Murder most foul

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The murder of Afzal Kohistani is symptomatic of multi-faceted issues threatening Pakistani polity. The state is clearly oblivious of its fundamental responsibility of ensuring an individual’s right to life. Afzal was someone who was not only a citizen of this country but also a witness to a high profile case. He was a voice against the entrenched cruel cultural practices that impose unlawful restrictions on an individual’s liberty. He was a whistle-blower of murders of as many as eight young men and women whose only wrong was to dance and clap to a song at a wedding ceremony, the grainy video of which later went viral on the social media. More so he has been requesting the authorities concerned to provide him protection against threats. His life was in danger at the hands of the very forces he was speaking against.

He was killed in broad daylight in Abbottabad in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa apparently by people who were offended by his steadfastness in the face of brutality.

The said video came to the fore in 2012. Afzal later alleged that the five girls appearing in the video had been killed in May that year by the family members of the girls at the orders of a jirga for violating tribal code and bringing dishonour upon the family.

It did not stop there. In January of 2013, three of Afzal’s brothers were killed allegedly by men belonging to the girls’ family.

The then chief justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhary on a suo motu notice had ordered the registration of a case. A commission comprising eminent lawyers and civil society representatives was formed that had visited the area and concluded that the girls were alive.  One commission member, Farzana Bari, disagreeing with the commission report had alleged that the local administration including the police in connivance with the elected representatives was trying to bury the issue.

Afzal however persisted in his claim, which in January, 2019 was endorsed by the KP police which, according to a report, found out that the five girls in question were in fact killed. Subsequently, the KP police made some arrests. Those arrests precisely were the reason behind the recent threats that Afzal had been referring to and became a victim of.

Right defenders have lost a strong voice in the death of Afzal. This is a matter they should not take lightly. Or the regressive forces will further be emboldened.