LAHORE: More than 10 days have gone by since the chilly morning that Zainab was found lying lifelessly in a heap of garbage in the Kasur city— tortured, raped, sodomised and strangled to death.
Zainab was seven years old. The images that followed – whether seen first-hand or on a television screen– took the country by storm, making an indelible mark on each and everyone who came to know about this heinous crime.
She was kidnapped on January 4 from near her aunt’s house in Kasur. Her body was discovered five days later on January 9 from a garbage pile. The post-mortem report revealed that Zainab had been raped and murdered.
A 36-hour deadline issued by the Lahore High Court (LHC) on January 15 to the police for arresting the suspects lapsed on Sunday without any progress. Another 72 hours have been given to the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) to arrest the culprits of the girl by the Supreme Court.
Despite the complete involvement of the district police, Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD), Intelligence Bureau (IB), Special Branch and Punjab Forensic Science Agency in the investigation, no major breakthrough has been made in the case, ever since Zainab’s body was found.
“This is not something that happens only in Pakistan; these things happen all over the world. The only thing that makes all the difference is how the government and police authorities react to these incidents,” said Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Spokesperson Fawad Chaudhry while talking to Pakistan Today.
He said that the government, police, media and general public ignored the Kasur pornography scandal that came out in 2015. “Had something been done then, Zainab’s murder would have been avoided,” continued Chaudhry.
In 2015, a case came into the forefront involving a gang of men that had allegedly recorded as many as 400 videos of sexual abuse involving at least 280 children belonging to Hussain Khan Wala village near Kasur.
No major breakthrough was ever made in that case despite various investigative measures that had been claimed by the police to have taken place.
According to the then DPO Kasur, Ali Nasir Rizvi, the police worked day and night in 2015 to bring the criminals to justice.
“The intelligence measures that you see right now for Zainab case have been in place since the Kasur pornography case had happened. The CCTV footage that you’re seeing right now has been taken from cameras that were installed back in 2015,” he said while talking to Pakistan Today.
He said that DNA tests were done at that time as well just like they are being conducted for Zainab murder case.
The Supreme Court was told on Sunday’s session that the DNA tests of 800 suspects had been conducted in connection with the case. However, the SC judges had remarked that the method taken by the investigating team would require the DNA tests of 21 million people to conduct the investigation properly.
Speaking about Zainab murder case, Rizvi told Pakistan Today, “They (police) are checking small truck junction points, net cafes, small tuck shops, movie shops, wherever there is even a hint of suspicious activity present. They are also looking into Darbars (shrines) for suspicious people who might be indulged in this heinous crime. The police have left no stone unturned to conduct this investigation.”
He said that the most sophisticated investigation techniques are being utilised to solve the case. “Government has formed information centres all over the Kasur area to get all the information that they can to solve these cases, however, most of the calls that they are getting are bogus. Information for them (police) is crucial if they are not going to get any relevant information they cannot go ahead,” the former DPO said.
“The difference between 2015 and now is that now, police from all over Punjab is on board to solve the case along with the intelligence agencies. Genuine efforts were undertaken at that time and some of the cases were traced as well but unfortunately the cases that were traced did not point towards the wanted serial killer,” Rizvi further said, referring to the Kasur pornography incident.
Rizvi said that it is now time for the community to indulge in community policing since it is not possible for the police to keep an eye on all activities that are taking place. “We’re just 21,000 police officials. We cannot keep an eye on everything. It is important now for people to report if they witness any suspicious activities in their areas, he concluded.”
Advocate Supreme Court Saiful Malook was of the opinion that the investigation regarding Zainab case was the most comprehensive investigation he saw in his 35 years of service.
“To be honest, there is no one way to arrest an unidentified culprit all over the world, unless and until he does something suspicious,” Malook said while speaking to Pakistan Today.
Malook further said that he is certain that the investigation that is being conducted in this case is “even more comprehensive than what was ever done regarding former prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s murder case”.
However, Malook too had a few reservations about the way the investigation is being handled.
“Additional IGP Abu Bakar Khuda Baksh is the most competent official I have seen in my tenure, but he was replaced— only because the plaintiff wanted him to be changed for religious reasons. What does faith have to do with an investigation? Where in the world does the plaintiff have a say in these matters?” asked Malook.
A joint investigation team (JIT) was formed as soon as the case was reported, to probe into the case. However, the JIT head Additional IGP Abu Bakar Khuda Baksh was replaced— because of his Ahmadi faith.
Ahmadis, a persecuted minority in Pakistan, were declared non-Muslims in Pakistan through a constitutional amendment in 1974 during the tenure of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
“Investigations are not conducted in order to make the plaintiffs happy. They are done to find results,” Malook said.
The brutal rape and murder of six-year-old Zainab sparked outrage across the country with #JusticeforZainab becoming the rallying cry while violent protests broke out in Kasur. Apart from politicians, the general public is also concerned about how this case is being handled.
Aleena, an academic in Lahore, while talking to Pakistan Today said, “Police have failed to investigate the murders of 2015 and same might happen this time or like all inquiry commissions before that. They have failed to deliver.”
“The commission in the Zainab case has put the blame on a ‘serial rapist-murder’ and linked the killer with an earlier case, but they have failed to arrest him. There is a lack of strategy or effectiveness,” she further said.
“65 people have matched the DNA of the criminal, a fact that shows that these tests are being conducted only to fool the public. This shows a failure of the expertise and the investigative procedure,” Rehan Shahid, a corporate lawyer, lamented.
Shahid Mahmood, a banker, while talking to Pakistan Today, asked, “Why are they only conducting DNA tests on people of their choice? Why are the government officials in the area excluded? An investigation has to be complete in all senses.”
“From looking at the record of police especially in Kasur incidents, this too is a dead end case, or someone will be victimised to placate public anger,” continued Aleena.
Saima Bashir, a teacher at a local school and mother of two, lamented, “If investigated deeper, it will eventually be found out that this case and the other cases like this are connected to the bigwigs of the major political parties,” she claimed.
“This is all a power game, they won’t let it get solved,” she concluded.
The incumbent DPO Kasur and PML-N officials, including MNAs Waseem Akhtar and Rasheed Ahmed of the area, were not available for comment on the matter despite repeated attempts.