Intimacy That Kills

A Pakistani woman brutally murdered by her own family is just one of countless women around the world abused -- or worse -- by so-called “loved ones.”

According to Pakistani police, this is what happened on May 27, the day a dark-eyed, pregnant woman named Farzana Parveen died: About two dozen men used sticks and bricks to beat Parveen, 25, to death just outside the High Court of the eastern city of Lahore. The attackers, who also shot her in the shin, included Parveen's brother and father, by their own admission. They were angry that she had married a man of her own choice instead of one picked by her male relatives. Her father admitted killing his daughter without regret: She "insulted all of our family by marrying a man without our consent," he told police.

When the story hit the news, several strange twists quickly emerged. As Parveen was being beaten to death, her husband, Mohammad Iqbal, says he "begged [police] to help us but they said, this is not our duty. I took off my shirt (to be humble) and begged them to save her." Yet according to Parveen's older sister, Khalida Bibi, Iqbal was actually one of the many men who bludgeoned her to death. Then, two days later, Iqbal admitted he strangled his first wife to death six years ago. "I was in love with Farzana and killed my first wife because of this love," Iqbal told Agence France-Presse. Moreover, Parveen's stepson, Aurangzaib, told the Telegraph that Parveen's sister Rehana was poisoned by her family four years ago. It seems the family decided they didn't like the in-laws they had gotten in Rehana's arranged marriage, and therefore wanted Rehana to leave her husband. A "no" from their daughter allegedly brought on murder.

So many accusations may make this case sound too bizarre to be anything other than a terrible murder perpetrated by a dark and complex family. But, really, it's not the soap opera it appears to be. At its core, the case and even its twists are symbolic of something common, insidious, and tolerated around the world: This is a case of death by patriarchy.

"Honor killing," as it is known, is far from unheard of in Pakistan: There were 869 recorded cases in 2013 alone, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. And while the police's version of Parveen's honor killing might be mostly accurate, it's missing at least one key part: The murder took place in broad daylight in a public place. Witnesses say police were present, but Lahore's police chief vehemently denies this. No one, it seems, wants to take responsibility for not stopping the tragedy.

"There are myriad actors with an incentive to spin this story," says journalist Stephanie Nolen, a former South Asia bureau chief for Canada's Globe and Mail who has extensively covered gender-based violence in Pakistan. "They include the police, who often don't investigate crimes of intimate violence, or don't treat them seriously, and who may blatantly lie when on the rare occasions there is public outcry."

Consider, too, Iqbal's admission that he killed his first wife. Media are reporting that he avoided prison because his son forgave him. Under Pakistani law, an accused criminal can pay so-called "blood money" to the relatives of murder victims and secure forgiveness without facing formal punishment. So justice was never really served; an agreement between men just swept the murder of a woman under the rug.


There's a good definition of gender-based violence by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), a forum of U.N. and non-U.N. humanitarian partners: It is "an umbrella term for any harmful act that is perpetrated against a person's will, and that is based on socially ascribed (gender) differences between males and females." Tia Palermo, a professor at Stony Brook University who studies gender-based violence, told me she likes this definition because it emphasizes the idea that women and girls are primary victims because of their subordinate status in society around the world.

Subordinate status: That is why Farzana Parveen was killed. She was and always would be inferior -- the men in her family could not tolerate any assertion of her will. And this same, lowly status is what led to the two other alleged killings in the very same family.

This sort of violence against women by their families and partners isn't just "a Pakistani problem." Take a quick global look at the numbers. Nearly 40 percent of murders of women around the world are committed by someone a woman knows intimately, according to the World Health Organization. That number is the same in the United States. A study published in 2013 by Science estimated that one in three women worldwide experiences violence at the hands of her partner at some point in her lifetime. "It is the most prevalent form of gender-based violence," says Palermo.

But much of this violence goes unreported and unpunished globally. "With my colleagues, we estimated that among women who suffer various forms of violence, only 7 percent either report or seek services related to that violence," Palermo says. "Most suffer in silence."

The confusion over whether police stood idly by as Parveen was killed is also not an isolated issue: Many women may not report violence because they rarely receive a positive outcome from authorities from doing so. "Approximately one-fifth of all rapes, one-quarter of all physical assaults, and one-half of all stalkings perpetrated against female respondents by intimates were reported to the police," according to a report by the U.S. Department of Justice. "The majority of victims who did not report their victimization to the police thought the police would not or could not do anything on their behalf."

Often, however, there's an even bigger problem in play than authorities who are not doing their jobs. The U.N. estimates that more than 600 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not even considered to be a specific crime, from Russia to Algeria to, yes, Pakistan.

What happened in Pakistan, in short, is a perfect and horrible example of the most prevalent kind of violence against women the world over. It is happening in homes, in streets, sometimes in clear view. If Parveen's death is to have any greater meaning, it will require putting aside the salacious frame much of the media have placed on her story and looking hard at the real reason her own family killed her.



The Problem With Stopwatches and Centrifuges

Why it's Iran's hidden facilities, not the breakout time to making a bomb, we should be worrying about.

Oh, my God, they're going to screw this up.

I will be the first to tell you that most of the criticism of President Barack Obama's foreign policy reflects the prerogatives of the chattering class. If things were going swimmingly, there'd be nothing to chatter about.

In fact, this administration usually has it about right on substance, even if it gets low marks for articulating its vision and too often flubs the execution of sensible policies. But no administration is perfect -- not even former President George H.W. Bush's vaunted team. Obama has wound down two disastrous wars, without starting any new ones -- and now he needs a big win. One or two big foreign-policy achievements is all that separates a modern-day Richelieu from a bumbling amoral criminal. Ask Henry Kissinger.

If the Obama administration can achieve a diplomatic agreement to keep Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, historians will probably judge the U.S. president much more kindly than contemporary pundits and partisans. That's why I spit out my coffee when on Wednesday I read that the chances for an Iran deal are slipping away over the issue of how many centrifuges Iran will be allowed to keep.

"[The Iranians] expect to get capacity to fuel Bushehr, and that's unrealistic," one diplomat told Reuters. "It gets you a very short breakout time."

"Breakout" is the theoretical time it would take Iran to reconfigure its cascades of centrifuges at its declared enrichment sites and then make enough highly enriched uranium for one nuclear weapon. The theory goes that a "short" breakout time -- on the order of weeks -- makes it somehow more likely that Iran will build a nuclear weapon.

This is completely wrong. Breakout is precisely the wrong measure of whether a deal is successful. If Obama lets this deal slip away over a breakout calculation, he'll earn the dismal reputation that pundits have been trying to hang on him.

The Iranians are extraordinarily unlikely to break out using a facility that is under International Atomic Energy Agency inspection, even if they are able to do so very quickly. I don't know how this calculation became the dominant measure of any agreement with Iran -- but it depends on a number of dubious assumptions.

The most dubious assumption is that anyone in Iran cares about the breakout timeline. Breakout is a wonk's calculation -- there is simply no evidence that political figures in Iran, like Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, think about the problem in terms of math and are, therefore, deterred by breakout taking a month in way they might not if it took a week.

And if Iran gains enough fissile material for one weapon in a week's time, so what? The United States nearly attacked North Korea when it had enough plutonium for, in the words of the U.S. intelligence community, "one, possibly two" nuclear weapons. Having a significant quantity of highly enriched uranium sitting around isn't a deterrent -- it is an invitation to preemption. If Khamenei chooses to break out, this will ignite an enormous crisis with the United States, Israel, and others. The supreme leader might opt for a crisis, but this is the kind of decision that usually depends on larger issues such as domestic political considerations, how the Iranian leadership judges U.S. resolve, and the stakes at the moment. Back-of-the-envelope breakout calculations don't matter.

What Khamenei is more likely to do, if he decides that nuclear weapons are no longer un-Islamic, is to order the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to build a covert facility with technology from the civil program. You know, like Iran did at Natanz before 2002, and near Qom before 2010. A covert facility would provide Iran with a significant and steady supply of highly enriched uranium. With a little luck for the Iranians, this approach would present the United States and its partners with a fait accompli -- one where we don't know how much highly enriched uranium they have or where it's made. That's what the North Koreans are doing now, having wised up about the limited value of a plutonium production infrastructure housed in very large reactors and a reprocessing building that are easily identified and targeted.

Let me put this simply: Even if the Iranians build a bomb, they are likely to pretend for a prolonged time that they haven't. Imposing limits on the number, capability, or operation of Iran's centrifuges is a fool's errand. It is far more important to win concessions on verification and access to Iran's nuclear program.

Try this thought experiment. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, in talks with the international powers, agrees to scrap the entire nuclear program down to the last centrifuge. That's wonderful, Lady Catherine Ashton says -- now we just have to talk about sanctions relief and verification. Verification, Zarif chuckles -- oh, there's no need for verification! There is nothing for you to verify!

That's a terrible deal, right? Any deal, no matter how many centrifuges it permits, depends fundamentally on the quality of the verification measures. Every ounce of leverage the United States and its partners spend on limiting the known centrifuge program is leverage they have wasted by not using it to win the best possible verification measures.

I don't mean to say that breakout doesn't matter at all. It is surely one factor -- though it was more persuasive when we thought Iran lacked the ability to manufacture many centrifuge components. But to let breakout calculations be the primary, let alone sole, measure of the deal's value is wrong.

Officials and analysts often don't describe the function of any agreement with Tehran, beyond the high-level goal to "prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon." The purpose of an agreement is to trade sanctions relief for a verifiable gap between Iran's technical option to build a bomb and any political decision to exercise that option. Sanctions relief provides the incentive to remain in compliance with the agreement, backed by verification and monitoring measures that convince the supreme leader that any cheating would be detected.

First and foremost, that means maximizing our ability to detect covert facilities, not limiting the breakout time. Khamenei might still choose to build a bomb under such circumstances -- but at the cost of a major crisis that will guarantee heavy sanctions and risk military action. That's no guarantee of sensible decisions in Tehran, of course, but neither can sanctions or bombing runs guarantee that cooler heads will prevail. Life is frustrating like that. But an offer of sanctions relief backed by the threat of pain and yet more pain to come is the best we can do -- and it all hinges on verification.

Photo by VAHID REZA ALAEI/AFP/Getty Images