Police said Mahmud, who runs The Second Floor, a cafe in Karachi that organises debates and art events, was killed late Friday when gunmen attacked her car as she departed with her mother from the venue in the upmarket Defence neighbourhood.
Mahmud was hit by five bullets and died at the scene, police said. Her mother was wounded.
Mama Abdul Qadeer, a prominent Baluch rights activist and a speaker at the seminar, said Mahmud had received threats before the event.
“The programme organisers were already receiving threats…. it is very difficult to talk about Baluchistan in Pakistan,” Qadeer told AFP Saturday.
Police initially said it appeared to be “a result of personal enmity” but launched a probe after Sharif ordered an investigation into her killing.
“A team of three senior police officers headed by the deputy inspector general of police will probe the killing,” Atique Ahmed Shaikh, a spokesman for Karachi police, told AFP.
Tariq Dharajo, another senior police official, said no one had yet been arrested and police were investigating the case from different angles.
Mahmud had on Friday hosted a seminar about rights abuses in Baluchistan titled “Un-silencing Baluchistan Take 2”, featuring two prominent Baluch rights activists, Qadeer and Farzana Baluch, among other speakers.
Baluchistan, Pakistan’s largest but least populous province, is unquestionably a sensitive subject for the security forces and they keep close tabs on anyone suspected of promoting separatism.
The killing comes as Beijing and Islamabad this week signed an agreement to create the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a $46 billion project linking China’s restive west to the Arabian Sea through Pakistan as part of Beijing’s plans to expand its trade and transport footprint across Central and South Asia.
The project dwarfs previous efforts to assist Pakistan’s underperforming economy, but analysts have cautioned that the lion’s share of the returns would likely go to China.
But Baloch rebels oppose development of the key Gwadar port while Baluchistan is not independent and refuse for the time to reach a peace dialogue. -AFP