Honour killings in Pakistan have been the norm within the pre-colonial tribal system. The tribal trial through which an honour killing can be sentenced is called a Jirga, and trials such as this continue to occur to this day. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reports that, ever since 2012, over 4,900 lives have been taken as a result of this norm.
The recent death of Afzal Kohistani on the 6th of March sheds light on this issue. The cause of Kohistani’s death began in 2012 when a video was released of 4 women and 2 men of different tribes dancing and singing at a wedding, violating the local custom and triggering the ordering of a Jirga. Headed by Javad Azadkhel of the women’s tribe, the alarming verdict was reached that all those in the video should be killed.
Kohistani himself hailed from Palas Valley in Kohistan, a highly conservative and culturally traditional region. The two men in the video had been his brothers, and he had approached the police in Abbottabad in northern Pakistan to plead their case, following which he had then been dragged into the station and beaten for hours. After a press conference held by Kohistani, demanding justice for his brother’s lives, the women from the video had already been killed, and the brothers had gone into hiding.
Kohistani sought justice through various means. He pleaded with police, government bodies, and both local and supreme courts. His end goal had been the arrest of the perpetrators and protection for his remaining family members. Following these campaigns, three of Kohistani’s brothers — none of whom appeared in the video — were shot dead by gunmen from the women’s tribe, just outside of a mosque.
On the day of March 6th, Kohistani had been with his nephew, Faiz-ur-Rehman, for protection on his way to the court. Eyewitnesses say they heard four gunshots when Faiz ran out of his car, shooting a pistol in pursuit of the attackers. He was then apprehended by police, as he appeared to be fleeing the scene of the crime. The three shooters are, allegedly, named Abdul Hameed, Mausam Khan, and Habib-ur-Rehman, all of whom are from the women’s tribe.
Nazar, Kohistani’s brother, is reportedly devastated by his death, lamenting, “He got no justice, and now he has been killed… there is a danger to us, there is a danger to our family.” Kohistani’s family is now unable to do tasks as simple as leaving the house to go and pick up groceries for fear of their lives. “We have nothing left,” Nazar added. “We don’t know how to continue surviving”.
Kohistani’s case has massive implications for the population of nations like Pakistan. Farzana Bari, a women’s rights activist stated that, “This very feudal and tribal nature of patriarchy, it really sees women and property or a sexual object, as belonging to men.” She then concludes on the reason that the community seems to protect such practices. “Women are free domestic labour at home. That status quo, no man wants to dismantle. There is a dividend of patriarchy which every male enjoys.”
What Kohistani’s death shows us is just how high the price is in pursuing justice surrounding honour-based killings. However, 419 people had been killed over honour across Pakistan last year, and that number is a stark decrease from at least 919 in 2012, the year that this case originally occurred, suggesting that his calls may not have gone unheard.
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