Afzal Kohistani was a man on a mission, a mission that he believed in and eventually sacrificed his life for.
His struggle started in 2012 when he brought the Kohistan video scandal to our attention. The scandal shows the ugly face of “honour” in our society which ironically ends in death for those accused of bringing dishonour upon their families. And it takes very little to bring “dishonor”. Something as simple as clapping or dancing is enough. And that’s exactly what happened in the Kohistan video scandal.
In the grainy cellphone video four women are seen clapping and singing as two men danced as a part of wedding celebrations in Seerto village in Kohistan in 2012. The women in the video belonged to the Azadkhel tribe and the men were from the Salekhel tribe.
The Azadkhel elders felt that this brought “dishonor” to them. A jirga issued a decree that the men and women in the video along with a 12-year-old girl had to be killed. Soon after the edict was issued, the men went into hiding.
Afzal, a brother of the men in the video, decided he would not stay silent and took it upon himself to bring it to the media. He went to the Supreme Court claiming that all the women seen in the video along with a minor were killed after the jirga.
His efforts paid off when in June 2012 then chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad took suo moto notice. A fact-finding mission was dispatched. But this victory was short-lived for Afzal as the commission concluded that the women were alive.
For Afzal, vindication came in the form of dissent by Farzana Bari, a member of the commission. She opposed the commission’s report saying that there were doubts surrounding the identity of the girls produced before the commission and she wasn’t sure if they were the same girls from the video or some random burqa-clad girls.
Afzal continued his fight for justice and paid the price for it. His three elder brothers were killed in January 2013.
Finally, the SC reopened the case after a petition was filed by the National Commission on the Status of Women. The court ordered an investigation to ascertain whether the girls were safe following conflicting reports on their wellbeing.
A judicial commission formed by the top court and headed by the Kohistan district and sessions judge had revealed that the families had actually produced other underage girls and tried to pass them off as the girls seen in the video.
The court ordered the suspects to be arrested after it was verified by NADRA that the girls shown by the families were not the ones in the video.
Finally, five of the seven suspects nominated in the case were arrested in December last year.
Following the arrests, Afzal claimed that his life was in danger. He alleged that a jirga held in Pallas had planned to kill him wherever he was spotted.
And on March 6, he was shot dead.
And so, in this case, by an unofficial count, nine people, including five girls, three of Afzal’s brothers and Afzal himself have been murdered over a video. The official figure is seven as the court was able to ascertain the death of the three girls.
BBC correspondent Muhammad Zubair, who has been covering the case since 2012, said people who have been arrested for the murder of the girls are their relatives. The real culprits, the jirga members who issued the decree, have not been arrested yet.
Afzal’s six-year-long struggle and ultimately his murder means that our system of justice does not work. It took years, two fact-finding missions and countless hearings at the highest levels of justice to establish that the girls were actually killed.
Are parallel justice systems in Pakistan so powerful that they can challenge and thwart the writ of the State? How many more Afzal Kohistanis are going to pay the price of standing up against a system in which women can be killed to protect the “honour” of families?