Burly looking armed guards stand extra alert, staring down any passerby on the road leading to Central Jail Machh in Balochistan’s mountainous Bolan district.
Security has been beefed up in anticipation of the first hanging at the jail in eight years. All roads leading to Machh Jail have been blocked, and barbed wire has been mounted at entry and exit points. Frontier Corps (FC) personnel are patrolling the jail around the clock.
The level of security is a paradox for the few visitors the jail sees.
Spread over an area of 13 acres, the structure is the sole feature of the sleepy town of Machh, a parched, sparsely populated area surrounded by hills, barren of sound and life.
Machh Jail, which was built by British rulers in 1929, has long been the hallmark of fear and dread. Eerily silent, the jail has for years been a dark citadel, with fortified dungeons that have housed many high profile convicted prisoners.
|—Mehmood Khan Hamdard|
Being sent to the nightmarish jail cells of Machh is said to be the worst form of punishment reserved for hardened criminals – or those that need to be taught a lesson.
This 'punishment' is a legacy of colonial and military rulers who would imprison political opponents in the remote Machh Jail to stymie their political struggle and silence their voice.
|A view of the Machh Jail logo. —Mehmood Khan Hamdard|
The jail remained famous for housing important Baloch, Pakhtun and Sindhi nationalists’ leaders as well as other high profile political leaders from across the country. Prominent among them were Prince Abdul Karim, Khan Shaheed Abdul Samad Khan Achakzai, Nawab Abkar Khan Bugti, Ghous Bakhsh Bizenjo, Gul Khan Naseer and other leaders.
Apart from nationalist leaders, senior leaders and workers of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) were also shifted to Machh Jail during Zia's time.
Since 1978, a total of 61 prisoners have been hanged in Machh Jail, Superintendent Jail Ishaq Zehri told Dawn.com. Most of the convicts were executed during General Zia’s Martial Law, the jail superintendent added.
|An outside view of Machh Jail —Mehmood Khan Hamdard|
Currently, the jail houses 845 inmates, including Saulat Mirza, the former MQM worker who was convicted for the killings of then Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC) Chief Shahid Hamid, his guard and driver in 1998.
Mirza is going to be hanged on March 19 at 5:30am in keeping with the order of the court. He was arrested in 1999 during Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government.
According to sources in the Balochistan Prison Department, 92 condemned prisoners are languishing in Machh Jail. Currently, 13 mercy petitions are pending before the president of Pakistan, 37 cases are pending before the Supreme Court of Pakistan and 41 before the Balochistan High Court.
The last prisoner to be hanged in Machh Jail was identified as Muhammad Amin from the Buleda area of Balochistan, on October 27, 2007.
|Security has been beefed up at the jail — Mehmood Khan Hamdard|
After eight years, Mirza will be the first prisoner executed at the jail since the announcement of the National Action Plan (NAP) in the aftermath of the deadly attack on a Peshawar school last year.
Mirza has been smoking more than 100 cigarettes a day since he received news of his death warrant, jail warden Luqman said, adding that the convict was passing sleepless nights and continuously asking about his relatives.
Less than 24 hours to his execution, under prison rules Mirza is being body-searched three times a day so authorities can determine that he does not possess any object he could use to harm himself.
On Tuesday this week, Judicial Magistrate Machh, Hidayatullah Muhammad Shahi and other senior police officers visited the Machh Jail and reviewed security arrangements with regard to the execution of the condemned prisoner. A rope measuring nearly 10 feet has been prepared for the hanging of the murderer, who stands at a height of 5 feet, 9 inches.
Mirza will record his will (wasiat) today before the judicial magistrate and superintendent jail.
“We will dispatch his statement to the trial court. We cannot make it public,” the jail superintendent stated.
|Mirza's family at Machh Jail —Mehmood Khan Hamdard|
Under prison rules, the superintendent jail has the power to allow 12 persons to witness the execution process.
The jail administration has already approached the families of three persons, including the family of the late KESC official Shahid Hamid to witness the execution. The victims’ families have not responded to jail authorities in this regard.
Mirza's family is close by however.
The convict's wife and sister had an extended meeting with him at Machh Jail today.
Despite a request, his family refused to speak to this reporter; the women remained engaged on their mobile phones, staying in touch with relatives in Karachi regarding the case – till 5:30am.