The investigation of the Kasur tragedy has barely begun and it already smells of a cover-up. It broke my heart to learn that a 13-year old has been arrested for being an ‘actor’ in the porn videos. What about the producers and directors of these videos? What about the blackmailers who drugged and coerced children to perform in front of the camera and sold their nauseating productions here and abroad? What about the powerful players who protected those involved? Surely, it wasn’t just a few psychopaths acting on their own.

So, will the victims be turned into culprits, some junior officials punished and those sitting atop this stinking heap allowed to roam our streets? If the record of the current Punjab government is anything to go by, that is how it would like this sordid episode to end. Rana Sanaullah is already going around creating confusion around the whole issue, expecting us not to make a big fuss about it and to take it all in our stride.

The police officer deputed to head the much touted Joint Investigation Team has served in the district with the same officers who are involved in protecting the culprits. A DSP who has served in Kasur for the last 14 years in violation of rules is being pushed into the background despite the fact that his control over the district police is no secret. He has been suspended along with other officers serving in the district but his bloated and pungent role in the district is not getting due attention. Because of a network of SHOs loyal to him, he was seen by the locals as more powerful than the DPO. His political backers are not even mentioned. Already, the name of one of the main characters has been dropped from the investigation report.

Friends from Kasur say the purpose of creating the JIT is to buy time and conduct a cost-benefit analysis, to see how many scapegoats and smalltime collaborators need to be sacrificed to save the bigger villains. They say the tentacles of the porn-cum-blackmail mafia go beyond the village of Hussian Khanwala and that the police, like in so many other instances, are on the side of the criminals. We can’t blame them for their distrust. Even when the matter was reported to the police, they seemed more interested in hushing up the matter rather than going after the gang. They blamed and shamed the family of victims instead and tried to silence them. In at least one instance, the complainant was arrested.

According to a report in The Nation about the demonstration that blew the lid off the scam, “two dozen people were injured when police used force to disperse more than 4,000 protesters… who were calling for justice for the victims”. This was their second demonstration after the first one went unnoticed. Thankfully, this newspaper followed it up and uncovered the scam, forcing other media houses to sit up and take notice.

One shudders to think what would have happened if The Nation had not given the story the attention it deserved, and the victims and their families had been left to the mercy of the powerful mafia and the network of criminal police officers who allowed the scam to continue for almost ten years. One can’t blame the victims or their families for remaining silent. After all, those who approached the police came away feeling like criminals themselves.

So can we hope for justice unless the entire police force of the district is suspended and impartially investigated? Can we expect the Shahbaz administration to be impartial? Even when the gang members have links to his party and help it win elections? It’s not only Kasur. Take a closer look at the support base of his party, and you will find a host of criminal elements who flout the law in their towns and villages with impunity.

To compound the problem further, politicisation of the Punjab Police has turned it into a force that is evaluated in terms of loyalty rather than performance. At the local level, this translates into a dangerous nexus of the police and favoured ‘notables’ who are free to continue their crimes and corruption as long as they are on the right side of the government. In times of trouble, they can count on their political patrons to protect them. It’s not just the PML-N of course. Other established political parties are not very different, as we’ve seen in the case of MQM and PPP in Sindh.

To ensure that the real culprits behind the Kasur tragedy are punished, the media must remain vigilant and follow the case in minute detail, probing the matter through independent investigation. One can’t rely on the government to do that. They say we shouldn’t burden the military with every failure of our so called civilian leaders but, given the circumstances, one is forced to call for the investigation and trial of the culprits in a military court. To expect impartiality from the Joint Investigation Team constituted by the Punjab government is highly unrealistic.

I’d like to say something to the sexually abused children of Kasur, something to alleviate their suffering, to give them hope for a life without stigma and shame. But the way things are progressing on the scam, there’s nothing of the sort I could tell them. As if the way they were brutalised and terrorised for long years was not bad enough, must they swallow the fact that those responsible for the torture they suffered along with their families and neighbourhood, will go unpunished?

All I can say to them is that the media will not abandon them, moving on to other issues. That reporters and anchors will continue to descend upon Kasur in droves to uncover every deranged monster who was involved in the racket, violating the bodies of so many children and injuring their innocent souls. The only hope I can give them is that the culprits will be tried in a military court and given exemplary punishments.