Pakistan Fights to End Senseless Honor Killings: an unsolvable barbarity?

In October, Pakistan repealed a legal loophole which allowed those guilty of honor killings to walk free if they sought the forgiveness of a family member. Whilst some commentators argue that the Pakistani government is still nowhere near giving women the protection they need, and ensuring that murderers receive their just deserts, it is at least a step in the right direction.

Pakistani women have become more vocal in their protests against honour killings, in itself a brave act
Pakistani women have become more vocal in their protests against honor killings, in itself a brave act

This barbaric practice is particularly prevalent – and indeed receives most global attention – in Pakistan, although it remains commonplace throughout the Islamic world. The warped belief that a man can defend his family’s honor by killing a female relative is sadly not a phenomenon deposited in medieval times.

The causes for such retributive killings are many; adultery, refusing an arranged marriage, disobeying the family, religious indiscretion.

Some scholars have attributed religious motives to the practice, perhaps another archaic and selective interpretation of Islamic teaching, a further testament to the unenlightened nature of some of its followers.

Others, however, staunchly oppose such theories, rejecting claims that honor killings are condoned by the Qur’an or have been encouraged by the Islamic rulers of history.

Of course, men (and women) kill spouses, partners and family members worldwide, sometimes for the same reasons stated above. Yet these tend to be crimes of passion, angry, violent outbursts that are not overlooked thanks to some legal technicality.

Honor killings proliferated throughout the Ancient World, from Rome and the Mediterranean, to the Amerindian empires of the Aztecs and Incas. Often it was a punishment to satisfy the Gods as much as serving as a sweet elixir of revenge. Yet it was readily practiced, to the extent that male family members in Rome were subjected to abuse should they fail to smite down their adulterous siblings.

Adultery was punishable by death under the Aztecs, with the resulting execution serving as a sacrifice to the Gods as well as a restoration of honour
Adultery was punishable by death under the Aztecs, with the resulting execution serving as a sacrifice to the Gods as well as a restoration of honor

Outside of Islam, this procedural, planned and rigorous method of execution is now rare, the law affording the perpetrators few gimmes.

Perhaps the root cause is related to the age of Islam compared to Christianity and other global religions? The Christian Enlightenment began in the 17th century and a steady process of secularisation has encroached upon life in the subsequent years, so that church and state are now far removed from one another, with religious doctrine subordinated in society to liberal morality.

Yet honor killings are not restricted to the rural backwaters, where it could be argued that people have no access to the trappings of modern life and the channels of information and communication that accompany it.

Earlier this year, the renowned Pakistani social media star Qandeel Baloch was herself the victim of an honor killing, strangled to death by her brother in Punjab province having lived in Karachi. This is not a geographical issue.

Qandeel Baloch: her social media posts provoked the ire of her family who killed her
Qandeel Baloch: her social media posts provoked the ire of her family who killed her

Indeed, honor killings amongst Muslim families occur in the West as well, with notorious cases in the UK and the USA in recent years for instance. Exposure to more tolerant and compassionate cultures does not eradicate an inherent extremist piety.

So, is this simply another form of Islamic extremism? In a word, yes. The Puritans of 17th century New England are comparable for their adherence to religious stricture, yet even they seldom resorted to such cold-blooded machinations. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter exemplifies the Puritan retribution of an adulterous woman; perpetually shaming her, not murdering her.

Hester Prynne and her scarlet 'A'
Hester Prynne and her scarlet ‘A’

Islam is a young religion compared to many others and it has yet to begin the secularising process through which it must pass to reconcile many of its belief systems with the modern world. That Islam is inherently violent is an extremely dubious premise, yet it is certainly patriarchal, some of its core tenets susceptible to abuse.

Whatever the reason, the practice of honor killing is a shameful and senseless one, irreconcilable with the honor and righteousness it claims to uphold. A practice abandoned centuries ago in some cultures claims the lives of thousands each year in others.

To be a Muslim woman today remains an undoubted challenge, in some countries more than others. The root causes of many honor killings are themselves flagrant abuses of women and girls, child marriage being an obvious case in point.

The Pakistani government would do well to remember that its latest triumph is merely a tentative beginning.

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British Withdrawal from Afghanistan Puts Pressure on USA: can they really afford to scale back?

British combat operations in Afghanistan have ended after 13 years of struggle against the Taliban. With the US also in withdrawal mode, the onus is now firmly on the Afghan security forces to try and implement a degree of stability in this desperately troubled country. Unfortunately, in a nation which has constantly been subjected to foreign intervention and internal strife, recent history suggests that the prospects for enduring peace are slim.

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The last major withdrawal by an international power from Afghanistan was when the Soviet Union conceded a stalemate against the Mujahideen after a decade of conflict and departed in 1989. Of course, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan is somewhat different from the US-led intervention in 2001, yet there are some undoubted similarities. A foreign state fought an indigenous movement for control of the country, with a plethora of warlords, ethnic militias and rival factions aligning and re-aligning themselves between the two main players.

Ultimately, the Soviet withdrawal paved the way for the Afghan Civil War and the eventual seizure of power by the Taliban in 1996. It is certain that the initial Soviet invasion created the conditions for the rise of Islamic extremism in Afghanistan and their presence in the country was anything but stabilizing. Their withdrawal then precipitated the rapid rise of these extremists, who sidelined the more moderate leaders of the Mujahideen and their supporters.

Many of the Mujahideen that fought the Soviets later joined the Taliban and other extremist groups
Many of the Mujahideen that fought the Soviets later joined the Taliban and other extremist groups

It did not take long for American and British forces to overthrow the Taliban government in 2001, yet eradicating this terror-loving group has proven to be a monumentally difficult task. Despite being ousted from large parts of the country, with much of its leadership eliminated, the Taliban continues to wage an insurgency. The Afghan security forces will find this increasingly hard to resist when American combat operations cease.

Despite some excellent achievements and phenomenal sacrifices, the international intervention in Afghanistan has fallen short of complete success. Unless a significant number of American troops are retained in the country for the long-term, then the Taliban will regain control of much of the country. This is partly as a result of their ability to exploit the ethnic and regional divisions of the Afghan people. Mainly, however, it is due to the fact that it has always been able to count on sanctuary in Pakistan.

Northwest Pakistan is a lawless wasteland beyond the reach of Islamabad. American drone strikes have claimed the lives of countless Taliban and Al-Qaeda operatives and leaders in the region. Yet the support from the tribal elders who control much of the territory in places like North Waziristan has allowed Islamic extremists to launch cross-border raids against Afghanistan on a regular basis.

North Waziristan's rugged terrain has made it an ideal refuge for extremist groups intent on inflicting misery in Afghanistan
North Waziristan’s rugged terrain has made it an ideal refuge for extremist groups intent on inflicting misery in Afghanistan

With an ineffective Pakistani political class – which has long remained subject to the desires of the military and ISI, whose support for the Taliban and Al-Qaeda is barely disguised – the international coalition has been unable to deliver the death knell for the Taliban.

Put simply, it is not just Afghanistan itself but its geo-political environment that is irreparably compromised. It seems an almost impossible situation to solve and the best the Afghan people can hope for is for it to be managed effectively enough to deliver a semblance of peace.

Without British and American troops, and the sacrifices they have been willing to make, this will not be possible.

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