A file photo of Afzal Kohistani Image Credit:

Dubai: Afzal Kohistani – the man who fought for justice in the brutal ‘honour’ killing of three boys and five girls in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) – was shot dead on Wednesday in cold blood.

The killing of the whistle blower who brought the 2012 Kohistan Video Scandal to the attention of public, has once again brought focus to the menace of the ‘jirga’ system (a tribal court of elders) and draconian rules prevailing in tribal areas of Pakistan.

Afzal Kohistani was killed in a shootout on Wednesday night in a densely populated area of Abbottabad city in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. It was Afzal who leaked the video of boys and girls dancing and clapping together at a wedding ceremony held in a remote conservative area of KPK’s Kohistan district which borders the tribal belt of Pakistan.

The incident depicted in the video occurred in 2011. In the eyes of the locals, the youngsters had violated tribal norms and brought dishonour upon them. As a result, girls seen in the audience as well as the man who was seen dancing and his two brothers, were later murdered on the orders of the jirga in 2012.

According to Station House Officer Ghafoor of the Cantt police station, Afzal was accompanied by his nephew at the time of the shooting. The nephew shot back at the gunmen and remained unhurt, Dawn news reported.

Condemning the incident, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader Senator Sherry Rehman said she would raise the issue in the parliament. “I will be raising this shocking murder of Afzal Kohistani in the parliament. This was the brave man who publicised the honour killing of three girls and boys from the Kohistan video scandal.. [He] had been receiving threats for a long time, yet wasn’t provided security,” Senator Rehman tweeted.

Women Democratic Front in Pakistan in its tweet says: “Women Democratic Front strongly condemns the killing of Afzal Kohistan, the only witness of Kohistan case. He was a phenomenally brave man who stood for justice for the victims. The murderers must be punished.”

What was the Kohistan video scandal?

The Kohistan video scandal made headlines in 2012 when a group of three boys and five girls were killed by members of their tribe after a mobile phone video of them dancing at a wedding in a remote village in Kohistan emerged on social media.

The video showed five females singing and clapping as the male family members danced. After the video was leaked, a jirga (tribal council meeting) was held by the girls’ tribe which decreed the killing of the boys and girls under ‘riwaj’—the tribal custom – for bringing dishonor to the tribe.

Afzal was the brother of one of the boys in the video. Three of Afzal’s brothers - Shah Faisal, Sher Wali and Rafiuddin - were killed inside their home on January 3, 2013, reportedly by men belonging to girls’ tribe. They also set Afzal’s house on fire, killing a child.

After a delay of seven years, a case was finally registered on July 31, 2018, at Palas police station on the Supreme Court’s orders as the culprits remained at large.

Following the registration of the case, four suspects, namely Umar Khan, Saber, Mohammad Sarfraz and Saeed, were arrested. Upon interrogation, the suspects confessed to killing three of the girls — Begum Jan, Sireen Jan and Bazgha — by firing.

Afzal had been of the firm view that the suspects were lying.

“They killed all five girls after severely torturing them and are not identifying graves as it will reveal their brutality.”

Threats against Afzal

Afzal had been receiving constant death threats, prompting the Supreme Court to direct the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government to provide him security, but the orders were reportedly not followed.

In January this year, while talking to media, Afzal had said that during the last court hearing he was scared as his rivals had informed their group about his arrival at the civil court in Kohistan.

“After the court has convicted the accused for killing the women,... my life is under threat and I am seeking security,” he had said.

He had alleged that a jirga held in Palas had also decreed to kill him wherever he was sighted.

“They think that I have destroyed the honour of the people of Kohistan, and killing me is their target, but I will continue the fight against the so-called culture in which animals are more valuable than human beings,” he had vowed.

Although Pakistan has taken step to merge erstwhile‘independently’ run Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) by various Pahstun tribes, the immediate steps are required to ensure rule of law in these areas.

It is high time that Prime Minister Imran Khan bring the tribal people in to the mainstream legal and court system instead of allowing them to keep killing people in the name of ‘honour’ by taking decision based oncenturies-old Jirga system.

Pashtun traditions and laws

The Pashtun have their own tribal laws reaching back to thousands of years. These rules govern the people who consider themselves Pashtun first and Pakistani or Afghan second.

The Pashtuns in particular have a code of honour, a sort of chivalric code rooted in honesty, honour and courage. There is a famous Pashtun saying that says: “I took revenge after a hundred years, and I took it too soon.”.

Central to identity as a Pashtun is adherence to the male-centered code of conduct. The foremost commandment of the Pashtun culture is ‘Badal’ or revenge. The obligation to take revenge for any perceived wrong doing falls not only upon the man who has suffered it, but also upon his family and the tribe.

Their unwritten law says that ‘without honour, life for a Pashtun is not worth living’. They believe that it is the absolute duty of men to protect the respectability of women and to protect the integrity of the homeland.

They believe that complete chastity among female relatives is most essential; only with the purity and good repute of his mother, daughters, sisters, and wife (or wives) does a man ensure his honour. Thus women are restricted to private, family compounds in much of the province.