Un-silencing Balochistan

The Guardian explains why Sabeen Mahmud was murdered – it was because Baloch separatism is a touchy issue in Pakistan (and it’s become fashionable there to murder people who mention touchy issues).

A leading member of Pakistan’s small band of liberal social activists has been gunned down outside the pioneering Karachi arts venue she founded, in an apparent bid to silence discussion about the country’s brutal efforts to smother separatism in the restive province of Balochistan.

The murder of Sabeen Mahmud on Friday sent shockwaves through Pakistan’s embattled intelligentsia both because she was much loved but also because the killing happened immediately after an event she organised with Mama Abdul Qadeer, an elderly Baloch activist campaigning on behalf of so-called “missing people” abducted by the state security apparatus.

Pakistan’s military establishment is extremely touchy about the issue of Balochistan, where a nationalist movement has developed into a potent insurgency in the last decade.

The separatists are demanding independence from a Pakistani state they claim is oppressive and only interested in extracting the province’s energy and mineral resources.

Authorities are particularly sensitive about Qadeer, the 73-year-old who in 2013-14 walked 1,200 miles from the Baloch capital of Quetta to Islamabad to protest about missing people, including his own son who was found dead and mutilated in 2011 having vanished in 2009.

I can’t imagine why anyone would think the Pakistani state is oppressive, can you?

In March he was banned from travelling to the US to attend a human rights conference in the US.

This month the Lahore University of Management Sciences, one of the country’s most prestigious colleges, was forced to cancel an event to which Qadeer had been invited.

Senior faculty members told Dawn, a leading Pakistani newspaper, they had been forced to scrap the “Un-Silencing Balochistan” talk on the orders of the Inter-Service Intelligence directorate, the military’s powerful spy wing.

So Mahmud put on her own small-scale event. That was brave of her.

Following the cancellation of the LUMS talk Mahmud was all too aware of the risks and asked her circle of friends on Facebook about what “pre-emptive measures” she should take before hosting what she called “Un-silencing Balochistan (Take 2)”.

So they silenced her.


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