The name Perween Rahman will always be synonymous with Karachi's katchi abadis, where she worked closely with communities to improve their quality of lives through simple yet sustainable interventions.
For several years before she was brutally murdered, Perween and her team at the Orangi Pilot Project — an NGO working with underserved communities for the provision of basic amenities such as low cost sanitation, housing, health, education and credit for micro enterprise — had been documenting the old goths (villages), illegal water hydrants and large-scale encroachments on state land in Karachi.
Read More: Who will dare to Perween Rahman?
It is believed that it was this work that rubbed many powerful quarters the wrong way and ultimately cost her her life. That was in March 2013.
Over eight years and a myriad of twists and turns later, an anti-terrorism court is set to announce its verdict in the murder case today. Whether the outcome will provide some form of closure to her family and friends remains to be seen, especially given the void left behind by her.
Who was Perween Rahman?
Perween Rahman was born in Dhaka in 1957. She did part of her schooling in the former East Pakistan and migrated to Karachi after the fall of Dhaka.
She received a bachelor’s of engineering in architecture from Karachi’s Dawood College of Engineering and Technology in 1981.
Perween had been working at a private architecture firm before being recruited by Dr Akhter Hameed Khan to become Joint Director of the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP) back in the early 1980s. She was put in charge of managing the housing and sanitation programmes.
In 1988, the OPP was split into four organisations, and Perween became director of the OPP-RTI (Orangi Pilot Project – Research and Training Institute), managing programmes in education, youth training, water supply and secure housing.
In 1999, Dr Akhter Hameed Khan passed away and Perween remained steadfast in carrying the torch.
On March 13, 2013, 55-year-old Rahman was gunned down near her office in Orangi Town. Assailants on a motorbike shot at her car on Main Manghopir Road, near the Banaras Flyover.
She sustained bullet wounds to the neck and was rushed to Abbasi Shaheed Hospital by her driver, where she succumbed to her injuries.
The very next day, police killed an alleged Taliban operative, identified as Qari Bilal, in an encounter and claimed he was the murderer, resulting in a closure of the case. The disclosure was made by no less than DIG West at the time, Javed Odho, before any evidence had been found to link the two incidents.
The manner in which the ‘investigation’ unfolded was met with incredulity and everything smacked of a massive cover-up.
It was later confirmed that Qari Bilal, while perhaps not innocent, was the fall guy for an assassination that sent shockwaves through Karachi and beyond.
In April 2014, the Supreme Court of Pakistan ordered authorities to conduct a fresh probe into Rahman's murder after a judicial inquiry had revealed that police officers had manipulated the investigation. The apex court ordered the Sindh home department to set up a JIT (joint investigation team) to investigate the matter.
The inquiry had recommended that the whole case be reinvestigated by “efficient, independent and honest police officer(s)” and had cast doubts on the veracity of the ballistic evidence that allowed police to connect Qari Bilal to the murder.
In November 2014, a senior Karachi police officer had told the Supreme Court Rahman was in possession of a map detailing the lands that have been illegally occupied by affiliates and associates of various political parties that operated in the city.
The prime suspect, Raheem Swati, who was running an illegal hydrant close by on Manghopir Road, was arrested by Karachi police in May 2016 following the Supreme Court’s directives. Despite his local clout, Swati was no big-time don. The other key suspect in the case, Ahmed Khan alias Pappu Kashmiri, was arrested in Mansehra in March 2015.
In November 2017, another suspect, Amjad Hussain, reportedly confessed to his involvement in Rahman's murder and informed the JIT that local leaders of Awami National Party (ANP) had hired Taliban militants to assassinate the social activist.
Over the years, at least five JITs were constituted to probe the high-profile murder.
In March 2018, a Karachi anti-terrorism court charged five accused with killing Rahman, including Ayaz Shamzai alias Swati, Mohammad Amjad Hussain Khan, Ahmed Khan alias Ahmed Ali alias Pappu Kashmiri, Mohammad Imran Swati and Mohammad Raheem Swati.
In April the same year, a JIT set up by the Supreme Court said that the city’s “land mafia” was the clearest beneficiary of Rahman's killing.
The JIT had also reportedly interviewed some high-profile personalities, including the real estate tycoon Malik Riaz, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s leader Dr Farooq Sattar, the party’s former MPA from Orangi Town Abdul Quddos, and Pakistan Peoples Party’s senior leader Taj Haider and others.
On Dec 22, 2018, the Karachi anti-terrorism court had dismissed an application filed by Aquila Ismail, sister of the slain Rahman, pleading the trial court to summon the investigators (of JITs) for recording their testimonies in the case, which were "important piece of evidence" in the case.
She had also pleaded the Sindh High Court to restrain the trial court from passing its judgement in the murder case without recording evidence of the heads of the JITs.
As a result, the trial proceedings remained stalled for almost one and a half years following the high court's restraining order.
In the meantime, Ismail approached the Supreme Court, pleading it to order the federal government to constitute a JIT (joint investigation team) to probe her sister's afresh, saying “she lacked confidence in the Sindh police”.
In March 2021, an anti-terrorism court in Karachi was told that Rahman had identified and named “land grabbers and extortionists” for trying to illegally occupy the land of the OPP's office in an interview recorded around 15 months before she was allegedly killed by the same group.
In the interview, Rahman had called Raheem Swati a “land grabber and extortionist” and stated that the latter wanted to illegally occupy the land of the OPP’s office, the charge sheet had stated.
In September 2021, a Karachi anti-terrorism court was told that Raheem Swati had planned the murder with the help of the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) over a dispute involving a piece of land in Pirabad.
The trial court was told that the key accused Rahim Swati had also got recorded his confessional statement before the then Senior Superintendent of Police Akhtar Farooqui, under Section 21H of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997 instead of recording such confession before a judicial magistrate under the Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code.
On Oct 17, the court reserved its verdict in the case till Oct 28 (Thursday), when it will announce the outcome of the years-old investigation into the murder that shook Karachi's conscience.