MULTAN, Pakistan – Nazir Ahmed appears calm and unrepentant as he recounts how he slit the throats of his three young daughters and their 25-year old stepsister to salvage his family’s “honor” — a crime that shocked Pakistan.
The 40-year old laborer, speaking to The Associated Press in police detention as he was being shifted to prison, confessed to just one regret — that he didn’t murder the stepsister’s alleged lover too.
Hundreds of girls and women are murdered by male relatives each year in this conservative Islamic nation, and rights groups said Wednesday such “honor killings” will only stop when authorities get serious about punishing perpetrators.
The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said that in more than half of such cases that make it to court, most end with cash settlements paid by relatives to the victims’ families, although under a law passed last year, the minimum penalty is 10 years, the maximum death by hanging.
Ahmed’s killing spree — witnessed by his wife Rehmat Bibi as she cradled their 3 month-old baby son — happened Friday night at their home in the cotton-growing village of Gago Mandi in eastern Punjab province.
It is the latest of more than 260 such honor killings documented by the rights commission, mostly from media reports, during the first 11 months of 2005.
Bibi recounted how she was woken by a shriek as Ahmed put his hand to the mouth of his stepdaughter Muqadas and cut her throat with a machete. Bibi looked helplessly on from the corner of the room as he then killed the three girls — Bano, 8, Sumaira, 7, and Humaira, 4 — pausing between the slayings to brandish the bloodstained knife at his wife, warning her not to intervene or raise alarm.
“I was shivering with fear. I did not know how to save my daughters,” Bibi, sobbing, told AP by phone from the village. “I begged my husband to spare my daughters but he said, ‘If you make a noise, I will kill you.'”
“The whole night the bodies of my daughters lay in front of me,” she said.
The next morning, Ahmed was arrested.
Speaking to AP in the back of police pickup truck late Tuesday as he was shifted to a prison in the city of Multan, Ahmed showed no contrition. Appearing disheveled but composed, he said he killed Muqadas because she had committed adultery, and his daughters because he didn’t want them to do the same when they grew up.
He said he bought a butcher’s knife and a machete after midday prayers on Friday and hid them in the house where he carried out the killings.
“I thought the younger girls would do what their eldest sister had done, so they should be eliminated,” he said, his hands cuffed, his face unshaven. “We are poor people and we have nothing else to protect but our honor.”
Despite Ahmed’s contention that Muqadas had committed adultery — a claim made by her husband — the rights commission reported that according to local people, Muqadas had fled her husband because he had abused her and forced her to work in a brick-making factory.
Police have said they do not know the identity or whereabouts of Muqadas’ alleged lover.
Muqadas was Bibi’s daughter by her first marriage to Ahmed’s brother, who died 14 years ago. Ahmed married his brother’s widow, as is customary under Islamic tradition.
“Women are treated as property and those committing crimes against them do not get punished,” said the rights commission’s director, Kamla Hyat. “The steps taken by our government have made no real difference.”
Activists accuse President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, a self-styled moderate Muslim, of reluctance to reform outdated Islamized laws that make it difficult to secure convictions in rape, acid attacks and other cases of violence against women. They say police are often reluctant to prosecute, regarding such crimes as family disputes.
Statistics on honor killings are confused and imprecise, but figures from the rights commission’s Web site and its officials show a marked reduction in cases this year: 267 in the first 11 months of 2005, compared with 579 during all of 2004. The Ministry of Women’s Development said it had no reliable figures.
Ijaz Elahi, the ministry’s joint secretary, said the violence was decreasing and that increasing numbers of victims were reporting incidents to police or the media. Laws, including one passed last year to beef up penalties for honor killings, had been toughened, she said.
Police in Multan said they would complete their investigation into Ahmed’s case in the next two weeks and that he faces the death sentence if he is convicted for the killings and terrorizing his neighborhood.
Ahmed, who did not resist arrest, was unrepentant.
“I told the police that I am an honorable father and I slaughtered my dishonored daughter and the three other girls,” he said. “I wish that I get a chance to eliminate the boy she ran away with and set his home on fire.”