Killed for enjoying music? What is the truth?

Published: February 14, 2014
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If justice is not done in the Kohistan video scandal case, we will all suffer, particularly the women of Kohistan. PHOTO: AFP

Kohistan is a settled district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the predominantly non-Pashtun Hazara Division. It stretches to about 7,500 square kilometres on both, the east and west of the Indus River. The population of Kohistan is over 550,000 and the people speak Shina and Kohistani – both of Dardic origin.

However, like the controversial video scandal the culture, history and ethnography of Kohistan is a mystery for the common Pakistani.

Western Kohistan was a part of Swat-Kohistan in the district of Swat but back in the 70s it was made a separate district as was eastern Kohistan.

Interestingly, the Kohistan district has two judicial systems in practice. Western Kohistan is judicially connected to the Malakand division where the Nizam-e-Ad Regulation of 2009 is in practice while eastern Kohistan is under regular law like the Hazara Division. The people of eastern Kohistan are predominantly Shina speakers whereas people in western Kohistan speak Kohistani or Maya.

Culturally the people have their own music, poetry and arts. They live a hard and secluded life due to the rugged terrain with steep narrow gorges and valleys. One hardly finds any Kohistani in prestigious positions outside of Kohistan. Lacking modern education facilities and cultural infusion, they are usually subject to a harsh interpretation of religion mixed with their strict cultural code. Being politically less active and educationally poor, the clerics in the area are the sole spokespersons and have the support of the powerful Maliks. The state has so far failed to deliver in terms of infrastructure, education and health in Kohistan.

In such a conservative environment, it is no surprise that women are usually not allowed to vote and the candidates are selected by casting lots instead of a fair and free election.

Kohistan has the lowest Human Development Index (HDI) in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and is only one place higher than Dera Bugti in Balochistan which is at the bottom of the list. The overall literacy rate in Kohistan is not more than 12% while the female literacy is hardly 2%.

The reason behind sketching this picture of Kohistan is for the reader to understand the socio-economic environment that sets the backdrop for cases of honour killings and human rights violation. The Kohistan video scandal is but the tip of the iceberg.

According to locals, honour killing and human rights violations are but routine acts here. Devoid of educational infrastructure and dysfunctional intervention by the state, the people deem their real oppressors as God-gifted saviours. These men have virtually replaced the state and operate at their own free will.

The decree by Maulana Abdul Haleem, an ex-MNA from the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl  (JUF-I) two years ago in which he said that the youth of Kohistan would forcefully marry girls affiliated with NGOs is ample testimony of the state’s failure in exerting its writ, as is the warning given by 85 clerics and prayer leaders.

With much the same objective, the Kohistan video case was hijacked by clerics in their hatred for NGOs and civil society workers. They had given June 29, 2012 as the deadline to decide the fate of NGOs.

The Kohistan video surfaces again and again despite the previous government’s design to keep it under the carpet forever. The scandal has killed eight people so far and their ghosts still haunt the government, courts and the civil society. If the fiery chief justice and the Supreme Court had given the video scandal priority back then, men who were killed after the scandal went public, could have been saved.

According to locals, the Kohistan video originated in Gadaar village of Palas tehsil in eastern Kohistan almost three years ago. It circulated among people via mobiles through Bluetooth. The girls shown in the video were all married. The locals assert that the girls were killed almost a month after the video came into the notice of their families. According to them, initially no cleric was involved and they did not pass any fatwa. The murder was solely decided by the jirga of the concerned tribe Azadkhel.

They further allege that the fact-finding mission assigned by the Supreme Court to the area on June 7, 2012 could not establish any fact and was misled by the then government.

This fact-finding mission claimed that only a single girl – Amna – was presented before them and they recognised her as one of the girls in the video. The mission also said that Amna pointed towards the mountains as if implying that the other girls were alive and lived there. Despite the willingness of the mission, the administration prevented them from investigating further saying that they had to rush back to Islamabad and present the report to the Supreme Court.

This girl, Amna, was brought from Sertay – the summer village situated about four hours away from Peech Bela on foot – where the mission had managed to reach. The question is who stopped the locals from bringing the other girls if they were alive? Why was the government in such a hurry to rush back and why was a translator other than Amna’s uncle not provided?

These are a few questions that still need answers.

Recently the Salekhel tribe – to which the boys belonged – demanded the Azadkhel to admit to the murder of the girls. They further resolved that they would regard the two boys guilty and nobody else.

What does this imply?

That the Azadkhel had killed the girls and the Salehkhel wanted to do justice by killing four men of their own tribe who had been accused as well?

On January 4, 2013 a man from Salehkhel revealed that three of his brothers had been killed on the orders of the jirga.

The local say that the clerics were not involved and that many of them regard the girls as shaheed. If so, why didn’t the clerics get agitated when the girls were murdered? And why have they warned the NGOs of dire consequences?

Most of the locals claim that four girls have been killed. But why did they spare Amna then?

And above all where was the government when all this was happening?

And where is it now when the clerics publicly threatened the NGOs?

Why is the provincial government behaving in this case in the same way that it did in the case of the Swat flogging video when the Taliban lashed a girl – by condemning the act and saying that it was a deliberate attempt to undermine peace talks?

The Kohistan video case must not be deemed limited to Kohistan only. Its effects can be manifold and far spread across the country. If justice is not mete out and the case is thrown into the pit of societal oblivion we will all suffer – particularly the women of Kohistan whose lives have always been at the mercy of men.

Activists in Kohistan want a change in this gory state of affairs, unfortunately carried out in the name of culture. They see a just and logical solution of the video case as the first step towards civilisation.

Zubair Torwali

Zubair Torwali

A human rights and developmental activist of the Torwali community in Swat. He leads the local organization IBT--Idara Baraye Taleem-o-Taraqi and tweets @zubairtorwali (twitter.com/zubairtorwali)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.