecture series on Balochistan that resulted in some visits by the (intelligence) agencies. They have come and taken all our information, our bank statements, lists of our employees. They wanted everyone’s home address and telephone numbers. Not quite sure what triggered the visits, but we think it is the Balochistan work we did.”

Despite what the military says, the killing of Mahmud may turn out to be a difficult crime to cover up. No less a figure than the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, has expressed her outrage. She tweeted: “Devastating news of brutal murder of #SabeenMahmud, a bright symbol of tolerance & nonviolence. Pakistan must hold her killers to acct.”

In London, Burzine Waghmar of The Centre for the Study of Pakistan at the prestigious School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) told Lyse Doucette of the BBC, he had no hesitation in placing responsibility for Mahmud’s murder “squarely and emphatically … at the doorstep of the ISI.”

If Pakistan was just any developing nation, the significance of Mahmud’s assassination, while tragic and outrageous, would not matter to the extent it now does.

That’s because Pakistan is a nuclear power run by a cabal of power-hungry generals in partnership with death-cult jihadi terrorists.

Too much is at stake for the rest of the world to allow Sabeen Mahmud to die in vain.

The mullah-military nexus of terror in Islamabad needs to be roped in.

For a start, we need to work towards helping Balochistan end the occupation.​


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