Pakistan ordered an inquiry yesterday into how five women were buried alive in an "honour killing". Three suspects were arrested as condemnation of the outrage spread across the country.
The atrocity took place six weeks ago in a remote region of the vast and restive province of Baluchistan. Three teenage girls named as Hameeda, Raheema and Fauzia, attempted to marry men of their own choosing, and were then reportedly kidnapped by armed local tribesmen along with two older women.
According to human rights groups and local reports, the five women were driven away to a desert area by men belonging to the Umrani tribe. The three teenage girls were hauled out, beaten and shot. Injured, but still alive, they were thrown into a ditch. When the two older women, aged 45 and 38, protested at what was happening, they were subjected to the same treatment. "All five women were connected," said Ali Dayan Hasan of Human Rights Watch.
The killings have been defended by politicians from Baluchistan. Reacting to a female colleague's attempt to raise the issue in parliament, Israrullah Zehri said such acts were part of a "centuries-old tradition" and he would "continue to defend them".
Questions have been raised about the involvement of local politicians in the incident. The Asian Human Rights Commission said that the brother of a provincial minister was "allegedly" among the tribesmen. "There is a political connection, but it is not certain what," added Mr Hasan of Human Rights Watch.
Iqbal Haider of the Pakistan Human Rights Commission said the two senators should be removed from parliament. "They are as obscurantist as the Taliban ... these men have violated the constitution," he said.
Mr Haider added that the government had been slow to react. "I referred this matter to the federal government on 16 August. They have only reacted now. Why did it take so long for there to be an arrest? Where was the condemnation for so long? Why has there been no post-mortem yet?"
Details of the incident have only emerged over recent days after the local media began to draw attention to human rights groups' reports.
Yesterday, as women's rights protesters gathered outside parliament and government buildings in the major cities of Lahore and Karachi, the Sindh provincial assembly unanimously passed a resolution condemning the killings as "a heinous crime against humanity".