PESHAWAR, June 7: A Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government’s fact-finding mission on Thursday visited Kohistan and secured an assurance from a local jirga (council of elders) about the safety of five girls, who are at the centre of a controversy.
The mission led by information minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain attended the jirga and visited the village of two of the five girls alleged to have been killed in an honour-related crime.
“We took a promise from the jirga that it is its responsibility to provide protection to the girls, their families and houses,” Mr Hussain told a news conference here on return from Kohistan.
He said a fact-finding mission of the provincial government and four female representatives of women rights groups on Thursday flew in helicopters to Beech Bela, a village in district Kohistan, to ascertain the status of the girls.
All five girls, he added, had been found to be alive and the reports about a cleric having issued a fatwa (religious decree) for their murder in the name of honour had been found to be false and misleading.
Mr Hussain also took to task media for ‘blowing out of proportion’ the controversy.
The controversy, he added, started making rounds after an ‘engineered video’ surfaced showing Kohistani girls cheering and two youth dancing in a supposedly private gathering.
The minister said the four civil society members, including Dr Farzan Bari, Dr Fozia Saeed, Shabeena Ayaz, and Riffat Butt, met two of the five girls, Shereen and Robina, in their mud houses and made their video with the consent of their families.
“Both the girls were found to be alive and in good mood. They informed the civil society members that the three other girls, including Baazgha, Aamna and Begum Jan, were also alive. However, they have already moved away along with their families,” said the minister.
Mr Iftikhar said the population at that remote area kept moving on seasonal basis so it was understandable when people said the other three girls had moved out to some other place. He added that the civil society members couldn’t have been reached on Thursday because they had moved to a far-off place.
He said the fact-finding mission collected evidence from four local witnesses, including Safeer Salaar Khan, Qadam Khan, Zabeeh Hayat and Sajeeda Khan.
“Witnesses told the jirga under oath that all five girls are alive and no harm has been caused to them after the surfacing of the video and the controversy it brewed,” said the minister.
He said Maulvi Jawed, a central character of the controversy, told the jirga that he neither issued fatwa calling for the girls’ killing nor did he attend any jirga alleged to have taken place where girls were ordered to be killed.
Mr Iftikhar said the controversy took serious turn after the media blew it out of proportion, showing a lack of responsibility.
He said the government’s repeated clarifications and explanations rejecting the murder of the girls were not heeded by the electronic media, which kept airing debates and talk shows without verifying information.
The minister said Afzal Khan, brother of the two youth shown dancing in the video, befooled all and created confusion by spreading false information.
“The media didn’t believe in our words and kept causing humiliation to the country in general and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in particular. No one asked Afzal Khan to provide evidence of the girls’ killing,” he said.
Mr Iftikhar thanked the Supreme Court for taking a suo motu notice of the incident and removing doubts about the girls’ status. “It’s the Supreme Court’s responsibility to fix the responsibility and punish those who lied,” said the minister, adding that the provincial government would also act against those spreading misleading information.