Four days after the headless body of a former Pakistani diplomat’s young daughter was discovered in Islamabad, her death has ignited a wave of fury across the globe and sparked calls for stronger protections for women in Pakistan.
Near the Toronto waterfront, writer and activist Zahra Haider—who grew up with both the 27-year-old victim, Noor Mukadam, and her alleged killer, Zahir Jaffer—hosted a vigil in Queen’s Park on Friday night.
Haider opened the vigil with a quote from writer Mohammed Hanif: “There was not a single day—when she didn’t see a woman shot or hacked, strangled or suffocated, poisoned or burnt, hanged or buried alive... Most of life’s arguments, it seemed, got settled by doing various things to a woman’s body.”
Haider said she had known both Mukadam and Jaffer for many years, but she is speaking out now about what she knows because she fears he could get away with the alleged murder.
“He’s very well-connected. I want to ensure that he can’t use his privilege to get out of this,” she told The Daily Beast.
The body of Mukadam, the daughter of former Pakistani ambassador to South Korea Shaukat Mukadam, was found earlier this week in Jaffer’s house in one of Islamabad’s wealthiest neighborhoods. The body bore marks of torture and a stab wound in the temple, and police have recovered both a knife and a pistol from the home.
Jaffer, the son of an influential Islamabad businessman, was arrested at the scene and has been charged with Mukadam’s murder. He had allegedly attempted to attack those who first arrived on the scene, and was subsequently tied up when police and Shaukat Mukadam arrived.
“There is no doubt he did it,” Shaukat Mukadam told Dawn. “My daughter was innocent and loved animals; I have served the nation, and I want justice.”
The circumstances surrounding Mukadam’s death are not entirely clear. She had told her parents she was going to Lahore for a few days, but authorities say cell phone data shows she never left Islamabad.
Details of the relationship between Jaffer and Mukadam also remain murky. Jaffer, whose family was reportedly acquainted with Shaukat, called the former ambassador to say that Mukadam was not with him on July 20, the same night her body was discovered.
Islamabad police have requested Jaffer be placed on the exit control list, as he is a citizen of both the U.S. and Pakistan. He had previously been deported from the United Kingdom as the result of a sexual harassment and rape case against him, according to Dawn.
The grisly death, along with the deaths of two other women killed this week in Pakistan, has reignited calls for reform and greater protections from domestic violence. Mourners and protesters online organized around the hashtag #JusticeforNoor. In Lahore, demonstrators gathered and held signs reading, “Let us breath” and “Protect your daughters, Educate your sons.”
The death has also shaken Pakistan’s upper echelon. Pakistani Foreign Minister Zahid Chaudhri wrote that he was “deeply saddened” by news of Mukadam’s murder.
The shock of her death was deeply felt in Toronto, where Haider said between 40 and 50 people gathered in Queen’s Park on Friday to honor Mukadam. Some of her extended family was in attendance at the vigil, where mourners shared memories of Mukadam, prayers for her, and tears for roughly two hours.
“It was the least that I could do,” Haider said of the vigil. “I just want to ensure that it doesn’t die out.”
She said she had felt uncomfortable around Jaffer since she knew him as a child, when she said he was “very jumpy.”
“I wasn’t too friendly with him. He was always more introverted. At social gatherings, he was always in the shadows. He displayed erratic behavior when we were young,” she said.
More recently, she said, Jaffer had bombarded her with misogynistic messages. She shared Instagram messages purportedly from Jaffer from 2013 in which he called her “a slut,” “a bitch,” a “f--k face bimbotic ho.” Screenshots of the messages show someone identified as Zahir Jaffer asking her for naked pictures and threatening to “titty f--k you till I slice off your breast nipplex [sic].” She said he sent similar texts to others.
Mukadam, she said, was “a warm and sweet person who genuinely cared about other people.”
“She never said anything malicious about anyone. She was kind. She had an air of innocence about her,” Haider said, adding that she can’t stop thinking about the killing.
Haider said she hopes against hope for justice.
“We want justice for Noor and to avenge her murder,” Haider said. “It would be historical to see if he gets punished for what he did because that’s not something that happens in Pakistan.”
Mukadam had participated in such activism herself. Mourners circulated a picture of her from last year protesting a brutal gang rape with a sign reading “Hang them!”