TWO death-row prisoners got a last-minute reprieve in the early hours of Thursday. But whereas in Shafqat Husain’s case it was civil society’s vocal campaign that earned him a brief stay of execution, far more covert forces are clearly at work behind Saulat Mirza’s eleventh hour respite.
Many individuals on the verge of being sent to the gallows – a punishment that Dawn does not support under any circumstances — would conceivably have the desire to unburden themselves.
Not many, however, have been provided the opportunity to indulge in such a cathartic exercise on national television as did the MQM worker, convicted in 1999 for multiple murders, on late Wednesday night.
Mirza’s sensational revelations, which have sent convulsions through Pakistan’s fourth largest political party, were followed by the announcement that his execution had been stayed for 72 hours.
Saulat Mirza had already articulated the substance of his ‘confession’ in a statement before a Joint Investigation Team some years ago, the video of which is in the public domain.
This time around, there are explicit details that have brought not only Altaf Hussain but some of MQM’s most prominent names into the dragnet. It is the latest salvo in the concerted push to tighten the noose around the party that controls much of the country’s largest city and its financial hub.
Last week’s raid on Nine Zero and recent allegations by the Rangers of MQM’s culpability in the deadly Baldia fire have unfolded against rising tensions between the law-enforcement agency and the party, which maintains it is being unfairly singled out in the ongoing counterterrorism operations in Karachi.
However, the latest development raises several questions: how did a camera find its way into the death cell? Why this modus operandi, especially when there are other ways of going after militants taking refuge? Why now? What is the long-term objective?
There is no legal value in a ‘confession’ not made in a magistrate’s presence. Moreover, the situation — a condemned prisoner looking for any way to delay the inevitable — was conducive to manipulation. But in the eyes of the establishment, no stranger to Machiavellian tactics, there is perhaps considerable political mileage to be gained.
What that is, is open to speculation, but the wholesale discrediting of the party is surely only part of it. However, while it is an open secret that the MQM employs heavy-handed tactics to maintain its grip on a city where politics and criminal networks often overlap, such an approach to bring it to account is in the long run likely to exacerbate the ethnic divide in Karachi, deepen the sense of persecution, and augur ill for peace in the metropolis.
Meanwhile, even as the deep state orchestrates the MQM’s ‘remaking’ to its current requirements, both the central and the Sindh governments appear to be taking a back seat. By doing so, they do themselves and the democratic project no favours.
Published in Dawn, March 20th, 2015