The catching of Zainab’s killer was supposed to bring some closure to the case, but the display of national outrage at the brutal rape-cum-murder in Kasur showed up some of the cracks in Pakistani society, and more particularly in its justice system.

The arrest of a neighbor of the murdered girl, Imran, led to his confession, which is one of the best pieces of evidence that can be produced in a court. That means that the prosecution will not have to rely on the DNA profiling that led to his arrest, nor the polygraph evidence that confirmed his confession to the Chief Minister. However, for the trial court to accept his confession, it should be repeated in front of it, though it will also rely on a confession under Section 164 Cr PC, duly made before a competent magistrate.

The courts do not rely on DNA profiling because it is not accepted by the Qanoon-i-Shahadat Order, which the courts must follow. However, though they cannot use the evidence in court, nothing stops them from using it as an investigative tool. One reason why this tool is not used is conservatism among police officials, but another, quite simply, is that the police are expected by the political masters, to fulfill functions of control, and instead of concentrating on the prevention and detection of crime, concentrate on their extraneous tasks while making as much money as possible.

However, one of the most significant aspects is the fact that society as a whole seems to be fumbling for a punishment. The crime is heinous, all agree. But the purpose of punishment does not seem clear. Is it to be punitive, or deterrent? That there seems to be some movement towards a public hanging is indicated by the legislation put before the Senate by Senator Rehman Malik of the PPP, who has also written to the Senate Chairman asking that the bill be taken up.

However, it is worth noting that when public hangings were stopped in the UK in 1868 (the death penalty itself being abolished in 1965), one of the arguments used was that they were not much of a deterrent. At that time, hangings were mostly in jails, though a one time, they had routinely been in public.

An odd, virtually unintentional motif has been that of religion. The killer was a naat khwan with a beard (which he shaved when he felt the net closing around him); the victim’s parents were away performing umra, the victim herself had gone to study the Quran, the killer claims he was forced to commit murders because of the voices of jinn. This is perhaps a dimension that needs study. The claims may be a preparation for an execution-averting insanity defence, but it does imply a life in prison (if ever he is deemed cured, he will be executed). It is also worth noting that serial killings are occurring for the first time in Muslim societies. The voices of jinns are a religious concept, paralleling the ‘demons’ voices’ heard by some US or European serial killers. One US killer of the 20th century blamed a neighbourhood dog for ordering him to kill.

In a Muslim society, the concepts of deterrence or punishment pale before that of saving the criminal from divine punishment. In this case, there are two offences involved: the first is adultery. Since the criminal is not married, he would be subject to 100 lashes per offence. However, the DNA report is one of sodomy, which is a capital offence.

Then there is murder. Each murder entails possible retaliation by the heirs. But at the same time, the Quran says that every murder is like killing all mankind. All mankind means every single person ever born. Considering that the present population of the world is 7.6 billion, and the number of persons to have ever lived to be about 106 billion to 108 billion, ‘all mankind’ is a very high number. Being punished on earth thus seems a merciful purgation. However, such a serial killer’s sentencing would pose a qazi a pretty problem.

As far as punishment goes, it might be noted that in a very recent US case, there are some interesting parallels. The former team doctor of the US women’s gymnastics team, who was also the women’s gymnastics coach at Michigan State University, was convicted for abusing 150 girls referred to him for treatment, and sentenced to 40 to 175 years in jail. The basis of his conviction was not so much the testimony of the girls, as his confession, which implies some sort of plea-bargain. He had already been sentenced to 60 years for possessing kiddie porn on his computer, so in effect, he had received a life sentence. True, he had not committed any murders. However, the parallel with Imran’s case is heightened by the fact that the USA too has the death sentence.

Another aspect of the case, which has been mired in confusion by the bank account claims which have turned out to be incorrect, is Imran’s link to the previous kiddie porn scandal in Kasur. At one level, though it did not involve any deaths, it was perhaps more horrific, as it involved more than 300 children, and as it was characterized by a lack of emotion. (Zainab’s killer is devoid of normal human emotion, but is motivated by the need for satisfaction; the earlier child abusers were motivated by greed, and were just filling orders.) While the falsity of the bank account claims show that there was no direct link, it does seem too much of a coincidence that both incidents occurred in the same city.

That there was a coincidence leads to such disquieting conclusions as the possibility of other pornography rings, other serial killers, in other cities and towns of the country. In fact, both are likely. The market which brought the kiddie porn ring into being was unaffected by the busting of the ring, assuming that the busting was genuine, and it did not re-emerge in secret. That market still needs product, as the US case showed, and if not Kasur, some other town, maybe not a district headquarters this time. The discovery of an international child pornographer in Jhang seems to confirm this. Serial murderers are created by conditions, and who is to say that the conditions of Kasur are not being repeated in Jhelum, or Shikarpur or Khuzdar? Already, there has been a murder in Charsadda which has certain parallels. Perhaps more frightening, that killing occurred in a village. Does that mean that serial killing may have spread to the village level? The Quetta killing indicates that it might still be an urban phenomenon.

Serial killing is relatively rare, but it is a crime that all police forces are ill-equipped to deal with. Our police is inexperienced as well, not to mention that its purpose has been control, with crime-solving carried out just to ensure that the natives do not become restless. Western experience has shown that investigations have often been inept. An early British case, that of Jack the Ripper, which occurred in London in 1888, is unsolved to this day.

While serial killing has burgeoned with urbanization, those worried that an improper image of Pakistan has been conveyed, should perhaps be pleased that Pakistan has joined the ranks of the nations which have serial killers. The really loud alarm bell has to be that after Javed Iqbal, who killed about 300 boys in Lahore after assaulting them, Imran was caught committing a similar crime with girls, in Kasur. Has the circle of death come to an end? Or is this just the beginning?