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The Kohistan story

More than six months after the story first broke of at least four Kohistani girls being killed for singing and clapping at a wedding in the presence of unrelated men, the ugly affair has cropped up again. At the time, a local man, Afzal Kohistani, had alleged the girls had been put to death on orders given by a jirga, after two of his brothers filmed and then released the mobile phone footage of the girls on the Internet.

Afzal Kohistani also claimed that his brothers were under threat from the Azadkhel tribe to which the girls belonged. After the Supreme Court took suo motu notice of the matter, a commission visited the remote district and declared that the girls were alive. And here the matter was put to rest.

But now Afzal Kohistani has said that three of his brothers were killed in an attack on his home, the girls were killed long ago, look-alikes were produced before the commission and a long, bloody feud could break out between the Azadkhel and Salehkhel tribes which could last for years. Kohistani has sought official intervention. Significantly, the attack on Kohistani’s house has been confirmed by provincial authorities, raising the possibility that the rest of his story is not entirely inaccurate. It has been reported that seven people accused of killing the three brothers have been remanded into police custody.

The commission that visited Kohistan in June 2012 had conceded it was difficult to determine the full truth and that their power to investigate was limited. Civil society and human rights organisations have been sceptical of the story of the girls being alive and always maintained reservations about the case. It now seems possible that the girls were killed under orders given by the tribal jirga and three young men have also been murdered in the same case. This just goes to show how uncertain life can become for women in our country, denied even the most minor of liberties. So many of our people live under the fear of jirgas and the arbitrary justice they mete out. The truth in the Kohistan case needs to be uncovered so that persisting doubts can be removed. The onus is on the authorities to ensure that justice is done. It is vital that those who commit such crimes be punished. Unless this becomes a norm, a society’s claim to civilisation remains disputed.

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