Stoning: Sign of Taliban resurgence

The Taliban have confirmed that their sympathisers have executed by stoning a runaway couple in this remote area bordering Afghanistan — their first known use here of this long drawn-out death sentence for a so-called “honour crime”. “A qazi (religious official) court run by the Taliban found the couple guilty of adultery and sentenced them to death by stoning. The sentence was carried out in Khwezai-Baezai area of the Mohmand Agency, about 60 km north of the border city of Peshawar,” Mohammad Asad, a Taliban spokesman, said. The execution took place on April 1, two weeks after the Taliban had issued their ruling.

“Shano (Bibi) was a married woman living in Peshawar and her family had filed a complaint that she had been abducted by Daulat Khan. But later it was reported that she had eloped with him,” Asad alleged. Mohmand Agency is one of seven tribal regions on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The regions form part of the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA), encompassing more than 6,000 square km where the Taliban have sanctuaries. The stonings were condemned by human rights organisations. They appeared to be a worrying new development in the old-age tribal practice of “honour killings” with the Taliban now adjudicating with a more cruel form of the ultimate punishment rather than firing squads.

“We ask the government to arrest the people responsible and bring them to justice,” Kamran Arif, a member of the executive council of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), said. “The government must take strict action against those responsible,” added Rahshanda Naz of the Aurat Foundation, a national NGO with offices throughout the country. A Peshawar lawyer, Noor Alam Khan, said that he had noted recent cases of “honour killings” — the execution of those who had allegedly brought shame on their families — which were “frequently making newspaper headlines”.

“In these rigidly patriarchal communities, wives, daughters, sisters and mothers are killed for the least sexual indiscretion and on the slightest suspicion of adultery,” Khan explained. Zahir Ali, a writer on the Urdu-language newspaper Aaj published in Peshawar, said the reported incidents did not give a full picture.

The most recent case was on May 1 when a couple in a local village was killed for marrying without the consent of their families, he said. Khan said that the incidents confirmed that the recent laws to rein in the practice had failed “to bring about the desired results”. In 2005, the Criminal Justice Act was amended to prevent courts from acquitting offenders after they had reached their own out-of-court compromise agreements, sometimes in return for compensation.

Since then, there have been several inconsistent rulings in the Peshawar High Court and law enforcement authorities which appeared to run counter to the spirit of the legal amendments. Between 1998 and 2002, HRCP registered 1,339 cases of “honour killings”. HRCP believes most such murders go unreported. HRCP has issued no recent statistics on “honour killings”. But the continuing high number of husbands killing their wives in Pakistan suggests that the number has not been falling. In 2006, 355 husbands were accused of this offence, compared to 296 in 2005, HRCP has reported. — IPS