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ANALYSIS: Why are people surprised that Sabeen Mahmud’s alleged killer is an IBA grad?

There seems to be considerable shock and surprise by people, especially those who constitute the bulk of the country’s civil society elite, at the revelation by the Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah that the alleged mastermind of Sabeen Mahmud’s killing is Saad Aziz, a 2011 graduate of the prestigious IBA, Karachi.

This is one of the country’s top educational institutions and also happens to be the alma mater of the current president of Pakistan, a former prime minister and dozens of captains of industry, trade and commerce.

When this news broke one saw many people, especially those from IBA and/or who know Mr Aziz personally express shock and revulsion. Quite a few said that they were friends on Facebook with him and had now unfriended him.

Surely, one would have thought that people should have realised by now that the student body at even elite institutions such as IBA reflects the larger society of which the university is a part. Over the past three decades — since the Zia years — Pakistani society has been veering to the right, and those on its right fringes have slowly been radicalising.

This is in large part to the changes in the mainstream education curriculum brought on by Zia’s drive from the 1980s to make its content more faith-based. Along  with this has come an ever-increasing occupation of the public space and the national narrative by an ideology espoused by hardline rightwingers and one dominated by an intolerant and myopic worldview that blamed everyone but Pakistan itself for all the ills and problems ailing it.

Over the passage of time this scourge metastized into society’s very fabric to such a point that it became acceptable to use violence to silence voices which were perceived as being deviant — hence the attacks on Ismailis (where the attackers left pamphlets calling them ‘deviants’) or the likes of Sabeen Mahmud (who police said was killed for being “a liberal woman”.

We, as a society, need to take our collective head out of the sand and — at the very least — start to acknowledge that we have a big problem on our hands and it relates to people even in mainstream educational institutions taking up extreme views and thereafter a life of militancy.

The first step towards solving a problem is recognizing that it exists.

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