On Tuesday morning, Saulat Mirza was hanged in Machh Jail, Balochistan, bringing his 17 yearlong stay at death row to an end. Convicted in 1999 for the murder of three people, and having confessed more murders while in custody, Saulat Mirza’s case was as definitively closed as a legal case can be, yet his statements – timed to perfection in a tense political atmosphere in Karachi – made sizeable ripples in the national headlines, and for a moment, Saulat Mirza’s fate hung in the balance. Fortunately, the ten men Joint Investigation team formed to interrogate him kept rules of legal procedure and evidence in mind and declared that his disclosures contained no “actionable intelligence or cogent evidence” that could help the judicial process. The last-minute sensational video footage, the tailor made allegations, the subsequent behaviour of Mirza’s lawyer, who kept petitioning the court for extensions, and the ultimate futility of his ‘re-interrogation’ makes this whole episode seem like the desperate actions of a man condemned to death; trying to buy himself more time.
While his accusations certainly caught the attention of most Pakistani politicians, some were a little too eager to hear what he had to say. It cannot be denied that one of the reasons behind the delay in his execution, which was perpetuated through executive orders from the federal government, was the political utility of Saulat Mirza as a pressure building tool against the MQM and its chief, Altaf Hussain- who was already in troubled waters. Although justice eventually was done, it shows how easy it is to politicise a legal sentence and render it virtually void.
Divorced from the politics his execution has several important aspects. Although this newspaper remains firmly opposed to the death penalty, the successful implementation of a legal sentence against a high profile contract killer is a fact to be appreciated. Especially when that person represents the wave of violence that spread through Karachi in the 90s. While Mirza was a high profile convict, he was ultimately a foot soldier; an integral member, but still someone in the bottom rungs of Karachi’s organised crime hierarchy. Only when the patrons of such individuals are convicted, can the government claim success against the crime in Karachi. Secondly, despite the findings of the JIT, Mirza’s statements still hold weight in the faux court of mainstream media – to the supporters of MQM, the episode is a another example of the state bending rules to incriminate their leader; to the anti-MQM crowd, his words confirm their pre-conceived suspicions.