In 2012, Afzal Kohistani was brave enough to report the murders of his brother, along with five women, in Kohistan, an extremely conservative area of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The deceased had been killed after a video had surfaced showing the five women singing along as the male family members danced. After a Jirga which decreed the order, all those present in the video were reportedly murdered. This crime would have gone unreported had Afzal Kohistani not raised his voice and brought attention to this brutality.

It is a gross tragedy that we, as a nation, failed Afzal. Despite the Supreme Court taking suo moto notice of the case and constituting a fact-finding mission in 2012, the culprits of the murder still remained at large, so much so that a new case had to be registered in October of 2018. The case was registered only because of new media coverage and the unrelenting efforts of Afzal, who spent the past six years constantly moving due to security threats. Despite Afzal consistently reporting to the police about the threats to his life by the tribe he left behind, and reporting the same to a Vice documentary, our state institutions failed to protect him. Afzal was shot dead yesterday in Abbottabad by unidentified gunmen.

One should weep at how preventable the murder was. Afzal’s repetitious warnings, the clearly false case presented by the tribe to the Supreme Court Commission- all the evidence pointed to the fact that on the words of the tribal jirga, eight youngsters had been murdered on the pretext of honour, and that the perpetuators, who held the notion of non-existent honour more valuable than human lives, would not hesitate to shed more blood. Even if the police and state institutions did not take action against the culprits for six years, there should have been some arrangement of witness protection for Afzal.

This young man’s sacrifice to shed light onto honour killings in tribal areas should not go in vain. This case should force the state to re-evaluate how it handles cases of violence inflicted in the name of honour. This tragedy elucidates how flawed our witness protection programs are, with witnesses in honour crimes being particularly vulnerable. While the Qandeel Baloch honour-killing raised awareness on honour crimes in urban areas and the loopholes in the judiciary which allow perpetuators to remain unscathed, it is hoped this horrific incident will compel the state to turn its attention to jirga- decreed honour crimes and to improve the response of the law enforcement to this menace.