reportage Excerpt

Death of a Star

What Qandeel Baloch left behind

By SANAM MAHER | 1 May 2018

On 15 July 2016, Fouzia Azeem, better known as Qandeel Baloch, was found murdered in her parents’ home in Multan, in the Punjab province of Pakistan. Her brother, Waseem, confessed to drugging and then strangling her, and said that she had sullied the family’s honour. Such “honour killings” are prevalent in Pakistan, where they are a brutal method to punish behaviour that is deemed socially unacceptable.

Born to an underprivileged family, Qandeel shot to fame on social media after her audition for Pakistan Idol went viral on the internet. Her posts and appearances on television celebrated a playful, risqué sexuality. This brought her love and admiration as well as intense vitriol. Over time, she became a frequent commentator on the position of women in Pakistani society. A few weeks before she was murdered, she met the senior cleric Mufti Abdul Qavi in a hotel room. Her selfies with him took the internet by storm and resulted in Qavi’s suspension from one of Pakistan’s religious councils. Qandeel started receiving death threats soon afterwards, and although she asked for police protection, it never came.

ON 17 JULY, a day after Qandeel’s body was found, her brother Waseem was arrested. According to many reports, he made no effort to hide and was spotted riding around on his motorbike in Shah Sadar Din’s main market in Dera Ghazi Khan District the morning after he fled Multan. City Police Officer Akram promptly held a press conference. He wanted to let the public know that the police had been searching for Qandeel’s brother Waseem. The murder, he explained “was probably done on the basis of honour.”

He announced, first in Urdu and then in English: “And now I would like to tell you that we have arrested Waseem … He has confessed to the crime.” He asked someone to bring Waseem into the room. “I’ve called for Waseem to come here now,” he told the journalists. “So you can have an interview with him.”

A purple striped cloth had been thrown over Waseem’s head and shoulders. As he walked in, CPO Akram repeated, “This is an honour-based murder.” He emphasised that Waseem had been apprehended so quickly because the police had used their “technical and operational teams and all the resources possible” in Dera Ghazi Khan. The forensic samples and autopsy report would also be rushed through a laboratory in Lahore, he said. Qandeel’s body had been found on Saturday morning, and CPO Akram promised to have forensic results by Monday. For a third time, he said Waseem had choked and strangled Qandeel because of “ghairat”—honour. The only question that remained in the investigation, he seemed to imply, was the extent to which Waseem’s “friends” had been involved in the murder. Even though Waseem had yet to be fully interrogated, the police had no doubt about his motive.

The journalists requested that the police remove the hood covering Waseem’s face and CPO Akram obliged. Every camera in the room zoomed in on him. A dark, slender man, Waseem wore a pale blue salwar kameez with the sleeves rolled up. He stared nonchalantly at the room. His curly hair, long enough to cover the tops of his ears, was slightly tousled after the purple cloth covering his face was removed. He was handcuffed.

“I would like to ask all of you, my friends, to ask him questions in a line, so that everyone’s questions can be answered,” CPO Akram requested.

A few reporters rushed forward to position the microphones away from the CPO and as close to Waseem as possible. The CPO handed Waseem one of the microphones and he cradled it between his bound hands.

“Yes, sir, what did you want to say?” Waseem asked one the reporters, in a thin, reedy voice.

“What’s your name?” a reporter asked.

“Muhammad Waseem.”

“What is your mother’s name?”

“I don’t know my mother’s name.”

“Why did you do this to Qandeel?”

The confession was broadcast live by every channel that had a reporter in the room. “The reason is the way she was coming on Facebook,” Waseem replied. “Us Baloch people cannot tolerate this.”

The reporters pointed out that his sister had been putting photographs and videos on Facebook for six or seven years. Why had Waseem been angered by them now?

“There were lots of other problems, okay,” Waseem whined. “The problem with the maulvi. The media came to our house. That hadn’t happened before. She made it a problem and so I did what I did.”

CPO Akram helped him out. “So apparently what he is trying to say is that ever since she came in the limelight more and more, he felt pressure to do something.”

Waseem said he acted alone. No one in his family had known about his plan.

“How did you kill her?” a reporter called out. “Can you describe it?” Waseem nodded towards CPO Akram. “I did it the way sir described it.”

When asked to elaborate, he explained, “I gave her a tablet and then I strangled her.”

“Are you ashamed?”

“No,” Waseem said, sticking out his chin. “I have no shame. I am Baloch.”

It was a slap in the face to anyone who said he and his sister were not Baloch. Had he not shown the kind of honour and self-respect that the Baloch were proud of?

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This excerpt is adapted from The Sensational Life and Death of Qandeel Baloch, a forthcoming title from the Aleph Book Company.

Sanam Maher is a Karachi-based journalist, and tweets as @SanamMKhi.

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