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Honor killings no more than cold-blooded murder.

Honor killings in Pakistan are so commonplace they have become something of a media cliche. There are nearly a thousand reported cases every year and, eventually, each becomes a number stripped of humanity. The details may change, but not the reasons for the crime or the impotent outrage of a limited section of society. At the end of November, police found a young couple buried in a graveyard in Pakistan's most cosmopolitan city, Karachi. They were 22-year-old Haseena Bibi and 24-year-old Abdul Hadi, who had entered into a free-will marriage. They were from Kohistan, in a relatively remote corner of the north-western Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which is infamous for another unsolved honor killing. In 2012, shaky mobile phone footage of five girls and a boy from Kohistan dancing and singing in their home surfaced on the Internet. After reports that the girls and brothers of the boy in the video had been killed on the orders of a jirga - an informal dispute resolution assembly of community elders - the Supreme Court of Pakistan took up the case. Five years later, there is no concrete evidence of whether the girls are still alive, or whether they have been murdered, as if their lives never mattered. Haseena and Abdul were found, however, thanks to a tip-off five days after they were murdered, buried in gunny sacks. They too had been killed on the orders of a jirga. Sixteen people, including the groom's father, have been charged under anti-terrorism laws and for aggravated murder, which carries the death penalty. A police officer told local news channel Geo TV: "The parents and brothers of the couple live in Nawab Colony. When I went to investigate, they confessed that in the jirga both the parties decided to kill the man and woman." Activists who campaign against honor crimes use the phrase, "There is no honor in honor killing." Media groups insist that honor crimes should be prefaced with "so-called." What then is the opposite? A shame killing? Do names and nomenclature matter to the dead, to killers forgiven by families, or to a family where abstract honor is more important than red-blooded life? In 2014, I interviewed Maqsood Ahmed in Central Jail Gujranwala while he was on trial for attempting to kill his own daughter, Saba, after she had married a neighbor's son against his wishes. He had lured her to a secluded spot and, along with his brother, shot her, stuffed her limp body in a gunny sack and tossed her into a canal. Saba's survival is a remarkable story, which was later turned into an award-winning documentary film by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy.

Pakistani media groups insist such crimes should be prefaced with 'so-called,' but what do names and nomenclature matter to the dead or to a family where abstract honor is more important than red-blooded life?

Amber Rahim Shamsi

What stayed with me, as much as Saba's fierce strength, was her father's implacability behind bars. He said that, in trying to kill his own daughter, he was sending a message to all the girls in his family the perils of individual choice. "[Being in jail], it's a life of honor. I haven't committed a crime. I haven't robbed anyone," he said. Saba later forgave her father and he was released from custody, as provisions in Pakistani law allow for perpetrators to be set free if the victim or heirs of the victim agree to reconcile. Last year, the Pakistani Parliament passed a law aimed at curbing honor crimes, making it harder for families to forgive killers. But lawyer Asad Jamal argues that tying up legal loopholes does not take care of the sociopolitics. "Women are weak and the whole justice system is tilted against the weak - poor men, women and children. Women victims of violence need social and state support, whether it is financial or procedural," he said. Last week, I interviewed politician Nafisa Shah, who has written a multi-disciplinary study of honor crimes. She says honor killing is a modern construct, adding: "At the end of the day, it is just a cold-blooded, premeditated murder." Perhaps the first step toward reducing the number of killings was the nomenclature; the second, criminalizing violence in the name of honor; and the third and most difficult step - diffusing the notion that life has more worth than honor. * Amber Rahim Shamsi is an award-winning multimedia journalist who hosts the Newswise news and current affairs show on Dawn News. She has worked with the BBC World Service as a bilingual reporter, presenter and producer. Twitter: @AmberRShamsi

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Publication:Arab News (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)
Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:Dec 6, 2017
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