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Of blood and money

Published May 09, 2012 12:10am

SHUMAILA Waseem did not wait to see how the sudden bounty resulting from her husband’s death would transform those around her.

The widow of Faheem Shamshad, one of the two men killed by CIA contractor Raymond Davis in January 2011, committed suicide a scant two weeks after her husband’s death.

She did it by ingesting rat poison, not an instant end but one that permitted her to be taken to hospital and be hounded by hungry reporters. She said she had chosen death because she felt certain that the American man who had killed her husband would never be brought to justice.

As the effects of the rat poison thinned her blood until it could no longer sustain her, Shumaila said she wanted “blood for blood” revenge for her husband’s death. Hearing of her death, millions of Pakistanis saw in her poisoned end their own helplessness before a superpower whose every act mocked their powerlessness.

Zahra Faizan, the widow of Davis’s other victim, Faizan Haider, chose to live. If justice is money, then she saw it delivered. In March 2011, while Pakistan’s masses seethed and bubbled and raged over the killing, a behind-the-scenes deal was worked out and a pardon purchased from the aggrieved family for a reported $2.2m.

According to the Qisas and Diyat Ordinance, it is likely that the deceased Faizan’s father and brothers received a larger portion of the compensation, but his widow was also given a share of the blood money paid by the US government. To escape the public wrath of the Pakistani masses who did not wish to pardon Davis, the young widow and her family set off for Dubai, where money is the only ideology and solace is for sale.

Months later they returned to Pakistan to a new life, in a new house and a new neighbourhood. In the suburb of Johar Town in Lahore’s south, where so many newly and awkwardly rich begin their journeys to middle-class respectability, they settled down.

Insulated by the comforts of cash, the tragedy of the loss of a young husband, a suddenly public life and the intrusive curiosity of millions of Pakistanis invested in the outcome of the case seemed to finally cede as the nation went on to nurse other gripes against the US and began to forget about those that had put a price on a pardon for an unforgivable enemy.

So it seemed, until one evening last month when the same riches that were meant to salve their pain became what destroyed them.

According to family sources that spoke to the media, 24-year-old Zahra’s father, Mohammad Shehzad Butt, ensconced in the grandeur obtained from his daughter’s share of the blood money, learned that his largesse was in jeopardy.

Unbeknownst to her father, but with the help of her mother, Zahra had entered into a secret marriage with a maternal cousin who lived in Dubai.

Like so much else in Pakistan, the exact details and dimensions of the motives behind the murder are murky. What is known for certain is that Butt became mad with anger at the prospect of becoming penniless once his married daughter left with her money to her new husband’s home. He killed his wife Nabila first, shooting her inside the new house.

Trying to escape her father’s murderous rage, Zahra ran out into the street in front of the house. But the streets of Johar Town that had allowed the family to escape poverty did not permit her to dodge death. In the shadow of the mansion bought by tragedy, Zahra was shot by her own father.

The molten material of this latest murder in the Davis saga can be threaded into many theories to adorn Pakistan’s plight before American excesses. Those who opposed the ease with which the family members granted the pardon, persuaded by wads of American dollars, can shrug and write off the murder as the rotten fruit of misbegotten gains. Others, more magnanimous, can note how like so much else, the scalding brunt of the Davis saga was borne entirely by the two widows of the men he killed, one yearning for revenge, the other a victim of it.

Unpadded by the riches providing by forgiveness, Shumaila may have chosen to die because she knew a penniless widow could not eke out an existence in Pakistan. But Zahra’s death proved again that a wealthy widow was in as much danger as an impoverished one. Before justice and after justice, the architecture of helplessness remained intact.

Artificially inserted American money has yielded many more casualties in Pakistan. Days before Zahra’s father killed her, a senior USAID official announced that the number of projects in the country were to be reduced from 150 to 35.

Even though the news came riding the back of a sordidly familiar combination of misunderstandings, it may be the best news to hit Pakistan since the Davis saga.

Like the blood money offered to purchase the pardon of men killed, the aid sent over in exchange for opening supply routes and poking around with aerial drones does far more harm than good.

Much like Zahra’s father, a few lucky souls in Islamabad suddenly drowning in a bounty borne of tragedy and the vagaries of being invested with an uncertain power are goaded into vile acts against their own.

The money paid to Davis’s victims was meant to amend the wrong committed against them. But its consequences ended up creating a new design of exploitation and greed just as grisly as the crime itself.

There are no lessons from the tragedy, only regrets and realisations in the twin deaths of Shumaila and Zahra. The rest of us can only hang our heads in mourning and realise that money, even millions of dollars of it, cannot eliminate the misery of the powerless.

The writer is an attorney teaching political philosophy and constitutional law.

rafia.zakaria@gmail.com