2017 in review: The most disturbing stories from the outgoing year

Though Pakistan has more than its fair share of social ills, some of these incidents are bound to leave lasting scars.
Published December 30, 2017

While issues like sexual assault and harassment, misuse of blasphemy laws, persecution of minorities and cold-blooded murder are certainly not exclusive to 2017, some of the stories reported this year under these heads were particularly unsettling, to say the least.

As we usher in 2018, Dawn.com looks back on some of the most disturbing stories that emerged over the outgoing year.

16-year-old girl paraded naked in D.I. Khan

In October, a teenage girl was forced to strip naked by a group of men in a village in Dera Ismail Khan. She was then paraded through the village's streets while at least one of her tormentors gleefully filmed her abuse.

As the nation struggled to come to terms with the episode, it emerged that the entire episode had been planned as an "act of revenge" to punish the girl's brother, whose "crimes" included gifting a mobile phone to a girl from a rival tribe.

The case became even more controversial when Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) MNA Dawar Khan Kundi accused fellow PTI leader and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Revenue Minister Ali Amin Gandapur of 'facilitating' eight people accused of perpetrating the abuse.

Gandapur vehemently denied the charge, but it remains to be seen what the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government will do towards ensuring that the girl's abusers are handed exemplary punishments.

Woman admits to killing teenage sister over 'compromising pictures'

Woman says she killed sister for being blackmailed over 'compromising pictures'.

Initially reported as a robbery gone tragically awry, 16-year-old Aleena's murder caused a sensation when it emerged that her own sister, 20-year-old Alveena, had slit her throat allegedly after being subjected to sustained emotional abuse.

It emerged that the teenage victim and a male friend, identified as Ahsan, had been threatening Alveena that they would upload compromising pictures and videos of her on social media. Alveena said she killed her sister because she could no longer bear the mental anguish of not knowing what that would entail.

"I had no choice," she told the media.

The woman and her fiance admitted they had staged the murder as a robbery to throw off the police.

Unidentified knife attacker(s) strikes terror among Karachi's women

Issued by Sindh Police.
Issued by Sindh Police.

Violence against women takes many forms in Pakistan, but a series of attacks perpetrated by a mysterious knife-wielding motorcyclist (or motorcyclists) went into the realms of the unthinkable.

Explore: Karachi's knifeman can stab us, not silence us

According to CCTV footage and victims' own accounts, the attacker would approach on a motorcycle and flee immediately after stabbing his victims.

In a wave of attacks, at least 13 women of different age groups were stabbed on Karachi's streets, mostly in the Gulistan-i-Jauhar area of the city.

While none of the attacks proved fatal, the repeated attacks nonetheless sparked widespread fear and panic in the city. Social media groups went wild trying to document the mystery attacker's most recent hits, and it soon became impossible to separate fact from fiction in the ensuing panic.

After investigating for almost three months, Sindh police declared the five cases that had been registered, 'Class-A', or closed, due to lack of evidence.

Despite reports of scores of suspects having been picked up by police, it remains unclear if the attacker is still at large.

23-year-old lynched over false blasphemy accusation

Mashal Khan.
Mashal Khan.

In April, a vigilante mob dragged 23-year-old university student Mashal Khan, a student of Mass Communication at the Abdul Wali Khan University, Mardan, from his hostel room, subjected him to severe physical torture, and then shot him.

Video footage of the incident, shared widely by shocked observers, showed Mashal lying on the floor, unmoving and covered in wounds as his fellow students cheered on his attackers.

Other recordings showed his killers calling him a blasphemer, exulting in his murder and vowing to protect each other from prosecution.

A 13-member joint investigation team, however, found that the mob had been incited to attack Mashal, who had been very vocal about the rights of students in the university, on the pretext of blasphemy and that there was no evidence that the victim had ever blasphemed.

Even the remotest criticism of how blasphemy laws are abused in Pakistan usually invites a severe reaction from right-wing forces.

However, the numbing cruelty with which Mashal was murdered managed not only to briefly silence even the most rabid proponents of the laws, but also invited acknowledgements that something concrete must now be done to prevent their misuse.

Imran Khan addresses a press conference with Mashal Khan's father.

Disappointingly, those promises — made in televised press conferences with Mashal's grieving father in tow — have yet to be delivered on, and with the government's recent return to a policy of acquiescence to extremist forces, there is slim hope that full justice will ever be delivered for Mashal Khan.

Bigotry on full display on floor of the National Assembly

Captain (retired) Safdar in the National Assembly. — File
Captain (retired) Safdar in the National Assembly. — File

Mohammad Safdar — federal lawmaker, Nawaz Sharif's son-in-law, Maryam Nawaz's husband and a retired army captain — chose the floor of the Assembly to spew hatred against the already persecuted Ahmadiyya community, terming them "a threat to the country, its Constitution and ideology" while calling for a ban on the recruitment of Ahmadis in the armed forces, where many have served distinguished careers.

His diatribe went on uninterrupted by the National Assembly Speaker for at least 10 minutes and was aired live on state television.

Read: Social terrorism: religious vendetta against Ahmadis

Most of the PML-N leaders, including Nawaz Sharif and Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, made a show to distance themselves from his remarks, saying that the speech went against the ideology of the party; however, no punitive action has been taken against Safdar in this regard so far.

Power, privilege and murder: the Do Darya incident

The victims' car after the incident.
The victims' car after the incident.

On December 3, college student Zafir Zuberi was killed near Karachi's Do Darya area in circumstances reminiscent of the murder of Shahzeb Khan.

Zafir and his friend Zaid had been on their way to breakfast at a local restaurant when they had a minor accident with a motorcycle.

Following the mishaps, five suspects travelling in a double-cabin vehicle chased them down. One of them opened indiscriminate fire. Zafir was killed; Zaid sustained bullet injuries.

The prime suspect in the case, Khawar Burney, remains in police custody. However, there is widespread concern that he may soon be allowed to walk free, as seems to have become the precedent in cases such as these.

The case has taken on even more significance since Shahrukh Jatoi and his two accomplices were allowed to walk on bail by the SHC after it set aside their death penalty and ordered a retrial of the Shahzeb Khan murder. These developments have come four years after Jatoi was awarded capital punishment and the case was considered to have been closed.

Jatoi, despite having been a convicted murderer at the time, also seems to have lived a very comfortable life in jail prior to his release, which raises the question: will Pakistan's powerful every pay?

PML-N's Nehal Hashmi threatens judges over Panamagate probe

Nehal Hashmi launches into tirade against judiciary.
Nehal Hashmi launches into tirade against judiciary.

The PML-N dominated headlines throughout 2017, and mostly, it seems, for the wrong reasons.

One of the most shocking of the many stories that chased the beleaguered party involved a senator openly spewing vitriol and threatening the judges, investigators and their families involved in the Panamagate probe.

The man in question, Nehal Hashmi, was seen in a video lashing out at "those investigating" Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's family and warning that they would be "taken to task" for grilling the premier's family.

"Those grilling [the family] ... [be warned that] we will arrange the day of judgment for you."

"You are making the life of the prime minister difficult; the Pakistani nation will make it difficult for you to live," he had added.

He was summarily ejected from the party.

Most disappointingly, Maryam Nawaz, the ousted prime minister's daughter, recently lent her support to calls for the PML-N to reinstate Hashmi, triggering debate that he may have had the Sharif family's blessings when he launched into his contemptuous tirade.

Women silenced for speaking out against sexual harassment

Syeda Sadia seeks justice for alleged assault by national hockey team's head coach.
Syeda Sadia seeks justice for alleged assault by national hockey team's head coach.

While the #MeToo campaign sparked an international movement against sexual harassment and abuse at the workplace many prominent cases of workplace harassment were reported in Pakistani media this year but sadly went largely ignored.

Most recently, the elite Islamabad Club found itself at the center of controversy in October after a female employee accused a "powerful member" of the club's management committee of sexually harassing her.

The employee alleged that she was fired immediately after she refused to obey "immoral" orders from the alleged harasser.

The allegation had prompted the federal government to form a committee to investigate the matter.

At the time, the committee had said it would compile its report within a month. However, there has been no news on the matter till the filing of this report.

The Islamabad Club is known for secrecy and exclusivity. It is frequented by some of the most powerful people of the country. It is a depressing realisation that accountability may never be offered.

Yet another victim seems to have been silenced in similar circumstances.

An investigation committee formed to probe harassment allegations leveled by Syeda Sadia, a former goalkeeper for the women's national hockey team, against Saeed Khan, the team's head coach, has declared the former's claims "false and unfounded."

The five-member committee's report, submitted recently to the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF), instead blames Sadia of alleging harassment "because she had been recently dropped from the team."

It is worth pointing out that she does not seem to have been offered a fair probe. The committee that investigated her allegations included at least one person who had refused from the outset to place any faith in Sadia's statement, which raises the concern that the investigation may not have been impartial.

Then there were the startling allegations leveled by estranged PTI leader Ayesha Gulalai, who claimed to have been harassed by party chief Imran Khan. The allegations were followed by a stream of abuse and threats directed against Gulalai online, with some even calling for an acid attack on the lawmaker for 'defaming' the PTI chief.

Ayesha Gulalai speaks at a press conference.
Ayesha Gulalai speaks at a press conference.

Gulalai has since been unwilling or unable to speak further on the matter, focusing instead on fighting off the PTI's attempts to re-appropriate her National Assembly seat.

In circumstances like these, it was nothing short of a miracle that Pakistan Television decided to sack its director of current affairs, Agha Masood Shorish, following allegations of sexual harassment and misuse of authority by multiple staffers.

A total of five inquiries had been initiated against Shorish, including three for sexual harassment. PTV's 14 producers had also filed a complaint against him in the Islamabad High Court, and the issue had also been taken up in the National Assembly.

But the victory did not come easy: the probe against Shorish was supposed to conclude in January; he was sacked in November, and that too likely because his despicable actions had been highlighted relentlessly by one of his accusers, Tanzeela Mazhar, at great personal cost.

Child killed by Nawaz Sharif's 'Mujhe Kyun Nikala' motorcade, branded as a 'martyr'

In a stark example of politicians not putting their money where their mouth is, Nawaz Sharif — who has taken to presenting himself as a champion of the masses since his ouster — seems to have so far failed to atone for the death of a nine-year-old children crushed by cars in his own convoy.

The child had been among a crowd of ardent supporters gathered to greet Nawaz Sharif as his motorcade passed through Lalamusa during the ousted premier's 'homecoming' rally in August.

He was hit first by a car belonging to Elite Force personnel guarding a disqualified prime minister, before multiple following cars ran him over without stopping. He was killed on the spot.

Even though a fully-equipped mobile health unit had been accompanying Sharif's motorcade, bystanders said no car bothered to even slow down to take stock of the child's condition.

Nawaz later labelled the deceased boy as the first 'martyr' of his struggle for the strengthening of democracy, publicly promised to visit his home and condole with his parents, and also led a prayer for him.

He never made the promised visit.