External Affairs

Khurram Zaki: An Election in London, an Assassination in Karachi

A few hours before his assassination, the activist re-posted a scathing critique of Pakistanis for their euphoric reaction to the election of Sadiq Khan as the mayor of London. “Can we in Pakistan ever elect an Ahmadi or Hindu or Christian PM?” he asked.

Khurram Zaki. Credit: Facebook

Khurram Zaki. Credit: Facebook

The Pakistani human rights worker and online activist Khurram Zaki has been killed in Karachi. Zaki and his friend Khalid Rao were gunned down by assailants at a café on Saturday evening. It was a preplanned strike.

A few hours before his assassination, Zaki re-posted a scathing critique of Pakistanis for their euphoric reaction to the election of Sadiq Khan as the mayor of London. The post said Sadiq’s victory was an achievement of “Western secular democracy … Sadiq Khan is not Pakistani. He is British.”

The post went on to say “Pakistan and Islam have played no role in his meteoric rise.” He asked, “Can we in Pakistan ever elect an Ahmadi or Hindu or Christian PM? Forget that, we have deprived all legal powers and discretions of a democratically elected mayor of the third largest city in the world (Karachi) on the basis of his ethnicity.”

Zaki, a former television journalist, was also known as an Islamic scholar. He was a member of the editorial board of the blog/website and the Facebook page, Let Us Build Pakistan. The objective of the blog was to “spread liberal religious views and condemned extremism in all forms”. Recently, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority blocked the blog in Pakistan.

For the past few years, Khurram Zaki has been campaigning against extremist religious groups in Pakistan. Recently, he and his friend Jibran Nasir attempted to file a complaint against Maulana Abdul Aziz of the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) of Islamabad. They alleged that Aziz was inciting hatred against Shia Muslims. They cited a video message of the cleric. Local police declined to file an FIR.

Zaki’s attempt to compel the police to file a FIR through the court’s intervention didn’t succeed: a sessions court dismissed the application, saying that the complainant had no locus standi. He and his friends then approached the Islamabad High Court, which too dismissed their application on the same ground on March 29. Maulana Aziz, on the other hand, had filed a complaint against Zaki and his friends saying that they are spreading false and fabricated information against the maulana and the mosque. On December 16, 2015, the first anniversary of the Peshawar Amy Public School massacre, Zaki staged a demonstration in front of the Lal Masjid despite obstructions from the government. Zaki, his wife and their 16-year-old daughter were arrested.

Khurram Zaki’s website not only criticized Pakistani religious extremists but also the country’s liberal intellectuals. His death has once again reminded us of how perilous it is to fight against extremism and for human rights in that country. Pakistan is an example of the consequences of spreading state-supported extremism. Pakistan shows what happens when the state displays its penchant – either explicitly or implicitly – to violence and extremism, when extremism and violence are used for political gains, and when violent groups are not brought to justice.

Despite immense bloodshed and enormous loss of life in the past four decades, Pakistan is yet to break this vicious cycle. Khurram Zaki’s name has been added to a long list of those who lost their lives. He was only 40 years old.

Ali Riaz (ariaz@ilstu.edu) is a political scientist of Bangladeshi origin, currently chair of the Department of Politics and Government, Illinois State University (USA). His books include God Willing: The Politics of Islamism in Bangladesh (2004) and Faithful Education: Madrassahs in South Asia (2012).

Note: This article has been edited to clarify that Zaki reposted a piece on Facebook rather than drafting a statement of his own