Murder of Zainab, 6, stirs outrage in Pakistan

Students light candles during a protest rally in Lahore to condemn the killing of Zainab Ansari in Kasur. (AP)
Updated 13 January 2018
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Murder of Zainab, 6, stirs outrage in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: The city of Kasur in Pakistan’s Punjab province has exploded into violence following the sexual assault and murder of six-year-old Zainab Ansari, whose body was found in a rubbish dump on Tuesday. She is reportedly the 12th child to have been murdered in the last year in, or close to, Kasur — a city with a long history of pedophile scandals.
Protesters infuriated by perceived government inaction over this latest crime attacked a hospital, a police station, and government offices, bringing public transport to a halt and forcing the closure of the courts. On Thursday, residents attacked the homes of politicians.
While the restive city calmed somewhat on Friday, the nation remains enraged over the police’s failure to arrest the perpetrator of the crime.
“We want justice, and we hope that the killer of our daughter will not go scot-free,” Zainab’s father, Muhammad Amin, told Arab News.
“We hope the killer will not only be arrested but also given exemplary punishment.”
Zainab is believed to have been abducted outside a religious tuition center she attended just 100 meters from her home on Thursday, Jan. 4. Her parents were in Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah at that time, and she was in the care of her maternal aunt.
A number of social, political and religious figures have visited the bereaved parents in recent days. And Chief of Army Staff Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa assured Zainab’s family that the criminal would be caught and punished.
Kasur resident Mohammed Junaid said police had not taken the spate of child murders seriously and that no arrests have been made during their investigations.
“The people of Kasur are left with no option but to protest against the inaction of the government and the police,” he told Arab News, adding that they would “set all government buildings in the city on fire” if the culprit was not arrested soon.
The police aggravated the situation further on Wednesday when they shot and killed two protesters. Later, Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif apologized to the families of the victims and promised compensation.
“The whole nation should come out to express solidarity with Zainab’s parents and demand the rulers to take cogent measures to put an end to such incidents,” Shakil Iftikhar, a businessman in Kasur, told Arab News.
There are signs, though, that the government may finally have been jolted into action.
Talking to Arab News, Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Marriyum Aurangzeb emphasized that all political parties should join together to create awareness about child abuse and help the government enact effective legislation.
“We will try our best to include the issue of child abuse in the curriculum by taking all parties on board,” she said, while urging the nation to stay calm as the government was doing its best to live up to people’s expectations.
It is not just Kasur that has witnessed an alarming increase in the sexual assault of minors. According to Sahil, a non-governmental organization for victims of violence and sexual abuse, there were 4,139 cases of child sexual abuse — including abduction, missing children and child marriage — in Pakistan in 2016, an average of 11 incidents per day and a 10 percent increase on 2015.
Sahil’s annual report, “Cruel Numbers,” revealed in 2016: “Following the previous year’s data, more girls have been sexually abused this year as well. The reported cases under major crime categories are: abduction 1,455, rape 502, sodomy 453, gang rape 271, gang sodomy 268 and 362 cases of attempted (child sexual abuse). An even more serious crime is committed when the victim is murdered. A total of 100 victims were murdered after sexual assaults.”
As tensions continued to run high on Friday, the Punjab government appointed Regional Police Officer Multan Idrees Ahmad as head of the joint investigation team for Zainab’s murder.
Punjab Government spokesperson Malik Ahmed Khan told Arab News that the police have unearthed a connection between Zainab’s killing and recent incidents of a similar nature in Kasur.
Khan said that experts from the forensic science laboratory had been working on the magnification of an image of the suspect.
“We are establishing a criminal database for the first time in the country’s history to identify suspects through facial recognition,” he said.
He claimed police were “close to the suspect now.”


Britain and EU spar over Brexit as clock ticks down

Updated 51 min 54 sec ago

Britain and EU spar over Brexit as clock ticks down

  • Britain says a deal is possible
  • Ireland says not close to a deal

LONDON/BRUSSELS : Britain said on Friday a Brexit deal with the European Union could be reached at a summit next month, but EU member Ireland said the sides were far from agreement and London had not yet made serious proposals.
Three years after Britons voted to leave the EU, hopes of a breakthrough over the terms of its departure have been stoked in recent days by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying the shape of a deal is emerging and European Commission President Juncker saying agreement is possible.
But diplomats say the two sides are split over London’s desire to remove the Irish border “backstop” from the divorce deal struck by Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, and then work out a replacement in coming years.
The backstop is an insurance policy to keep the 500-km (300-mile) border between Ireland, which will remain in the EU, and the British province of Northern Ireland open after Brexit.
“We both want to see a deal,” British Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay said after talks in Brussels with EU negotiator Michel Barnier. “The meeting overran, which signals we were getting into the detail.”
“There is a still a lot of work to do but there is a common purpose to secure a deal,” Barclay said, adding that Juncker and Johnson also both wanted a deal.
Leaving the EU would be Britain’s biggest shift in trade and foreign policy for more than 40 years and deprive the 28-nation bloc of one of its biggest economies. The EU has set a deadline for a deal to be reached by Oct. 31.
British parliament has rejected the deal May agreed with the EU. Johnson has said he wants to secure an amended deal at an EU summit on Oct. 17-18 but that Britain will leave the bloc if that is not possible. He will meet European Council Donald Tusk at the United Nations in New York next week.
Ireland is crucial to any Brexit solution. Unless the Irish border backstop is removed or amended, Johnson will not be able to win parliamentary approval but Ireland and the EU are unwilling to sign a deal without a solution to the border.
The EU fears a hard border could cause unrest in Northern Ireland and undermine the fragile peace provided by a 1998 peace deal that ended three decades of violence between Irish nationalists seeking a united Ireland, and the British security forces and pro-British “unionists.”
The Withdrawal Agreement that was agreed with the EU last November says the United Kingdom will remain in a customs union “unless and until” alternative arrangements are found to avoid the return of border controls in Ireland.
The British government, worried the backstop will trap it in the EU’s orbit for years to come, wants to remove it and find a solution before December 2020, when a planned transition period ends.
The British pound fell from a two-month high after the Financial Times reported Johnson had told colleagues he did not expect to reach a full “legally operable” deal next month.
One EU official said Britain’s proposals are not enough to replace the backstop.
“As it stands, it is unacceptable,” the official said. “If they don’t really change their approach, we are at an impasse.”
The European Commission said in a memo that Britain’s plans “fall short of satisfying all the objectives” of finding an alternative to the backstop, Sky News reported.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said the mood music had improved and that both sides wanted a deal but that they were not close to an agreement.
“There is certainly a lot of commentary now and some of it is spin I think, in the context of where we are,” he told the BBC. “We need to be honest with people and say that we’re not close to that deal right now.”
“Everybody needs a dose of reality here, there is still quite a wide gap between what the British government have been talking about in terms of the solutions that they are proposing, and I think what Ireland and the EU will be able to support.”
Britain said on Thursday it had shared documents with Brussels setting out ideas for a Brexit deal, but an EU diplomat described them as a “smokescreen” that would not prevent a disorderly exit on the Oct. 31 departure date.
Coveney, Ireland’s second most powerful politician, said a no-deal could lead to civil unrest.
“Trade across 300 road crossings that has created a normality and a peace that is settled on the island of Ireland for the last 20 years, that now faces significant disruption,” he said. “That is what we’re fighting for here.