The son of a prominent businessman in Pakistan is currently in police custody after a woman was found beheaded at his house in a posh neighbourhood in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad. The victim, 27-year-old Noor Mukadam, is the daughter of former diplomat Shaukat Mukadam, who served as Pakistan’s ambassador to South Korea and Kazakhstan.
The Islamabad Police arrested Zahir Jaffer at the crime scene on July 20 and are charging him with premeditated murder. The gruesome killing has sent shock waves through the capital’s tight-knit influential community.
In a press conference on July 22, Senior Superintendent of Police (Investigation) Ataur Rehman said, "Whenever someone's brutal murder is carried out, we shouldn't care about the financial position of the culprit even if they are the son of a very influential father."
Pakistanis are “watching” this case very closely, lawyer and women’s rights activist Nighat Dad told VICE World News. “There are fears that the accused will get bail and leave the country,” she said. “If the accused ends up going scott-free, it will feel like all women in the country have died. It will really show the reality of our criminal justice system.”
In a Twitter statement, Islamabad Police officials said that a special investigation team is “conducting a fact-based and strict investigation in accordance with the law.”
In his report to the police, the victim’s father said he received a phone call from his daughter on July 19 saying she was going to Lahore with friends as they were preparing for Eid al Adha. The next day, he got a call from Jaffer, a family acquaintance, who told him that Mukadam was not with him.
“Pakistanis are watching this case very closely,” said advocate and women’s rights activist Nighat Dad.
The same night, at 10 PM, Shaukat got a call from local police that his daughter had been murdered. According to the report, Shaukat rushed to Jaffer’s house and saw his daughter “brutally murdered with a sharp-edged weapon and beheaded.”
SSP Rehman, in the press conference, said that when police arrived at the crime scene, they found Jaffer bound by ropes. Jaffer allegedly tried to attack some people after killing Mukadam, and they tied him up. Islamabad Police tweeted photos from the crime scene that showed blood on the floor and furniture.
Police say they’re currently interrogating Jaffer and household staff who were in the house when the crime was committed. They also recorded a statement from Jaffer’s father, who said he was at a business meeting in the city of Karachi at the time of the murder. Statements by two security guards were also recorded. DNA samples have been sent for forensic examination.
On Twitter, #JusticeForNoor was trending on July 22 as Mukadam’s friends and acquaintances expressed support and demanded justice.
Iyla Hussain-Ansari, a U.S. resident who had been friends with Mukadam for 13 years, told VICE World News that she remembers her as an innocent, talented and sweet person. “She was an artist and spent a lot of time volunteering in Islamabad,” Hussain-Ansari said.
It is not clear what relationship Mukadam and Jaffer had, but Hussain-Ansari said it was “complicated.” She also said Mukadam had recently raised red flags about Jaffer.
“Noor was an innocent, talented and sweet person. She was an artist and spent a lot of time volunteering in Islamabad,” said Iyla Hussain-Ansari.
“She was very kind to people, and Zahir’s negative behaviour caught her off guard,” she said. “He was not the nicest [person] to her by any measure even though they had been friends for a very long time.”
Islamabad journalist Elia Rathore, who had also known Mukadam for over a decade, added that Jaffer was a well-known “harasser and predator” in the “tightly-knit” Islamabad elite social circle. “There are speculations that he used nefarious means to prey on and manipulate Noor’s innate kindness,” she said.
Some shared similar stories of Jaffer on Twitter.
Some tweeted about Jaffer suffering from schizophrenia. VICE World News could not independently confirm this. In the press conference, Rehman said Jaffer was “completely in his senses,” adding that they’re focusing on his “mental frame of mind.” He also denied rumours that Jaffer was under the influence of drugs.
“Initial findings indicated that the suspect was completely aware of his actions,” Rehman stated.
“His mental health is not an excuse for what he did,” said Rathore. “I was informed by my friends that at the police station, he was laughing to appear like he is not in his senses.”
On July 21, the organisation distanced itself from Jaffer and stated that he did not complete his course, was “never ever given permission to see clients,” and is not on their list of authorised therapists. Jaffer’s mother is listed as one of their authorised therapists.
“We’ve also seen our laws consistently allowing the rich and powerful to get away with crimes. In this case, too, the rich and powerful are involved,” said lawyer Imaan Zainab Mazari-Hazir.
Jaffer’s family did not immediately respond to a request for comment from VICE World News. No lawyer or representative has yet spoken to the media on Jaffer’s behalf.
Imaan Zainab Mazari-Hazir, a lawyer based in Islamabad, told VICE World News that the incident stood out in its brutality. “Even more so because it happened in a city where we came into contact with Zahir on many occasions,” she said. “We’ve also seen our laws consistently allowing the rich and powerful to get away with crimes. In this case, too, the rich and powerful are involved.”
Jaffer’s family owns multiple big businesses in agriculture, tech, and power. According to one company website, Jaffer is their Chief Brand Strategist.
“He comes from one of the most influential families in Pakistan,” Rathore added. “Influential families often wait for the outrage to subside and then bribe their way to their own form of justice. But we will not let Noor’s death be another statistic.”
Ranked as the sixth most dangerous country for women in the world, Pakistan has a rape conviction rate of 0.3 percent, one of the lowest globally.
Mazari-Hazir, the daughter of Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari, added that the incident also brought to light how women are gaslighted whenever they raise their voice against “predators, murderers and domestic abusers.”
“It was the case with Zahir, too. Yet we were told to not be judgmental because he had ‘mental health issues,’” she said.
Ranked as the sixth most dangerous country for women in the world, Pakistan has a rape conviction rate of 0.3 percent, one of the lowest globally. The country’s own Prime Minister, Imran Khan, has frequently put the blame for violence on women and the kind of clothes they wear.
Earlier this month, the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) BIll 2021 was flagged by an Islamic government body as “contravening” the Islamic way of life in Pakistan. It was seen as critical in protecting women from psychological and physical harm in intimate relationships.
This is also the third incident of violence against women reported in the country over the last week that sparked social media outrage. “I was already so sick of the news about recent incidents. We are so desensitised about aggressive men. And then my friend was murdered,” said Hussain-Ansari.
We are so desensitised about aggressive men. And then my friend was murdered,” said Iyla Hussain-Ansari.
Mazari-Hazir said the incident has deepened the sense of helplessness and anger among women. “There is an epidemic of violence against women, and there’s a continuing impunity for it,” she said.
Mazari-Hazir and Dad also spoke of the pressures families face when daughters are involved in crimes such as these. “There is a lot that a family faces so it’s important that the state and the civil society supports the victim’s family,” said Mazari-Hazir.
For now, Mukadam’s friends and family want justice. “I feel like the noor (‘light’ in Arabic) of my life has been taken away,” said Hussain-Ansari. “This incident should be a wake-up call for our society.”
Rimal Farrukh contributed to the reporting of the story.
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