In distant Pakistan, outside of the large city of Karachi, a female social activist was gunned down last week, apparently for helping poor people build houses in a fast-developing region desired by the local mafia.
Her death made news worldwide.
And in Las Vegas, her brother, a physician by trade, was mourning her death, which he attributes to terrorists who have long opposed her efforts to empower the poor.
“The last time I saw her she gave me this strange double look at the airport, something I’d never seen before,” Anis Khair said of his late sister, Perween Rehman, 56. “It kept coming back to me, and I kept wondering, ‘Why did she give me that look?’ ”
When he asked her what the look was about, she said she was sad because she was uncertain when she would see him again.
In an interview Saturday, Khair said he never interpreted it to mean that it was going to be the last time.
“What do you mean?” he said he asked her. “You’ll see me next year in April when you come out to visit me in Las Vegas.”
But on Wednesday , Rehman was shot twice in the neck by gunmen who ambushed her car.
She was buried in a Karachi cemetery, alongside her father.
The ceremony took place within three days of her death, as is Muslim custom, Khair said. He didn’t get a chance to say goodbye.
Now all that remains are the memories of growing up with her in what was then Bangladesh before the family moved to Karachi in the early 1970s.
It was just three weeks ago that he visited her, then saw her off at the airport.
She was on her way to Bangkok to lecture at a university.
Such deeds weren’t uncommon for a progressive woman of her stature — a well-educated architect who long ago decided to leave development of retail outlets and malls to others and instead help the poor build houses on land that is legally theirs but is denied to them by organized crime and corrupt officials.
According to a BBC report, Rehman was head of the Orangi Pilot Project, one of Pakistan’s most successful nonprofit programs. She and her work were made famous by the book “Instant City: Life and Death in Karachi.’’
In a statement issued after her death, the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan called on those who “believe in freedom, justice and human rights” to stand up to the “enemy who wants to eliminate all symbols of hope.”
Her brother said she taught the people how to work Pakistan’s legal system, showing them how to file official paperwork as well as where they should dig foundations for their homes.
“We all supported her financially,” said Khair, a medical researcher who has lived in Las Vegas since 2005. “She lived with her mother. She never made much money off of what she did.”
The mother, 89, is taking the death hard, he said.
Khair received the sad news from his niece, Saima, who called to tell him his sister — her aunt, or “khala” — was dead.
“I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ ” he recounted.
“She said, ‘Your sister has died. It’s all over the news. I just wanted to let you know.’ ”
Then the two of them broke down crying, he said.
In Urdu, the predominant language of Pakistan, the name of the country itself means, “Pure Land.”
But Khair said he fears the land is no longer pure, and began its descent well before the death of his sister.
“A country that cannot protect its own pure, untainted gems,” he wrote on his Facebook page, “... cannot be called land of pure any more. Pakistan, you no longer exist.”
Contact reporter Tom Ragan at tragan @reviewjournal.com or 702-224-5512.