Farida Afridi was shot dead in cold blood for the crime of being a decent, caring human being. As the executive director of the human rights NGO, Sawera, Afridi was working in Fata performing the most thankless of jobs: trying to improve the plight of women in an area where many people have never even considered the concept of women’s rights. For that, she had to pay the ultimate price as she was killed by armed gunmen, most likely members of the Taliban, as she drove from her home in Hayatabad, Peshawar to Jamrud in Khyber Agency. Apart from taking away a valuable activist, the militants, through their brutality, will also ensure that there is a chilling effect as fewer NGOs and women will be willing to risk working in an area that needs their efforts the most.
Afridi’s ruthless murder also highlights the need for reform in Fata. Since Fata is not bound by Pakistani laws, those working there do not have the rights guaranteed to Pakistani citizens by the Constitution, and thus makes it easier for militants to operate. Last year, Zarteef Khan Afridi, who worked for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, was also shot dead by militants in Jamrud. This shows that NGO activists are a prime target in Fata. They are denounced as agents of the West who are out to corrupt the people of the region. Recall how hard Maulana Fazlullah campaigned against polio vaccinations, claiming that these would make men sterile.
People like Afridi may be doing some of the most vital work in the country and for that they deserve the best protection the government can provide. In Fata, this means that the army must pursue her killers. The murders of NGO workers may be the most visible work of the Taliban but they have ruined countless other lives in the area too. This is a menace that cannot be tackled by regular law-enforcement measures. Military operations are the only way to prevent the murders of future Farida Afridis.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 7th, 2012.