Pakistan Zainab murder: Anger in Kasur as other parents speak out

By Secunder Kermani
BBC News, Kasur

Media caption,
The rape and murder of six-year-old Zainab sparked outrage in Pakistan

Kasur is an angry city right now.

The murder and sexual assault of six-year-old Zainab Ansari, who disappeared on her way to a Koran class on 4 January, has sparked deadly riots.

Zainab was last seen alive on CCTV footage walking hand in hand with an unknown man. Her body was found in a rubbish dump a few days later.

And according to a police document obtained by the BBC there have been 10 similar cases in the city since January 2017.

Investigators have recovered traces of the same DNA on six of the victims, including from Zainab's body.

All six were young girls, all went missing extremely close to their homes, and all were left, unburied, in rubbish dumps or abandoned houses nearby. Their families all live within a 3km (two mile) radius.

The first in the spate of the girls to be abducted was five-year-old Ayesha Bibi who disappeared from outside her home almost exactly a year before Zainab, on 7 January 2017.

It was her father Asif Baba's birthday. He's kept the white teddy bear she gave him as a gift that day, along with her school uniforms and doll collection.

Image caption,
Ayesha Bibi's father said: "It's like we lost our daughter again"

"Anger is a very small word to describe how I feel," he told the BBC.

"This is not a house - it's a graveyard. Since Zainab died it's like we lost our daughter again. It was the same when I found out about each of the other girls."

He says his family and others in the city have been traumatised.

"People in the town are scared. The kids are scared to even go to the bathroom - they say to their mothers to wait outside - we won't lock the door."

"My other daughter didn't speak for four months. There was a family wedding, she said she's not coming because she might be kidnapped."

Image caption,
Ayesha's father has still kept her teddy bear and uniform

Another girl, six-year-old Qainat, went missing in November after going to buy yoghurt from the shop down the road from her house.

Her uncle Irfan Ali told the BBC her body was found in graveyard nearby. She was alive but only just.

She is the only girl to have survived her ordeal - but is currently in hospital where relatives say she's completely paralysed from the head down, unable to talk.

Her parents have spent the last two months at the hospital by her side but she seems unable to recognise anyone.

She too it appears was attacked by the same suspect. Irfan Ali says he's convinced the killer lives locally.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Zainab's murder has sparked protests across Pakistan

It's not clear why Zainab's murder in particular has triggered this level of outrage.

One reason seems to be the way different opposition politicians have been using the case as a way of criticising the ruling PML-N party, whose base is in the province of Punjab where Kasur is situated.

Qainat's uncle told the BBC: "Zainab's family are rich and have political connections. All of the rest of us are poor. No politician came to see us. No one cares."

Zainab's extended family are said to have links to senior figures in the political opposition.

The Chief Minister of Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif, likely to be the ruling PML-N's candidate for prime minister in this summer's general elections, visited Zainab's father, promising him he would get justice.

Social media has also played an important role in building pressure on the authorities. Pictures of Zainab, one of her smiling as she looks at the camera, and another of her body lying in a rubbish dump, went viral online.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

But the reason for the current level of anger is also simply because of the accumulation of the murders, and the seeming inability of the police to find the killer.

Mr Baba, a vegetable seller, believes the police were not really interested in solving the crime.

"Two or three times they arrested people and brought them in front of us - saying these are the murderers. Even the men said: 'We had killed her.'"

"But I didn't believe them. I said the DNA is part of your investigation. Until there's a match I won't believe it. When the DNA report came out it was clear they were not the culprits."

Mr Baba says hundreds of people, including his friends and relatives were taken in by the police. One of his friends said the police appeared more concerned with extracting bribes from them than finding the culprit.

A local police official told the BBC that there was now real urgency in finding the killer.

It's a sentiment shared by Qainat's uncle.

Standing amidst a crowd of children and worried locals he tells me: "We can't let this happen to another girl."