Murders by any name

May 24, 2020

The recent killings of two girls in the name of‘honour’ in South Waziristan reveal not only the paradox of ‘culture’ and ‘tradition’ but also are a test for the KP police


A few days ago, an ‘objectionable’ mobile phone video that went viral on the internet resulted in the murder of two teenage girls of Zangarra village, Shaktui, South Waziristan in the name of ‘honour’. A call for the death of those involved in bringing dishonour to the tribal culture, made by an influential tribal head Badshahi Khan via a Facebook live video, sealed the fate of the girls.

The man who killed both the girls, a few others who abetted him, and the one in the video seen kissing the girls have been arrested by the police after an FIR was registered against them at Razmak police station in North Waziristan.

The murders in the name of ‘tribal honour’ in the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas, now referred to as Merged Areas, is a test case for the civilian law enforcement agency, the police, whose powers were extended to the region after it was merged with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The initial response has been prompt. The man who murdered the girls, their cousin, Muhammad Aslam (son of Shadar Khan) along with the three who abetted the crime, and Ayaz Wazir who made the video were apprehended and produced in court. An intervention at an earlier stage might have prevented the crime.

How the video went viral

The family of the deceased girls belongs to the Mehsud tribe and has lived in Zangarra village, Shaktui, South Waziristan. They were displaced during the military operation and relocated to the Shaplin village, Garyum, North Waziristan, where they ran a retail shop. According to a local journalist, the man in the video, Umar Ayaz Wazir, was part of a group of men known for having relationships with girls and blackmailing them after making their videos. In this video, one of the girls the man had kissed had had links with a friend of his in the group. After a dispute between them, he sent the video to his estranged friend taunting him that he had kissed the girl he had befriended. The friend was outraged and leaked the video, apparently to expose Umar and get him killed.

How the girls were killed

After the video went viral, the family tried not to avoid identification. They left the area and moved to their native villag,e Zangarra. The murderer, Muhammad Aslam, the husband of the third veiled woman in the video whose fate is still unknown, was in Karachi and returned to look for Umar Wazir in Garyum and Shawwal, but couldn’t find him. He then went back and killed the two girls (his cousins). Since people in their native village didn’t know the details; they were told that the girls had died in a roof collapse. A funeral was held. Later, it was discovered that the girls had been dead before the roof collapse.

The conservative religious circles, however, are having a field day. They found an opportunity to support and advocate strict controls, like in the days of militants’ takeover of the region.

Who is Badshahi Khan?

Badhshahi Khan belongs to the family that has been linked to militants in the past. He belongs to Nazar Khail, a Mehsud sub-tribe. His uncle Khushal Mehsud, a tribal chief, and a few others were targeted and killed by unknown assailants in Gomal, in Tank district. Allegedly, he had had links with Baitullah Mehsud. It is said that the dera of Khushal Mehsud would be used by the TTP kingpin for holding its shura meetings. His house and dera were later bulldozed during a military operation.

Badshahi Khan went to Karachi and allegedly used his links with militants to set up a crime and extortion racket in the name of TTP. Later, he switched allegiances and worked as an informer for Rao Anwar, the former Malir SSP and helped him trace militants who were killed in staged encounters.

Last year, he ‘married’ 12-years-old girl from Quetta after paying a huge amount to her parents as valvar (bride money). A few years back, Badshahi Khan had moved to Dera Ismail Khan, where he still lives. In the viral video, he called for the death of the girls and the man in the video, and spoke against 3G/4G services available in the region, saying these would lead to more of such videos being spread and disseminated, eventually bringing ‘dishonour’ to the tribal culture.

A test case

In a region that has witnessed mayhem and deaths during periods of insurgency and the subsequent military operations, and due to tribal feuds and disputes over lands, murders in the name of ‘honour’, hardly anyone would have raised an eyebrow if this story hadn’t made it to the headlines and the region hadn’t become a centre of attention in the last couple of years due to the political upheavals. It led to a debate over the response of the leadership and supporters of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement. Some people said that they didn’t come out as strongly against the killings as they would have had the violence had anything to do with the militants or the law enforcement agencies.

The conservative religious circles, however, are having a field day. They found an opportunity to support and advocate strict controls, like in the days of militants’ takeover of the region. Some of them are trying to make a case against the use of cellular phones and the 3G/4G services.

A youth from Waziristan worries that the incident might be used as a pretext for denying citizens access to 3G/4G services in the area. He says this has been a demand by the extremists. During the prevailing Covid-19 crisis, the shift of universities and colleges to the web and online platforms has made it necessary for thousands of students to have access to fast internet.

“Blaming 3G/4G and the internet for the video going viral means they don’t have an issue with the [apparently] ‘immoral’ acts per se, or killing in the name of ‘honour’, their only concern is stopping the spread of the video. It is ironic on many counts,” he concludes.

The police have apprehended the murder suspect and the person responsible for making the video, but the person who disseminated the video is yet to be identified and apprehended. Prosecuting the culprits while ignoring pressure from influential tribal chieftains would still be an uphill task.

The writer is a journalist based in Peshawar

Murders by any name