After 16-year-old Ambreen's chilling murder, fear grips Makol

Although Ambreen's murderers have been arrested, the violent incident has left the region in a grip of fear.
Published May 8, 2016

MAKOL: Situated between Nathia Gali and Donga Gali, Makol is an eye-catching sight of green hills and uneven land. But these days, the media’s focus is on the brutal killing of a schoolgirl in the name of honour.

16-year-old Ambreen was killed and burnt last week in Makol, Abottabad, on the orders of a local jirga.

The burnt vehicle. —Photo by the author
The burnt vehicle. —Photo by the author

“People seem afraid,” says Ambreen’s distant uncle. The girl’s father, Riasat, sits quiet in a corner, his dusty clothes unbuttoned and his face marked with creases of worry and grief. His eyes are red, and he says he hasn’t slept much since his niece’s murder. “We laid her body to rest at around 3am,” the uncle explains.

Local residents have been avoiding Riasat’s residence— if they condemn his only daughter’s murder, they have not shown it. “Very few people have visited the house to console him,” another relative adds.

The family does not want to share much information about her brutal killing. Ambreen’s brother, Noman, offers a few details: on April 28, all family members had gone to bed after dinner, as they usually did. The next morning, the girl was not in her bed.

“We started searching for Ambreen soon after,” Noman remembers. “We contacted our uncle, other relatives… but all in vain.” At the time, Riasat was near the Karachi-Balochistan border, where he works as a labourer. A first cousin called him up with the news that Ambreen was missing.

Riasat, Ambreen's father. —Photo by the author
Riasat, Ambreen's father. —Photo by the author

By the time he got to Makol, the police had arrested the members of the jirga and their facilitators, including his wife— but his daughter was gone. “I had talked to Ambreen a few weeks back,” Riasat says. “I had promised to send her money in May for her re-admission in tenth grade.”

Read next: The jirga that murdered Ambreen should be Pakistan's last

Punishing with fire

Although the police have arrested the jirga councilor Pervaiz, Ambreen’s family—including her father—and other local residents avoid talking about him.

“I don’t know who killed my daughter but I want exemplary punishment for the killers," Riasat says.

Naseer Ahmad, the Station House Officer of Dona Gali was the first policeman to arrive at the crime scene. According to him, it was Pervaiz who first called up the police to inform them about the fire.

When Naseer arrived at the site, he remembers a few locals hanging around, but none were willing to pull out the dead body. He recalls how Ambreen’s body— possibly burnt alive— sat like a statue in the van. "Her lifeless hands appeared to be clenched in a fist," he says, explaining that the posture implied signs of resistance.

Naseer says the police’s initial investigation pieced together some of the story: head of the jirga, Pervaiz, had summoned a six-hour long meeting to decide Ambreen’s fate. Her crime, according to the elder, was helping a girl from the Pervaiz family escape from her home with a man.

The jirga also held another man from the same tribe, who is now in police custody. Pervaiz claims the runaway couple had used the vehicle for their transport, and with the consensus of the jirga, agreed to burn it to down to ash.

As far as Ambreen was concerned, Naseer adds, once the jirga was dismissed they located her—drugged her— then presented her before their members. Here, she was strangled.

“The killers tried their best to destroy the evidence,” the SHO adds. “They placed her dead body in the vehicle, and set it on fire.” Once the smoke dispersed, policemen were asked to make an announcement through loudspeakers to help identify the body.

Read next: A country of dead women

“Almost all villagers came to the spot,” Naseer says, “Except for Ambreen’s mother.” While waiting for the dead girl’s family to show up, and searching around the burnt vehicle, police found a piece of burnt paper with Noman’s name scribbled upon it.

Riasat and Noman. —Photo by the author
Riasat and Noman. —Photo by the author

This led them to the brother, who helped them track the jirga members and alleged facilitators. But Naseer feels the mother's role is controversial. "Even though she was aware of the developments," he says, "She did not inform the police in time."

Widespread panic

Local residents and police say that the brutal incident was the first of its kind in the area. But even though they rely on the police’s help to solve their disputes, not many want to talk about Ambreen’s murder or the jirga.

“Since the incident, girls’ attendance has dropped to zero,” says Khaliq Zaman, a teacher at Government High School Makol Payyan. Khaliq remembers teaching Ambreen too—“She was a kind and helpful girl”—but her death has left a negative impact on other girls and their parents.

The arrests have helped in restoring much of the tension to normality, but girls’ attendance, for example, is hardly satisfactory. “Six girls have pulled out of school, either due to fear, or because they were forced by their parents,” Khaliq says.

Parents in Makol confirm this fear. “I am afraid to send my children to school,” says Shah Gul, a resident of Makol.

Riasat, however, says fear is no solution. “What happened to my family and Makol is unbelievable,” he admits, “But in order to avoid such acts in the future, it is the killers who should be burnt alive.”

The burnt vehicle. —Photo by the author
The burnt vehicle. —Photo by the author