Zainab-fox trot to cover up

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By Wajid Shamsul Hasan
Despite Punjab Administration’s fox trot in apparently trying to get to the culprits involved in the ghastly Zainab sex abuse and murder case- it does not seem to be going anywhere notwithstanding its Chief Minister ala Khadim-e-Ala’s best exercise to show that he means business.
He reminds of a monkey who by sheer luck becomes the King of the jungle. And lo and behold first challenge to him is the abduction of a new born lamb. Since he is the final authority as Lord of the Jungle- lamb’s mother beseeches him to recover her child before it is gobbled by the kidnappers. To show to the mother the Khadim-e-Ala means business, the monkey starts jumping from one branch to another, from one tree to another, disappearing in the thick of it. After many hours lamb’s mother’s returns to find out about the fate of her child. She catches the Lord of the Ring and asks him about the fate of her lamb. Angry KA scolds the sheep- ‘can’t you see, I arm trying to recover since morning’ and again starts jumping from one tree to another’. Of course it became too late to save the lamb.
So trying hard Khadim-e-Ala is but it seems as much he is doing to unearth the killers, responsible for the crime are faster in covering it up. It is their misfortune that Zainab’s shall remain all over international media for some more time like the incident in August 2015 when the case of massive commercialisation of illicit videos of child sex abuse of Kasur hit the International headlines.
Al-Jazeera (English) interviewed me for that. Though I was not too well that day I got into it when its contact person said that the scandal was so massive that the government was trying to cover it up. It seemed to be a call to duty to defend one’s motherland when in a tight corner. I did not want our adversaries to use it as opportunity to flay Pakistan’s image.
A number of accused had been arrested then but since some very influential politicians in power were involved in it, the indications were that it would be shoved under the carpet. The important names mentioned at that time were of the provincial law minister, local members of provincial assembly and others well-linked with the underworld and the party in power. Initial reports had already said that the powerful gang of paedophiles had been in the business of child sexual abuse for more than ten years. As a matter of fact, countless cases of extreme child sexual abuse in Ganda Singh Wala area of Kasur were pending investigation at that time. Preliminary investigations had revealed that around 400 videos were made of 280 child/minor victims of sex abuse by the gang of over 25 criminals.

KARACHI: Pakistan Peoples’s Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari demanding fool-proof and concrete measures for the safety and education for the children at a press conference at Bilawal House on Tuesday. Chief Minister Sindh Syed Murad Ali Shah, Senator Sherry Rehman, singer and social worker Shahzad Roy and other are sitting along with him.

Several parents of victims were consistently blackmailed and coerced to pay hundreds of thousands of rupees as they were threatened that the gang would release the videos in public. Media reports said families in the locality were helpless as officials all along remained apathetic to the incident. Rather, it seemed clear that the police higher ups and other district authorities were in the know of it and were in cahoots with the gang.
It is now nearly three years when the sex scandal rocked the Punjab Administration and blackened the face of the federal government under Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Since there was much public hullabaloo, the Chief Minister had appointed a joint investigation team and had promised draconian punishment. It was more of hot air full of sound and fury signifying nothing. Apprehensions were there that since those involved in the racket were extremely influential and money made too was in billions in foreign exchange – every effort that seemed to be made apparently to get to the bottom of it was nothing but a subtle move to cover it up, provide coercive time and opportunity to buy or silence the families of the victims. According to figures available in Punjab alone, over the past four years, 12,000 such cases of child rape were reported, only 100 of the perpetrators were convicted. As leading columnist Yasmeen Ali wrote last week, Zainab’s is on its way to becoming yet another addition in the statics. Indeed, it is most likely. In possibly the words of late poet Mustafa Zaidi, on whose hands would Zainab’s blood stains be found when the entire Punjab Administration, its police hierarchy, top authorities, members of the ruling party including Home Minister are wearing gloves. I remember a time came when the 2015 mega sex scandal and commercialisation of child porno was cleverly through a well-organised campaign got started being mentioned in between the headlines lines as not that big nor were so many children involved in it. It was alleged to be a well planned exercise in converting a mountain into a mole hill. All those voices that described the incident as a wakeup call to avert something bigger- fell like seeds on the stony ground. Provincial Law Ministry became so obviously tainted in it by its partisan role that the then Punjab Home Minister, late Shuja Khanzada, contradicted various statements by police officials in Kasur and confirmed that the incidents had in fact taken place albeit not in the numbers being portrayed in the media.
Late Shuja Khanzada as Provincial Interior Minister came on record to confess that the case – whether small or big – was indeed terrible and most outrageously shameful, promising that no stone will be left unturned in its investigation. Unfortunately, those involved in it managed to buy a cover to shroud their misdeeds by having it converted into a rivalry over land dispute between two groups. Obviously, police and law ministry got into the act to defend themselves and to downplay the sickening child abuse pornography mega exposure. Instead of becoming part of big cover up exercise then, if Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif who masquerades himself in different hats as Khadim-e-Ala had acted in the right earnest the hair raising incident of child sexual abuse and most dreadful murder of 7-year old Zainab could have been avoided as well as such cases – 108 of them since then – would not have piled up to collect dust to be forgotten.
Like the original Kasur sex video mega scandal of 2015 was allowed to be pushed under the carpet, Zainab’s case too seems to be moving in a similar direction – to exhaust the patience of the masses. Same procedure has been adopted, joint investigation team appointed and not the least Khadim-e-Ala himself is at the back and call for speedy investigation – that so far is neither here nor there. However, it is good to know that CJP and Chief Justice of Lahore High Court also consider Zainab’s sexually abused murder fit enough for suo motto action, it is hoped that the Punjab government’s sinister efforts and Law Ministry’s machinations not to trace the culprits or to cover it up – are not allowed to succeed.
The very fact that Punjab police is already working on the premise that Zainab’s murder was committed by a “serial” killer with some connections with the Kasur mega sex scandal of 2015 shows that the cover up is on. And don’t be surprised one day to read in the media that killers of Zainab had been eliminated in a police encounter-a usual standard procedure to solve blind cases and bury their files as closed. However, this time it could be difficult as the Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa has been invoked by the parents of the girl to join investigations and to help civil law enforcing agencies in finding the culprits – it would not be that easy to carry on the cover up operation, it seems. However, time is the essence.
Kasur sex scandals of 2015 followed by Zainab’s murder are merely samples of a malaise that is fast over taking Pakistani society as an epidemic. No doubt in Punjab things have gone out of control; such cases have become a matter of daily occurrence and with impunity; in other provinces too the menace is growing alarmingly. Notwithstanding indigenous culture in KP where boys are boys, sexual abuse for revenge and pleasure has become order of the day in many parts of the country especially in the north where cases of child abuse are swept under the carpet as a normal exercise to save families from shame. In most of the cases such crimes remain un-noticed and ignored leaving the victim carry a life time scar. According to figure available in Punjab alone, over the past four years, 12,000 such cases of child rape were reported, only 100 of the perpetrators convicted. In the end one would conclude that in the larger national context what we have is a total failure of the society, its moral and religious values and the overall decay. If one were to look at the record of child sexual abuses in religious seminaries and mosques – what we have is a doomsday scenario. Seminaries have become more or less havens for sexual abuse especially those that convert youngsters into holy warriors. Indeed, there are laws, more laws are being passed but not many too follow them or execute them as a result you get what you have today – life being rendered short, brutish and nasty.
(The Author is the former High Commissioner of Pakistan to the UK and a veteran journalist.)