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By I.A. Rehman

From: NEWSLINE April 1999

Lahore. April 6, 1999. Time: 5.54 pm. Samia Sarwar is sitting in advocate Hina Jilani's room. For the first time in a few years she feels a sense of relief. Her parents has sent word that they have agreed to her getting a divorce from an abusive husband. In fact, her mother is bringing the settlement papers. It is only to meet her and receive the documents that Samia has been brought here from Dastak, a shelter for women in distress. Well-known intermediaries have persuaded her lawyer to arrange this meeting and they have offered complete assurances of good faith. Samia will soon be free to make a new life, there is a tangle feeling of optimism all around.

The mother arrives. But she is not alone. She is accompanied by a tough looking man. Samia rises in her chair out of respect for her mother. At the same time Hina Jilani asks the mother to send the man accompanying her out as his presence is the room is not permitted. The latter answers in English, "He is supporting me as I have difficulty in walking." She has barely finished her sentence when the male intruder whips out a pistol and takes a shot at Samia's head. In a split second her dreams are shattered as she slumps on the floor, her young body forming a pool around her lifeless head. The assassin and Samia's mother run out of the room - the latter apparently has not difficulty in racing through the corridor, towards the exit door where another man, Samia's uncle, is standing guard with a pistol in his hand. Their getaway plan however, somehow goes awry. Perhaps the vehicle needed for the great escape has not arrived. Perhaps the appointed driver has changed his mind and not shown up. The man at the door notices Shahtaj Qizilbash, a key figure at AGHS Law Associates, grabs her, puts his pistol to her head, forces her to accompany him, and warns everyone against following him. Meanwhile, the assassin notices the police guard crouching behind the reception desk and takes aim at him, but the policeman is quicker. He who had a few moments earlier taken a life, thus loses his own. Amid this chaos, Samia's mother and uncle with their captive Shahtaj in tow manage to scramble down the stairs.

They are spotted by the security guards of the private organization, but when the latter see Shahtaj being taken hostage at gunpoint, they desist from intervening. Her captor then pushes her and the other woman into a rickshaw, squeezes himself in and off they go. Lahore has just witnessed one of the most foul murders of its kind in recent years.

The premeditated and cold-blooded killing of Samia Imran Saleh in the law office of widely reputed campaigners for human rights, especially of women's rights, Asma Jahangir and Hina Jilani, was a crime of extraordinary daring. The culprits knew that they could not gain access to their prey at Dastak as no man is allowed entry there. The only place they could hope to reach her were the advocate's chamber and that too was proving difficult since Samia had refused to met anyone - even her father. Thus, they had to assign a key role to Samia's mother.

A mother being used to help assassinate her offspring is not an ordinary matter, even in Pakistan's violence-ridden society. Men have been guilty of such cruel behavior, but instances of a mother's heart being hardened to such a degree, of being an accomplice to her child's murder, are rare.

It was an even more extraordinary crime because the culprits were aware of the nature of the venue chosen for the dastardly act. They knew that any violence committed at such a place would immediately attract the attention of the media, the lawyers' community, the NGO fraternity and the public at large. They were also fully aware of the high-profile contracts they had to use to persuade the advocates to allow Samia's mother to see her, and that too for delivering a settlement deed that would rule out recourse to a court of law. Yet they were not deterred from committing a capital offence at these premises.

It was also an extraordinary crime because the characters involved were no ordinary persons. True, Samia Imran came from Peshawar but she was not one of those Pathan women who have never tasted freedom. The fact of her incompatibility with her husband, the son of her mother's sister, had been accepted by her parents. They had been maintaining her in their home for about four years and providing her two children with comfortable upbringing and education. They had not only allowed Samia's younger sister to study medicine and become a doctor but had also permitted Samia herself to study law after her separation from her husband. And the parents themselves were not ordinary persons - her father enjoyed eminence in the business community of Peshawar and her mother was a doctor. They had just returned home after performing Haj, a rite that symbolises in its essence the best and most pure in life, that conjures up images of peace and sanctity. How did they seeds of a murder plot strike root in such a household?

And then it was an extraordinary crime cause it was not warranted nor understood in any way - not even as a crime of passion. Samia was seeking a divorce four years after her separation from her husband that had been accepted by both sides. It was not a sudden development. Nobody had enticed her to Lahore. Neither Dastak nor the AGHS had suggested to her that she should seek refuge with them. She had, in fact, gone to a law college in Lahore about which she might have heard after deciding to take up the LLB course, and it was the principal of that institution who had advised her to take refuge at Dastak and engage Hina Jilani for the divorce proceedings. There was no immediate provocation, and divorce is not unknown even in tribal society.

Ironically, it was this extraordinary crime that exposed the Prime Minister and the Punjab chief minister's hollow rhetoric about instant retribution for all killers for what it really is. They apparently, believe an innocent woman's brutal murder is not a heinous crime.

"A brutal killing," "senseless" "cold-blooded murder," shouted women activists, human rights defenders, media personnel, et al. Certainly not for the first time. Were they crying out in vain?

They had cried out when Kanwar Ahsan was shot and critically wounded on the premises of a court in Karachi-targeted because he and an adult women had decided to live together in marriage.

They had cried out when the country's most outstanding painter, Zahoorul Akhlaq, and his talented daughter, Jahanara, were mercilessly gunned down in Lahore.

And they cried out each time a women fell victim to the evil custom of karo kari. Samia's murder demonstrates only too graphically how each time their cries were in vain.

Is there a link between Samia's murder, the killing of Zahoorul Akhlaq and Jahanara, the murderous attack on Ahsan and the increasing incidence of karo kari killings?

These orgies of wanton killing cannot be wholly explained by the theory of the progressive brutalization of Pakistani society over the past few decades. True, society has been brutalized each time the state has used arms to deal with political dissidents among the Pakhtuns, the Bengalis, the Baloch, the Sindhis an the new Sindhis who call themselves mohajirs. It was brutalized when capital punishment was made a trivial matter by prescribing it as the minimum punishment for a variety of breaches of martial law regulations, and when several new offences were added to the list of capital crimes. It was brutalized when Zia-ul-Haq gathered crowds to witness a hanging in public or to listen to the shrieks of victims who were flogged in public squares, or when individuals in authority harangued their audiences with the resolve to hang people by lampposts. And so on. These are surely some of the more commonly identified factors that have contributed to the culture of violence in Pakistan. But it is time to take a critical look at some other factors that have encouraged the perpetrators of mayhem.

To begin with, murder is not treated as a crime against society since the promulgation of the Qisas and Diyat law in 1990. This law had made it possible for murderers to go scot-free if they are rich enough to buy a pardon from the victim's heirs or notorious enough to scare the latter off law courts. Nothing is proved by the argument that murders continue to be sentenced to death, that indeed their number has been growing year after year. What is important is the creation of hope in the criminal's mind that he can escape retribution even if his legal defense is untenable.

This hope is greatly reinforced if a killer has the wali of the victim on his side. A man can kill anyone so long as he is sure of being pardoned by the wali. A man killed his daughter and told his son to take the rap. Later, he pardoned the 'killer' and both were home free.

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