By Arif Nizami
The national outrage over the gruesome rape and murder of a seven-year-old girl, Zainab Amin, in Kasur earlier in the week has not died down. The perpetrator of the heinous crime who is deemed to be a serial rapist and killer of children is still at large.
Adding insult to injury, policemen in a city located close to Lahore – just a few kilometres away from the Sharifs Jati Umra abode – gunned down two protesters that were part of a large violent crowd expressing outrage over the sad incident. The anger in the backdrop of state’s apathy is understandable. This is not the first incident of its kind in Kasur. According to some reports the DNA forensics point out that the same person is the perpetrator of five similar incidents involving young children in the city. Incidentally twelve such cases have been reported in Kasur during the past two years. But sadly enough, the police was unable to nab a single criminal on this count.
Contrary to the ruling PML-N’s mantra of fancy safe city projects, metros, highways and motorways and electricity for all, this is the sad state of affairs. Civil society activists and the public at large already sensitized by rampant terrorism feel that enough is enough.
Instead of initiating home-grown reforms emphasis has remained on fancy schemes imported from other countries. The state’s reaction to the barbaric incident has been predictable. The Chief Minister of the province Shehbaz Sharif chose to visit the family of the victim in the wee hours of the morning perhaps to avoid the wrath of the angry protesters. The usual assurances reserved for such sombre moments, that no stone will be left unturned to trace the culprit in the backdrop of a photo-op with the bereaved were given by Sharif. Similarly right down from the Prime Minister, the Army Chief every state functionary who matters has ‘taken strict notice’ of the incident.
But at the end of the day it will be business as usual. Such incidents are not restricted to Kasur. Similar sad occurrences take place all over Pakistan most of them not even reported. No such consideration is shown towards minorities who are a consistent victim of hate crimes and terrorism in the name of a distorted version of religion. In the Islamic republic of Pakistan when was the last time a state functionary commiserate with families of victims of such prejudice?
Apart from being a law and order problem, it is a societal and systemic failure embedded in our feudal milieu. Only three years ago, a mammoth child pornography scandal erupted in Kasur.
However the crime committed was swept under the carpet by terming it as a land dispute. The findings of different human rights organisations contradicting the government’s narrative were conveniently ignored. A lot has been made about the efforts of the Punjab government to reform the police. But ground realities are quite different. Even in a city like Kasur that is virtually the outskirts of the provincial capital the local police was reluctant to move in the Zainab case unless their palms were greased. The city police head has been suspended, as per what has become the norm in such occurrences.
Little has been done to increase the police force’s capacity or capabilities. Its culture obstinately remains the same. As in other government departments the emphasis is on optics rather than substance. Instead of initiating home-grown reforms emphasis has remained on fancy schemes imported from other countries.
Take the example of the so-called Dolphin Force launched with much fanfare in Lahore in 2016. The idea was borrowed from Turkey that both the Sharifs love to emulate. The smartly turned out young men with fancy uniforms riding fast state of the art expensive bikes stick out like a sore thumb in the overall police culture of Punjab. Admittedly no scientific study is available to ascertain the newly created Force’s efficacy in controlling crime. Perhaps controlling crime is not its job description. Conceivably they are meant to adorn the wide thoroughfares of Lahore metropolitan a la the Hollywood film Robocop. Another brainchild of the Punjab policy makers was to change the uniform of the police from its traditional grey coarse cloth to khaki. Perhaps the logic being that if you cannot change the wine change the label. The new uniform that was introduced on an experimental basis in Lahore last year was finally abandoned in November after a lot of unnecessary cost to the exchequer.
A few years back an Elite force was introduced in the province. Smartly turned up jawaans in black uniforms trained at a purpose built special academy appropriately called the Elite Training School were supposed to control law and order and combat terrorism.
But in practical terms the Elite force ended up largely protecting the elite and their families, defeating its very purpose.
With no dearth of resources there is no harm in expending excess cash on experimenting in creating such showpieces. However what is the justification of allocating budgets on such wasteful schemes? Especially when the police are both severely undermanned and badly trained?
In this backdrop it is not at all surprising that Thana culture still prevails even in the cities. That is why this time around, the outraged citizenry unfortunately decided to take matters into their own hands.
An uneasy calm prevails in Kasur, the Punjab Ranges being summoned after two days of rampant rioting. The Lahore High Court Chief Justice has given a 36 hours’ notice to the government to arrest the culprit. The Chief Justice has expressed surprise that despite earlier such cases none of them were brought to the notice of the court. This admission however speaks volumes about the confidence that the citizenry reposes in the courts. In an era in which it has become the norm to take suo moto notice on the basis of media reports why did such incidents in the past escape the notice of the courts? Unfortunately in an era when the courts like the politicians with few exceptions prefer to take notice of high profile headline grabbing cases, such matters are lost in small print.
Breakdown of peoples’ trust in state institutions is a recipe for disaster. The anarchic behaviour witnessed in Kasur if not tackled by short, medium and long-term measures is a danger for the stability of the system. Charlatan demagogues a la Tahir-ul-Qadri are waiting in the wings to spread disorder for their own nefarious designs. Hence the state should wake up from its slumber before it is too late. Kasur is just a wake-up call.
(The writer is Editor, Pakistan Today. He can be contacted at email@example.com.)