An Open Letter to the Chief Minister of Punjab

Mr. Shehbaz Sharif,

Congratulations on your momentous achievement last night. Three years after the largest child sexual abuse scandal in Pakistan’s history was revealed to have been brewing in your district, impacting over 280 children, two years after another 141 cases were reported in Kasur, and one year after eleven other cases were reported in the same 2-kilometre radius as little Zainab’s. Congratulations on finding one man. I applaud you.

But, of course, you do not need my applause. You received plenty of it last night when you forced everyone sitting in the audience of the press conference to clap for the brave officials and for your team and your dedication and your leadership. I wonder, Mr. Sharif, if the smattering of applause was enough to drown out the piercing silence of Zainab’s father. I wonder if the forceful claps were enough for you to forget the grieving mother at home, and the many families in Kasur who, throughout the duration of this case, relived their own personal nightmares.

Of course, it seems unfair of me to criticize. Good officers deserve to be applauded; successful investigations deserve to be recognized. Let me tell you something about good work, however – good work will get its recognition, people doing good work do not feel the need to push their excellence under the noses of everyone around them. And that’s really what last night was about, wasn’t it? This was your one chance to gain back some respect after constant criticism of your police forces and your governing systems. What you don’t seem to realize is that if there had been any admiration to be gained from this solved investigation – you lost it with your behavior last night.

Mr. Sharif, do you have children? Do you have a family? Have you ever felt loss? I am unmarried, young and inexperienced – but last night I watched you tastelessly switch off the microphone before Zainab’s father, and tears gathered in my eyes. I saw your great, prestigious colleague, Mr. Sanaullah, instruct him on what to say and what not to say to the audience, and I felt sick to my stomach. I saw photos of you all smiling, your esteemed, vigilant, dedicated team, while Mr. Amin Ansari looked on, seeming out of place and lost.

You talked of feeling like Zainab was your daughter, and that the entire JIT had handled the case as if she had been their daughter too. Mr. Sharif, you would not have been able to speak in the manner you did, if you truly felt that way. You would not have turned off Zainab’s father’s microphone as abruptly and crassly as you did; you would not have made swiping remarks or allowed for any banter, you would not have tried to take credit for an achievement that should have been attained over a year ago. You would not have let your naturally narcissistic tendencies take over. But you did.

Let me remind you, Mr. Sharif, that had you been able to handle cases like this with such individualized attention before pressure from the media forced you to do so, had you been able to see child sexual abuse as a problem far larger than political damage, Zainab might have been there to greet her parents upon their return from Umrah.

So congratulations on your momentous achievement last night.

You deserve to pat yourself on the back – because no one else should.

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