Reporting from the ground, TNS takes a closer look at the murder of Afzal Kohistani, the man who singlehandedly fought the legal battle against the honour killing of girls who appeared in a leaked video
Thirty-one-year-old Muhammad Afzal Kohistani is the latest person to be killed in connection with a leaked mobile phone video in 2012, showing four women cheering and clapping for two dancing young brothers at a wedding in remote Bandro Gadar valley in Kolai-Palas district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Afzal Kohistani singlehandedly fought the legal battle against the unnoticed and rarely reported honour killings in Kohistan since the emergence of the infamous Kohistan video scandal. The video thought to have been filmed in late 2011 or early 2012 resulted in the deaths of four girls seen in the video, namely Bazegha, Siran Jan, Begum Jan, and Amina Bibi. A fifth girl, Shaheen aged 14 at the time and not visible in the video, is also said to have been killed soon after the short clip was mistakenly leaked by the person filming the video, a cousin of the two dancing men Gul Nazar and Bin Yasir, aged 21 and 18 respectively at that time. Nazar and Yasir were the youngest of seven brothers including Afzal Kohistani. Afzal’s three other brothers, Shah Faisal, 40, Sher Wali, 37 and 34-year-old Rafiuddin were killed by the girls’ families after the men failed to hand over their youngest brothers Nazar and Yasir. The four slain brothers are survived by 11 daughters and 10 sons as orphans. Of the seven brothers, Gul Shahzada who is now 49 is the only one left alive.
Following the alleged slaughter of the five girls, probably on May 30, 2012, Afzal Kohistani was also silenced forever on March 6, 2019 in the proximity of a police station in Abbottabad. He was supposed to appear before a court the following morning regarding the case related to the video scandal.
While talking to TNS from an unknown location, Gul Nazar informed that Afzal had repeatedly expressed concerns for his safety. "He knew he would be killed because he had not only challenged the evil system of Kohistan, he had also angered many officials by challenging their false statements regarding the fate of the girls."
Gul Nazar and Bin Yasir managed to flee their village in the middle of the night as a local grand jirga of 40-45 men headed by a powerful religious leader decided that all the girls and the four brothers, including Afzal Kohistani, must be killed under the choar custom of honour killing. Any interaction of a man or woman with the opposite sex is liable to death under the choar custom in the eminently conservative Upper Kohistan, Lower Kohistan and Kolai-Palas districts of KP.
In addition to these nine killings, two men from the girls’ side were also allegedly killed by Afzal’s brothers before they were shot dead by the girls’ family. "In our area when someone kills a person from the opposite side, they announce it openly to let the other side know who has killed their family member. Afzal’s brothers did exactly that before they were killed," a villager in Palas told this scribe on condition of anonymity.
"One of the girls, Amina Bibi was engaged to a cleric who refused to kill her unless the family arranged for him to marry Amina’s sister. However, Amina was killed after some time," the unnamed source claimed.
His claim also corresponds to what rights’ activist Farzana Bari had witnessed on her visit to the village as part of a commission formed by the then Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry after Afzal Kohistani claimed the girls were killed by the jirga.
"We were shown one girl Amina Bibi on our first visit. She had survived mainly because she was married in Badl-e-Sulah, in return for a patch-up between two families and her husband had demanded another wife before killing Amina. Maybe she is still alive," said Farzana Bari.
She added that two more girls were shown to the commission during a second visit 10 days after the first visit. "Justice Muneera Abbasi and Bushra Gohar, the other two female members of the commission, believed the girls were Siran Jan and Begum Jan. However, I had serious doubts, feeling that the two girls were imposters and not the ones from the video."
Farzana Bari also claimed that one girl Bazegha was never shown to any commission but still the administration, police officials and leadership of the then ruling party in KP, Awami National Party (ANP) covered up the killings of the girls by submitting false reports in the court. "Only recently the police reported to the Chief Justice of Pakistan that three out of four girls in the video were dead. They still claim that Amina is alive. More so, Afzal Kohistani would always claim that a minor girl Shaheen present in the room was also killed and thrown into a river like the other bodies," she said.
There are conflicting reports about what happened to the bodies of the girls. The unnamed source in Palas told this scribe that the girls were most probably buried in one grave away from the small Gadar village that consists of around 40 houses.
It merits mentioning that a video statement of Afzal Kohistani emerged a day after he was killed in Abbottabad. In it, he had expressed his disappointment over the way he was treated by the police. He sought police and court protection for himself and his brothers against the enemies who he claimed were not going to let him live, and to expose the evils of Kohistan.
Abbas Majeed Marwat, District Police Officer (DPO) Abbottabad, claimed the video was not a fresh one as claimed by some circles. "The person who filmed Afzal recording the statement has told us it was done about two-and-a-half years ago. It only emerged after the killing," he said.
Police has arrested one suspect Faiz ur Rahman from the crime scene after Afzal was shot dead. "A pistol recovered from Faiz ur Rahman had 10 shots fired from it. Police managed to collect empty shells from the crime scene and have sent them for forensic tests," DPO Abbottabad informed.
However, Gul Nazar claimed the 20-year-old Faiz ur Rahman was his nephew who used to accompany Afzal Kohistani for his personal security. "The licensed pistol he carried belonged to Afzal. He tried to chase and shoot the persons who had shot Afzal. Police have lodged a false First Information Report against him, accusing him of killing Afzal," Gul Nazar explained.
Refuting the claims by Afzal’s family regarding the dubious role of Station House Officer (SHO) Abdul Ghafoor Khan who also hails from Kohistan, DPO Marwat said the SHO was neither involved in arresting Faiz ur Rahman nor did he send anything for forensic tests or investigations.
"Officers superior to the SHO are directly working on the case. No one has any grudge against the person arrested from the crime scene. One of the three injured people has accused Faiz ur Rahman of firing at him. The forensic lab reports will clarify everything," Marwat added.
Afzal’s family have nominated three persons for his killing. One of them, Mosam Khan was arrested on March 8 by police in Palas. Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Palas Habib ur Rahman said the other two nominated accused were still at large and were probably hiding somewhere in Mansehra.
The latest killing in the video scandal has led Afzal Kohistani’s lawyer, Saboor Khan, to lose hope. "The state has failed to protect my client. Afzal’s blood has been wasted. I have seen the investigations throughout the process. The police have not even shared a copy of the FIR with me. In simple words, it is a waste of time contesting this case."
Afzal’s family is living in miserable conditions in a remote area in Alai, Battagram district of KP. They are unable to move or work and are living in constant fear of attack by their resourceful enemies. According to Abdur Rauf Babar, DPO Battagram, the family lives at about 40 minutes’ drive from the nearest police station. "We have provided them with round the clock security. Five police officers including a lady police constable are constantly guarding the family. They are provided police protection when they move out of the area.
"Unfortunately, Afzal preferred staying low-profile and avoided security. On Feb 28, my DSP met him and served him an advisory notice regarding security protocols during his movement. It is unfortunate that a single person had to fight so bravely for the past seven years. He is our hero."
Babar said the family was is still under threat but the police will provide them full security. The case belongs to Palas district but long-lasting enmities are common in Kohistan.