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Kohistan girls alive, SC told

Ayesha Shahid

ISLAMABAD: A team sent to a village in Kohistan to determine the truth about five women who were reported to have been killed after being sentenced to death by a jirga for clapping at a wedding when two young men were dancing told the Supreme Court on Thursday that they were alive and safe.

The report of the team which met two of the five girls put serious doubts about claims of Mohammad Afzal, a brother of one of the men in mobile phone footage of the wedding.

Mr Afzal claimed the women had been killed on May 30 on the orders of a cleric who led the tribal jirga.

A reporter walked up to him before the hearing resumed at 4:30pm and said: “Your case is losing ground, you should start coming to terms with it.”

Mohammad Afzal is a soft spoken, firm and calm man with sharp cheekbones and features often seen in Kohistan. He has a shy smile that creeps up occasionally, but is suppressed quickly.

“I gave an exam to join the motorway police but I never wanted to join the Kohistani police — they treat everyone so badly,” he said in a frank moment.

Mr Afzal was working at a lawyer’s office after doing his BA from Mansehra Degree College two years ago. He court married a girl four years ago who he left back in Allai, Battagram, when he got caught in this case. “I am 100 per cent sure that the information provided to me about the murder of the girls is correct. I will ask the court to either get fingerprints of the girls or send a judicial body to meet them if they believe the report of the team is true,” he said with confidence.

Ms Riffat Butt, a member of the team, told the court: “The girls are alive and safe. We have met Amna and Shaheen, the remaining three live on another hill which was seven hours away so we were not able to reach them.

“When we landed, we did not know where to go, so we split in two teams and started walking. We walked for two hours and found that houses were empty because people only move there seasonally.

“Then we saw some men and explained the whole situation to them. They said they know the girls but simply refused to send them with us to Islamabad.”

The men took Riffat Butt and Sabeena Ayyaz, another member of the team, to the house of Amna and Shaheen. The father of the girls allowed the team to meet the girls after some hesitation.

“We put the pictures in front of them in which Amna identified herself and other girls,” Ms Riffat said.

The team recorded the conversation in a video, but that is for the eyes of the judges only by express permission of the girls’ father.

According to the team, they found the four people, who have been identified as witnesses to the murder by Mohammad Afzal. They all showed complete ignorance about the incident.

According to Amna, the video was not recorded at the wedding but at a private gathering where women and men came together in the presence of the boys’ mother.

“We are satisfied,” said the team members when asked about the proof they had found.

However, they emphasised that “the administration needs to meet the remaining three girls and ensure their safety”.

The Chief Justice ordered officials of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government to make arrangements for another team of women to be sent to the area of Allai to find the remaining three girls (Basra, Begum Jan and Sareen Jan) by the next hearing on June 20.

Then the Chief Justice gave Mohammad Afzal one final chance to speak, and even before Mr Afzal could finish his objection, Justice Jawwad S. Khwaja dismissed him, “Afzal sahab, you have been taking us for a ride.”The firm Afzal seemed to disappear in the crowd as the court was adjourned.

Nisar Ahmad Khan adds from Mansehra: Kohistan DPO Abdul Majid Afridi, on his return from the village, told newsmen that the elders were unwilling to produce the girls in court but were ready to give assurances that they wouldn’t be harmed.

“The families and local elders, in accordance with culture and tradition of the area, are unwilling to produce the women in court but they reaffirmed their earlier stance that they are ready to give every sort of surety that they are alive and will be protected in future too,” said Mr Afridi.

The team members, who were stranded in Kohistan because of inclement weather on Wednesday, left Puttan for Ochar Nulla early in the morning on Thursday after pilots of three helicopters were given green signals. KP Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain later joined them.

Mr Afridi said Mohammad Afzal wanted to settle scores of his tribe Salaykhail’s enmity with Azadkhail and wanted to seek asylum abroad.

“The women belong to Azadkhail tribe. Mr Afzal and his brothers first made their video and then tampered it to disgrace the rival tribe. The media also played a negative and irresponsible role by helping him to achieve his personal agenda,” he said.