RFE/RL’s Gandhara website has obtained some details of the gruesome murder of a 12-year-old girl killed over maligning her family’s honor by reportedly eloping with a young man last month.
Villagers in Ashraf Khel, a dusty hamlet near the famed Khyber Pass, have sketched out a grim picture of how the mentally disabled Naghma was allegedly killed by close relatives after a failed attempt to run away.
A 40-year-old woman, a resident of Ashraf Khel, recounted details of the tragedy on the condition that her name and identity be protected because of fears of reprisals from the alleged assassins.
She told Gandhara that Naghma’s fate was sealed after officials in their Khyber tribal district handed her back to the family after an alleged botched attempt to elope with a young man in late June.
“On June 28, Naghma’s uncle, Dadul Khan, and his son spread the news in our village that she would be killed at 11 a.m.,” she said. “While the whole village waited to hear gunshots, no one had the courage to come forward to save Naghma or even inform the authorities.”
The woman, a neighbor of Naghma’s family, recounted that around the announced time they heard five shots being fired. “We knew then that the hapless life had come to an end,” she said.
A male villager said Naghma was taken to an empty compound near her house in Ashraf Khel. While requesting anonymity because of fear and cultural sensitivities, he said Naghma was surrounded by several male relatives armed with AK-47 Kalashnikov assault rifles.
He said most of Ashraf Khel’s residents believe Naghma was killed by one of the five men inside the walled compound. “One of them supposedly fired the fatal shots,” he said.
The woman said she thought even Naghma had guessed her fate when her uncle and other male relatives took her from her mother, Bakht Meena, who is believed to suffer from a psychiatric disorder. Villagers say Naghma’s father ekes out a living by driving a truck in the port city of Karachi some 1,000 kilometers away.
“Naghma asked her uncle, ‘Are you going to kill me?’ And the uncle replied, ‘No, I am going to wed you to my son,’” the neighbor recounted, citing details she said she had heard from relatives about conversations in the home.
She said Meena is in shock after her daughter’s murder.
“She is often seen wailing, crying, and running from corner to corner in her mud house asking why her daughter was killed and what her sin was, and vowing revenge,” the neighbor said.
Like everyone else in the close-knit community, the man and woman who shared details with Gandhara are members of the Khogakhel clan of the Shinwari Pashtun tribe. Such proximity to Naghma’s family gave them insights into her murder.
In late June, Niaz Muhmmad, a local administration official in Khyber, told RFE/RL that Naghma was killed despite her family promising officials that they wouldn’t harm her.
Muhammad said the authorities have detained some of the alleged killers and others involved in the murder.
“They did not respect the guarantees they’d made, and they killed the girl," he told Radio Mashaal. "We’ve arrested the uncle and his son, and we also arrested the brothers of the boy with whom Naghma had eloped.”
Locals say Naghma eloped with an 18-year-old with the help of a 23-year-old. They are still in hiding. Gandhara was unable to reach them or their families because few in the remote Pashtun community are willing to talk about an issue considered highly sensitive.
Naghma’s case is rare in the sense that authorities have caught the alleged killers. But it is not clear whether they will be punished. Some locals say they are likely to be released in the near future because of a settlement at a Jirga, or tribal council. The region is still ruled by a century-old colonial-era law, the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR), which allows for such settlements.
Some tribal leaders in Khyber are already petitioning the Political Administration, the formal name of the local civilian authorities in Khyber, to free the alleged killers because, they argue, local customs allow for honor killings.
Naghma is among hundreds of victims, most of them women, of so-called honor killings reported in Pakistan each year. The country has weak legal provisions to prevent the practice and a weak record of prosecuting perpetrators. Powerful local figures such as feudal lords, tribal leaders, and clerics justify such murders in the name of protecting family or community “honor.” They typically invoke local traditions and cultural practices to justify the violence.
It is not clear whether intervention from senior government officials can alter the outcome. Last month the governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, the de facto chief executive of Khyber and six more tribal districts in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, ordered an inquiry into Naghma’s murder.
When contacted, an official at the governor’s office said they are still waiting for the inquiry report nearly three weeks after it was ordered.
Meanwhile, locals in Ashraf Khel speculate that the saga of Naghma’s murder is unlikely to end soon. They predict that once the two men are released, her relatives are likely to go after them for allegedly convincing Naghma to elope with them.
“If found, their fate will be certain death,” the villager said.
Such murders invariably spark an unending feud that goes on for generations.