A former Pakistani hitman has now been given a week to live, after a planned execution was called off last week following his dramatic television confession. Saulat Mirza alleged in that broadcast that he carried out killings on the orders of Altaf Hussain, leader of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), one of Pakistan's major political parties.
Initially planned for March 19, Mach Jail administration officials confirmed to VICE News that Mirza is now scheduled to be executed by hanging early on the morning of April 1. Ishaq Zahri, the jail superintendent, told VICE News that the prison had received a fresh death warrant for Mirza, which was issued on March 24 by an anti-terrorism court in Karachi.
Mirza — who is accused of carrying out over 50 assassinations — was sentenced to death for the murder of Karachi Electric Supply Company director Malik Shahid Hamid in July 1997, along with his guard and driver. In a TV appearance hours before he was supposed to be hanged last week, however, he claimed that he had killed Hamid on the directives of MQM party chief Hussain, who is currently exiled in London. Hussain, Mirza said, had given him the order personally via telephone.
In the recording, Mirza said that he wanted to apologize to his "nation and country for whatever I have done after being brainwashed in the name of rights and nationalism." He then alleged: "What I have observed about Altaf Hussain is that whenever he sees someone is becoming popular within the party, he eliminates him."
Mirza also emphasized that he is not speaking out in an attempt to get his death sentence waived, but said that he was afraid for the fate of his family. Following this broadcast, his execution was initially stayed for 72 hours, and later was delayed again.
Mirza's older brother Farhat Ali Khan spoke to VICE News on Sunday, and said he was relieved the execution had been postponed. Khan saw his brother on March 18, which he then believed was their last meeting. He said that Mirza was "in full control and kept smiling all the time."
Khan also said that his brother was the youngest of 11 siblings and became "disillusioned" as he grew up. "Then as he got more involved in politics and MQM in the name of nationalism, he remained away from home. But on the few occasions when he was home we would all be laughing."
Khan added: "In the coming period Saulat will make more revelations and now no one can stop him from doing this." Mirza's sister Samira Wajahat told VICE News that in her last meeting with her brother he said that if he was given enough time he would "try to atone."
Khujista Bibi, Mirza's cousin and sister-in-law, told VICE News that as she was leaving after her last meeting with Mirza, he had suddenly called her back and asked her to tell his wife "nothing will happen to me and I will be safe, but you people need to show courage."
Pakistani lawyers and politicians had mixed reactions to Mirza's statement and situation.
Fazl-i-HaqAbbasi, president of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), told VICE News that he believed "the statement and allegations by Saulat Mirza had no worth or value in the eyes of the law. The courts could not take his statement directly."
Judicial Activism Penal chairman and lawyer Muhammad Azhar Siddique questioned the timing of the statement and said: "Mirza's statement has legal and political implications over the status of the person who has leveled serious allegations against a political party of Sindh."
Siddique added: "The federal government may seek permission to reinvestigate the matter on the basis of his statement in order to maintain peace in Karachi — the financial hub of the country."
Raja Arshad Kiyani, legal adviser for the Pakistan Army, Inter-Services Intelligences (ISI), and the Military Intelligences (MI) told VICE News that the security agencies have "undeniable proof against MQM," and that the organization has "a history of serious criminal acts."
Arshad also said: "In missing containers weapons and other instruments were present and whole scene is clear after the raid on Nine Zero." This is in reference to a raid by authorities on Nine Zero, MQM's HQ, earlier in March.
Pakistan has reportedly asked the UK to pursue legal action against Hussain, a British citizen, and also handed over a dossier of evidence of "use of threatening language" by Hussain.
Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan met British High Commissioner Philip Barton on March 18 and the men have apparently met twice since March 11. Included in their conversation was discussion of what to do about Hussain, with Khan reportedly appealing for legal action to be taken against him.
Arshad said: "I don't know whether Pakistan will request that the British government hand over Hussain or not, but it's very clear that the government had requested that the British government ensure that Hussain must stop from making threatening and objectionable remarks against the security forces [of Pakistan], as these may incite violence."
MQM leader and newly-elected senator Muhammad Ali Saif told VICE News that the party planned to fight the accusations against Hussain "on every forum," as Hussain had done nothing wrong. Saif added that the "media trial against MQM must be stopped."
National Assembly MQM lawmaker Farooq Sattar also spoke with VICE News, saying that he wanted an "answer as to who recorded the statement of a person who is going to be hanged within hours. Why is there special treatment with the Mirza case but not with the other convicted death row prisoners?" He also demanded "a judicial commission to probe all the controversy," while denying "all allegations against MQM."
He concluded: "If things keep going like this then we should proceed to the United Nations."
However, a lawmaker from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party told VICE News that Mirza's confession "is not a new story. Security and law enforcement agencies have all the details about the culprits of MQM and now it is time to stop the bloodshed in Karachi, and time for the law enforcement agencies to bring the culprits into the law of the court."
Meanwhile, two other accused suspects with alleged links to MQM are still being investigated.
An Interior Ministry source told VICE News that it had been decided that two suspects — Mohsin Ali Syed and Muhammad Kashif Khan — accused of involvement in the murder of Dr. Imran Farooq, would be handed over to the British government. Farooq was a British-Pakistani politician and senior MQM leader who was stabbed near his London home in 2010.
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, added that it was a "major problem" that the Pakistani government had kept the suspects' original arrest a secret and that statements from both suspects would need to be taken by a Pakistani court before they could be handed over to the UK.
Follow Mohammad Zubair Khan on Twitter: @HazaraZubair
Follow Sally Hayden on Twitter: @sallyhayd