In a rare response, Pakistan will investigate claims of brutal honour killing of a teenager in Sindh province.
Pakistan to investigate 'honour killing' case
ISLAMABAD // The Pakistani president, Asif Ali Zardari, has ordered an investigation into the particularly gruesome "honour killing" of a teenage woman in southern Sindh province. The murder of Taslim Khatoon Solangi, 17, a resident of Hajna Shah village of Khairpur district, forced its way on to the national agenda on Monday when her father escaped after seven months' illegal confinement and travelled to the Karachi Press Club to seek media intervention. Journalists were shocked by the graphic account of 57-year-old Gul Sher Solangi, who alleged his eight months' pregnant daughter was tortured and murdered on March 7 on the orders of her father-in-law, who accused her of carrying a child conceived out of wedlock. Mr Sher claimed his daughter was dragged in front of her family's house and set upon by dogs owned by her persecutors until she collapsed. She was then shot dead in front of him. A council of Solangi elders, held two months later, was alleged to have ruled the homicide justifiable on the grounds that Taslim had brought dishonour to the tribe. Mr Sher claimed, however, that the murder was motivated by the perpetrators' greed for his family's 2.4-hectare farm. The news quickly travelled to Islamabad, where opposition members of the Senate, the indirectly elected upper chamber of parliament, led a token walkout to protest against what Bibi Yasmin Shah, a senator, described as the "barbaric treatment being meted out to women". They found an unlikely source of support in members of the Awami National Party, which has formed ruling coalitions with Mr Zardari's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) in the federal and northern Pukhtoonkhwa provincial governments. The president responded by asking Nafeesa Shah, a PPP member of the National Assembly and renowned women's rights activist, to leave immediately for Khairpur, her home district, to conduct an investigation. Embarrassingly for the government, Khairpur is also home to the chief minister of Sindh, Syed Qaim Ali Shah. However, it was a far cry from the Senate proceedings of Aug 30, when members sat silent as an attempt by the opposition, including Bibi Yasmin Shah, to seek action against tribal leaders in western Balochistan province was gagged. The tribal leaders, it was alleged, were responsible for the purported burial alive of five women accused of honour crimes. The proceedings earned international notoriety after Ms Shah's call for action against tribal elders was shouted down by her fellow member from Balochistan, Sanaullah Zehri, who accused her of "negatively portraying our traditions". The Senate deputy chairman, Jan Muhammed Jamali, also a Baloch tribal leader, closed ranks with Mr Zehri, and said traditions prohibited him from commenting on an incident involving another tribe. Throughout, the government - which at the time was lobbying Baloch members to support Mr Zardari in the presidential election - conspicuously refrained from taking a tough position. Yusaf Raza Gilani, the prime minister, described the incident only as "extremely disappointing". That remained the case even after Mr Zehri wrote a newspaper column on Sept 12 in Jinnah, an Urdu daily newspaper, defending honour killings. "The involvement of female family members in extramarital sex is intolerable for any honourable man. If a close male relative cannot contain his outrage and kills the perpetrators of such a crime [extramarital sex], he is protected by Baloch laws. As long as he can prove to a tribal council that the crime took place, the jirga [council] must forgive him," he wrote. Pakistani human rights activists said the two cases demonstrate the impunity with which powerful tribal councils, particularly in Sindh, dish out illegal summary justice in honour cases with the co-operation of government officials and the police. "There is a criminal class that knows they will not be held accountable under the law - that is why honour killings are on the rise," said Asma Jehangir, special rapporteur of the United Nations Human Rights Council. Subsequently, only a small percentage of honour killings - 636 cases were confirmed in 2007 - are prosecuted. With tribes and administrators colluding to form a wall of silence, it is practically impossible to collect verifiable testimony and forensic evidence. Progress is often further undermined by reports from human rights organisations that are often strong on rhetoric but badly lacking in substantial evidence. The Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission has earned the ire of Pakistani activists for its account of the "burial alive" version of the Naseerabad killings and subsequent report that two more women had been murdered in the same brutal fashion on Aug 15. "If I, sitting just 200 kilometres away in Quetta, have no way of substantiating the circumstances of the murders, I do not see how anybody sitting in Islamabad or overseas can claim to have a complete picture of the facts," maintained Zahoor Ahmad Shiwani, chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan's Balochistan chapter. * The National