A Killing Commanded by Tradition

Several hundred ment gathered at this mosque in Gazon, in remote northern Afghanistan, to decide the fate of Amina and Karim, her lover.
Several hundred ment gathered at this mosque in Gazon, in remote northern Afghanistan, to decide the fate of Amina and Karim, her lover. (Shoaib Sharifi - The Washington Post)

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By N.C. Aizenman
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, May 6, 2005

GAZON, Afghanistan -- Begum Nessa recalled waking up with a start.

Someone was banging on the wooden door of the house.

She sat up in the darkness as her husband, Mohammed Aslam, rushed outside.

"Where's your oldest daughter?" she heard a voice demand. It was the senior elder of their village.

"She's inside, sleeping with the rest of my family," answered Aslam, a short man with gentle eyes and a bushy black beard. He owns livestock and several wheat fields and is a respected figure in this tiny, mud-brick hamlet at the bottom of a remote valley in northern Afghanistan.

But the elder's voice took on a mocking tone: "Oh, is that so? Go and fetch her then." Nessa recalled feeling suddenly dizzy. She reached for the propane lamp in the bedroom where all nine members of her family slept each night on the floor. She turned it on just as Aslam burst inside.

They gasped in unison at the sight of Amina's empty mattress.

Gazon, Afghanistan
Within an hour, the entire village would learn that the 25-year-old married woman had been discovered in a darkened nearby hut with her lover.

Within two days, Amina was dead -- killed by her fellow villagers April 20 after the men of the community ruled that she had violated Islamic law by having an affair with a neighbor.

Amina's fate highlights the magnitude of the challenge faced by Afghanistan's central government as it attempts to extend the rule of modern law and democratic processes beyond the nation's capital, more than three years after the defeat of the repressive and fundamentalist Islamic Taliban government.

But the attention that Amina's killing has attracted in a forgotten corner of Badakhshan province also tells the story of a region in flux -- caught between centuries of tradition and the hopes of a nascent modern state.


The day began when a party of messengers hiked into Gazon on the long, rocky footpath from the provincial capital, Faizabad, bearing momentous news. Amina's husband, Sharafatullah, had finally returned from Iran after a four-year absence and would soon reach Gazon.

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