UPDATE: Pakistan: Community supports their murder of couple who eloped

The News
Dual murders reported as a stoning may have actually been a shooting. Yet the fact remains that another two people have been murdered in the name of their community's 'honour'.
The death of a couple allegedly by public stoning in the troubled Mohmand Agency points towards the ever-present menace of honour killing. Article by Delawar Jan.
"A local court of Taliban, comprising two Qazis, awarded the alleged stoning to death sentence to Dawlat Khan, a resident of Khyber Agency and a woman, Shanoo, hailing from Mohmand Agency after founding them guilty of adultery. Both the victims were already married but had allegedly developed illicit relations and eloped to Karachi. On their return, they were picked by militants from Nowshera Railway Station and brought to the Baizai area of the agency. The verdict handed down by the Qazis was executed on March 31 somewhere in the agency, where the couple was allegedly stoned for more than one hour.

Instead of showing any repentance, the local militants in the troubled Mohmand Agency have threatened to repeat these 'Islamic' punishments in the future. Though the reported stoning to death has caused public outcry and triggered condemnation from the newly-installed federal government, the Taliban leadership brushing aside such concerns and indignation said that they were not bound to respect the Pakistani or Afghanistan laws but Islamic Laws. They said that no one should expect from them to stop issuing 'Islamic verdicts' on any dispute, come what may.

"About 150 Taliban activists stoned the couple for one and a half hour in an unidentified place here. Both were dead within that period as everyone present there hurled stones at them," said Dr Asad, a spokesman for the Taliban, while talking to TNS on telephone from an undisclosed location.

The detractors of stoning to death are of the opinion that the excruciating killing of the couple by hitting them with stones was a terrible act, but the militants said the couple had committed a more flagrant crime by eloping and deserved the treatment meted out to them.

The spokesman said both Dawlat and the woman were already married but they ignored their marital status and established illicit relations in violation of Islamic teachings and tribal tradition. They ran away to Karachi where they committed adultery. "They confessed their crime before the court," he said while justifying the punishment given to the couple.

Critics question the legal and Islamic status of the Taliban 'court' as Islamic court requires certain qualifications. Every mosque, town, district or agency could not have its own-styled Shariah and Islamic Court of its own liking. The critics further argue that no self-proclaimed Qazi, under Islamic teachings, had the right to issue judgments. The argument is also supported by religious scholars.

But Dr Asad shrugs off the argument and says: "Some people in the cities has protested the decision and described it as inhuman but the Taliban will continue to issue such verdicts in future." Reacting to the condemnation of the federal government, he said: "We will not follow the laws formulated by Pakistan or Afghanistan but will decide disputes in accordance with Islamic Laws," he said and hastened to add that they did not care for the repercussions. "We will not budge from our commitment to punish people in line with Islamic Laws, even if our lives are put at stake."

Militants in Mohmand Agency have full control in Lakaro tehsil and have carried out attacks on security forces in all other six tehsils Haleemzai, Khuzai Baizai, Yakaghund, Pindyali, Ambar and Prang Ghaar. The militants had also attacked 'un-Islamic' businesses and professions in the Agency to purge the society of 'obscenity.' Non-government Organisations (NGOs), music and barber shops were among their targets. Dr Asad informed that Umar Khalid (probably a code name) was commanding Taliban in the Mohmand Agency under the umbrella of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). He insisted that not a single bullet was fired at the couple and that they died of the stone injuries. However, the Mohmand Agency's political administration and locals have been vehemently rejecting the Taliban's account and say that the eloped 45-year-old woman and 23-year-old man were gunned down by their relatives in line with the tribal tradition. Unfortunately, the people in the agency who think the couple was shot dead, also support the killing of the couple as, according to locals, it was proper punishment for an eloped couple.

The elders of the agency have blamed the international media for giving it the colour of stoning to death incident and attributing it to militant organisations to malign the tribal people. Authorities in the militancy-hit agency and some independent sources insisted that it was an honour killing and there was no weight in the reports that the couple was stoned to death. "I examined the dead body of Dawlat Khat at Agency Headquarters hospital, Ghalanai and saw at least three bullet holes in his chest," a local journalist told TNS. He claimed that the medical staff at the hospital had also concluded that the man was fired at. Eyewitness accounts, according to the journalist, also declare it an incident of honour killing. "Dawlat was fired at by the husband of the woman," the journalist quoted an eyewitnesses as telling him.

Human rights organisations and the federal government had denounced the extra-judicial killing and termed it as inhuman and brutal. Reacting to the incident, Rakhshanda Naz, Resident Director of Aurat Foundation, an organisation working for women rights, said: "It is unthinkable to kill someone by hitting with stones. It was a brutal act done to further terrify the tribal people and points at the inability of the government in providing protection to its citizens. These days it's very easy to cover-up criminal activities in the garb of Taliban, which is a battalion of unemployed people." She said the incidents of honour killings had been registering a sharp surge but the lack of action by the government has encouraged people to continue with the brutal tradition. "Even local journalists are afraid to report honour killing incidents, because they feel themselves vulnerable, particularly after the death of Hayatullah," she added.

Sherry Rehman, the federal minister for information, issued a statement that "no one will be allowed to take the law into his hands" and reiterated the government's pledge to protect the rights of every citizen irrespective of sex or caste.

However, killings in the name of honour have become a routine in settled districts of the province, let alone tribal areas but the government had badly failed to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Tradition or inhumanity

The tribal people describe honour killing as their tradition and do not welcome any interference from outside to disturb this tradition. Tragic incidents of honour killing have been taking place unabated in the Agency and are accepted. Locals said that in a heart wrenching incident, a couple was burnt alive in Nahqi Kandao area of the Agency for having alleged illicit relations a few months ago and their charred bodies were thrown in a stream.

The tribal people are adamant in their opinion that the girl/woman who elopes with a man should be shot dead. The tribal people support honour killing as they think that eloping with someone or developing illicit relations is an unpardonable crime. "It is an immoral act and cannot be supported under any circumstances," a local said. What is termed a shot-to-death punishment to the couple is supported by the local people.

Tribal Maliks have even shown their anger over the coverage of stoning to death incident. Sources close to a number of Maliks said they were furious over the ongoing campaign to condemn the Dawlat-Shanoo honour killing. There is consensus among the people that it was the best way to shoot the eloped individuals dead to 'shed the stigma' and avoid taunts from fellow villagers. Killing is the only way to decide 'Toor Spin.' Toor refers for one who is found guilty and Spin to the one who turns out to be innocent.

Local people say that both male and female are killed even on suspicion of illicit relation, let alone after elopement. They cannot escape even if they run away. Surprisingly, the families spend huge sums to bring back couples to their native villages for giving them punishment. The relatives of the woman in the recent alleged stoning to death incident, locals claimed, had spent Rs.0.8 million to hunt down the couple. Families and relatives of the accused decide the fate of the accused and jirgas have very little role in disposing of honour killing cases, locals said. The relatives of woman shoot dead the woman and family of man kills the man to end the episode of illicit relations.

By: Delawar Jan

13 April 2008

Source: The News on Sunday (Pakistan)