Kasur was all over international media in August 2015 when the case of massive commercialisation of illicit videos of child abuse hit the 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.
A number of accused had been arrested 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. 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.
A time came when a well-organised campaign found itself in between the headlines lines that the scandal was not that big nor were so many children involved in it. It was alleged to be a well-oiled 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’s 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.
A better person that he was as compared to his colleague in the Law Ministry, he 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. Ever since 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; 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 wider sense this is a total failure of the society, its moral and religious values especially when seminaries most prominently figure as haven for sexual abuse. Yes, 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 writer is a former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist)