by Zia Ur Rehman

March 15, 2013

KARACHI – Karachi police are investigating the March 13 killing of Pakistani social activist Parveen Rehman, the long-time director of the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP). The OPP works on sanitation, healthcare, education and microfinancing in poor Karachi neighbourhoods.

Two men on a motorcycle opened fire on Rehman’s car on Manghopir Road, eyewitnesses said. She died en route to the hospital, senior police officer Javed Odho told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Civil society activists protest March 14 outside the Karachi Press Club, condemning the March 13 killing of Karachi social activist Parveen Rehman. Police suspect it was another Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan attack. [Zia Ur Rehman]
Nobody has taken responsibility, but police suspect Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants of being behind the killing and identified alleged TTP member Qari Bilal as a suspect, officials said.

A resident of South Waziristan, Bilal reportedly belongs to the TTP’s Sher Khan faction. Informers have identified him as the deputy commander of the banned TTP’s Manghopir chapter.

Police on March 15 conducted an operation in which they were trying to capture or kill Bilal, Ashfaq Baloch, station house officer at the Manghopir police station, said. At least one militant was killed in the operation, but details about who was killed could not be confirmed.

Although Rehman had no known enemies, her fight against land grabs and rampant water theft from pumping stations in and around Karachi might have angered those involved in those multi-million-rupee rackets, some of her colleagues said.

Karachi residents March 14 attend the funeral of Karachi social activist Parveen Rehman, who was assassinated March 13. [Zia Ur Rehman]
Scores of mourners from various NGOs, trade unions and civil society attended her funeral prayer March 14 in Gulistan-e-Jauhar.

Attacks ‘senseless and barbaric’

Outrage and grief followed her killing.

Civil society activists and Karachi University students March 14 protested outside the Karachi Press Club, where they held placards condemning extremist violence and chanted slogans like “Down with terrorism.”

“Rehman’s killing is a serious attempt to demoralise the forces of peace and development in the country,” said Zahid Farooq, a representative of the Urban Resource Centre, a Karachi-based civil society organisation.

Pakistani officials and civil society groups publicly condemned the act as “senseless and barbaric.”

Calling it “inhuman,” Sindh Governor Dr. Ishrat-ul-Ebad ordered Sindh Police Chief Ghulam Shabbir Shaikh to submit an incident report and to have law enforcement agencies examine all security camera video footage of entry and exit points near the crime scene.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan condemned the killing of Rehman in a statement that urged the public to “stand up against those who are destroying the symbols of hope.”

“Her assassination was a cruel blow to the country’s civil society and a great loss to the nation,” it read.

Devoted to helping Pakistan’s poor

Rehman devoted her life to the development of impoverished neighbourhoods across the country, to civil society and to development, her friends told Central Asia Online.

She threw herself into promoting low-cost housing plans, rehabilitating refugees from floods in rural Sindh and monitoring developers’ encroachment on scarce land in crowded Karachi, according to Farooq. The organisation she ran, the OPP, is one of Asia’s largest slum improvement projects.

Trained as an architect, she moved into aid and sanitation work and in the 1990s helped to build a sanitation system that others replicated across Pakistan, said Abdul Waheed, head of the Bright Educational Society, a Karachi-based NGO.

She never married and remained committed to her work, he added.

Militant attacks on activists a ‘crucial’ concern

Rehman’s killing highlights Pakistan’s alarming trend of militant attacks on activists and aid workers.

In 2012, Pakistan and South Sudan tied as the second most dangerous country for aid workers with 15 attacks each, behind only Afghanistan (44 attacks), according to the Aid Workers Security Database (AWSD). Somalia and Syria rounded out the five most dangerous countries.

In 2011, aid workers in Pakistan suffered 12 attacks, according to the AWSD. Before 2009, three or fewer attacks occurred annually.

NGOs and aid organisations are seen as promoting secular values and modern norms, which the Taliban vehemently oppose because of their extremist view of Islam, said Raees Ahmed, a Karachi-based security analyst. Consequently, many aid organisations have ordered their staff to restrict nighttime travel and avoid high-risk areas.

Unfortunately, the attacks are compelling some humanitarian groups to suspend their activities in the country altogether – leaving the needy to suffer, Waheed told Central Asia Online.

“Violence against aid workers is one of the most crucial humanitarian issues today,” he said.