NEW DELHI: Sabeen Mahmud, a well-known human and social rights activist in Pakistan, was shot dead in Karachi on Friday, shortly after hosting an event on Balochistan’s “disappeared people.” She was laid to rest on Saturday.

Mahmud ran “The Second Floor” Cafe -- that organised debates and art events that had become the mainstay of Karachi’s activists since it opened in 2007. She was gunned down by unknown assailants as she was hit by five bullets and died on the spot. Her mother, who was with her at the time of the attack, was critically injured.

Her death led to an outpouring of support, and refocused attention on the controversial issue of “disappearances” in Balochistan. The International Voice for Baloch Missing Persons says 18,000 people from the region are unaccounted for, of which approximately 2000 were killed between 2001 and 2013. There are vast discrepancies in the official numbers. In 2008, Interior Minister Rehman Malik placed the figure at 1100. However, in 2011, Balochistan Home Minister Zafrullah Zehri claimed that only 55 people were missing.

While there is contention on the numbers, there is an emerging consensus, amongst organizations including the Human Rights Watch and the HRCP, that most of these disappearances have been perpetuated by government institutions, specifically the intelligence agencies and Frontier Corps, often in conjunction with the local police.