Afzal Kohistani’s murder causes trembling for any conscious-minded soul. The whistleblower was shot dead on March 6 in Abbottabad by gunmen alleged to be linked to the 2012 Kohistan murders. The nation, and law-enforcement especially, should indeed sink their heads low; this is a major setback to any progress the country was making and an anathema in the name of basic human rights to safety. It is an indication that there is excessive focus on systems and tangible aspects of development such as infrastructure and economic wealth, but neglect towards shaping human rights in the country and producing law-abiding citizens.
The murders of innocent individuals in 2012 in Kohistan support the point that human rights are a joke in Pakistan. Only recently has the term gained traction in discourse but only to demonstrate pseudo-intellectualism. Patronizing and sensationalizing a critical concept like human rights is detrimental to its development.
On a macro scale, the obsolete mentalities of self-righteousness and superiority in religious beliefs need to be done away with. Dancing with friends, for which the Kohistan youngsters were murdered, was a personal choice. Although the sensitivities of ultra-conservative elders and jirgas were hurt, murder, in no way can be justified. Tribal cultures need to come under the gamut of law. The adoption of frontier regions under provincial rule should help to thwart such cases in the future. However, the obsession to control other people’s way of life persists.
Gunmen murdered the whistleblower ignoring law and order of the country and hence in contempt. Afzal’s repeated requests for security, although approved by the Supreme Court, were also not heeded. These could also be considered contempt but no matter what recourse is taken for the police that was supposed to protect Afzal, the man who sought justice for innocently murdered souls has been murdered unjustly himself. While the government talks about depoliticizing the police force, cases such as these where extra security should be arranged need provisions for extra hired security personnel so that the day to day vigilance requirements of a city are not compromised.
Systemic change is achieved over time. More immediately, Afzal’s murderers need to be pursued and captured. Afzal acted nobly when his brother and his friends were murdered by endangering his own life and reporting the incident to the media and then the courts. Between 2012 and 2019, more targets close to Afzal, including three brothers, lost their lives. In return, Afzal deserves this honour. There is a history in this country of murdering whistleblowers and those who speak out in favour of victims of human rights abuse. Sabeen Mahmood and Salman Taseer are two of many names that were subjected to abuse, threat, and murder for trying to garner support for fellow citizens who faced rights violations. Ours remains a dangerous terrain for seeking justice.