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October 17, 2006

Hakim Said murder still shrouded in mystery

October 17, 2006

KARACHI: Exactly eight years to the day, one of Pakistan’s most celebrated philanthropists and scholars, Hakim Muhammad Said, was brutally gunned down in Karachi. While his murder developed into a long-drawn-out political saga, the mystery behind his assassination still remains unsolved and shrouded under a mist of silence.

The death of Hakim Said led to the parting of ways between prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s government and its coalition partner in Sindh, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement. It also led to the imposition of governor’s rule in the province, raising hopes that this would lead to the unearthing of those responsible for this gruesome act.

However, despite the passage of the best part of a decade, the identity and motives of his killers remain as unclear as ever, and this case, like so many others before it, seems to have been confined to oblivion.

Attempts to probe into the details of the case, to find its current status, led one up a blind alley as each person who was approached, including officials of the law enforcement agencies, were inordinately reticent in imparting any sort of information or update regarding the case.

Hakim Muhammad Said, who migrated to Pakistan after Partition, was the founder of the Hamdard Dawakhana and University. He had also served as governor of Sindh for a brief period. On October 17, 1998, around 5am, as he stepped out of his car to enter his clinic (Matab), two armed men, who later fled the scene, sprayed the 78-year-old scholar with a burst of bullets, killing him instantaneously.

While the country mourned the murder of one of its icons, the then ruling government, the Pakistan Muslim League-N, and the Muttahida, resorted to a blame game. On October 21, 1998, the CIA arrested Fasih alias Jugnu, and Aamirullah, both allegedly Muttahida activists, from the Gulzar-e-Hijri area for their alleged involvement in the murder of Hakim Said.

Two days later, Jugnu died in police

custody with the cause of death reported as “heart failure”. The police speculated that he might have consumed poison and taken his own life. However, both the marks on his body and a medical report pointed to severe torture as the probable cause of his death. The medical report also suggested the time of death to be 2pm, while his body was sent to the hospital for post mortem as late as 9pm, giving rise to further suspicion over the official stance. The police remained tight-lipped and subsequent chemical reports were not immediately made public.

A final report from the Chemical Examiner on Jugnu, appearing towards the end of the year on December 1, suggested that his death was not due to poisoning or a heart attack, as initially alleged, but because of severe torture.

HRCP chairperson, Asma Jehangir, entered into the fray by denouncing the random abduction and torturing of people by the authorities — in particular the manhandling of 27-year-old Dr Asim Raza, another alleged suspect in the murder. Raza was in serious condition after barely surviving a week-long torture session at the hands of authorities that resulted in kidney failure.

Although the Nawaz Sharif government initiated a crackdown on Muttahida activists, blaming them for the murder, opponents of the government believed that the act was the handiwork of Nawaz’s own intelligence agency. The Muttahida accused Nawaz Sharif of implicating the party because it had refused to support the government on the Shariat Bill. Some also believed that the late Said was eliminated because he was about to go public on some scandal involving high-ups in Islamabad.

Benazir Bhutto also held Nawaz Sharif’s government responsible for the murder of Hakim Said, adding the names of Murtaza Bhutto, Justice Nizam Ahmed, former Pakistan Steel Chairman Sajjad Hussain and many others as victims of the same outfit. She demanded an independent judicial inquiry into the killing.

On October 24, 1998, Muttahida leader Altaf Hussain, while publicly condemning the killing of Jugnu and the continual torture of Aamirullah in custody, demanded that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif order a judicial inquiry into the case. He also accused Nawaz Sharif of implicating the Muttahida in the case only because they did not support his government on its Shariat Bill.

At the same time, then Sindh chief minister, Liaquat Ali Jatoi, ordered a judicial inquiry into the custodial death of Jugnu. On October 29, 1998, security was put on high alert in the city as the Muttahida announced their break away from the coalition alliance led by Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League. Nawaz Sharif, at a press conference, proceeded to give a three-day ultimatum to the Muttahida to hand over the suspect, including its MPA, Zulfiqar Haider, accusing the Muttahida of protecting terrorists.

The very next day, on October 30, the federal government, imposed governor’s rule in Sindh under the emergency provisions of Article 232 (c) Clause (2) of the Constitution, dissolving the provincial government, the cabinet and dismissing the chief minister.

Subsequently, a fierce crackdown against alleged terrorists was set in motion in Karachi on the directives of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Nearly a month later, Mubashir Ali, arrested for helping two suspects with travel arrangements to escape the country, died in police custody. The cause of death was once again cited to be heart failure. On hearing this, Ali’s wife denied that her husband had any prior heart problems and blamed torture for his death. She had claimed that after his arrest he was taken to his office on Shahrah-e-Faisal instead of the CIA centre. She also claimed that their house had been raided in a mysterious manner by 20 policemen climbing the walls instead of entering through the gate and they also looted household items.

On December 13, Korangi Police arrested Zubair alias Landhi Wala as another suspect on a tip-off from Asim. The accused arrested up to that point were, Zulfiqar Haider (Muttahida MPA), Naushad alias Major Dandy, Shakir alias Langra, Zubair alias Landhi Wala, Asim, Aijaz alias Wazir, Asif, Aamirullah and, finally, Wahab Bandhani who claimed to be Hanif Kabarhi.

A pivotal moment in the case came on December 15 when arms supposedly used in the murder of Hakim Said were recovered from a nullah near Burns Road on the alleged confessions of two more suspects Nadeem Mota and Aijaz alias Kala Munna.

SP Agha Mohammad Tahir, heading the investigation, declared that four Kalashnikovs, three TT pistols, one mouser and 300 bullets were recovered from behind the Sindh Secretariat where the ammunition was allegedly dumped.

After the turn of the year, on January 27, 1999, the case took a new twist when fresh investigations under different officers declared that Aamirullah was wrongly implicated in the case. Five officers who were part of the early investigations were then transferred for misleading the PM on the issue. The then SSP Farooq Amin Qureshi, who arrested Aamirullah, and was promoted immediately thereafter to DIG, was also transferred.

A case was registered against Sub-Inspector (SI) Javed Anjum for his involvement in the custodial death of Fasih Jugnu. On January 15, 2002, Justice Sabihuddin Ahmed, of Sindh High Court, granted Rs 200,000 bail to Javed Anjum on grounds of statuary delay of trial.

On June 4, 1999, an anti-terrorism court convicted Aamirullah, Shakir Langra, Nadeem Mota, Mohammed Faisal, Mohammed Zubair, Abu Imran Pasha, Muqarrab Ali alias Nazar, Mohammed Zubair, and Ejazul Hasan, and sentenced them to death for the murder of Hakim Said and two others. They were also fined Rs 100,000 each.

Later, a Sindh High Court judgment of Justice (retd) Ghulam Nabi Soomro and Justice (retd) Atta-ur-Rehman acquitted all accused Muttahida party workers in the case.

The last time anything was heard of the case was on October 11, 2001, when the government filed an appeal in the Supreme Court, through the then Advocate General of Sindh, Raja Qureshi, against the judgment of the Sindh High Court’s anti-terrorism appellate bench that had previously acquitted all the accused on the grounds that it was misleading and non-reading of evidence.

Talking to The News, advocate general Qureshi said that, “non-bailable warrants were issued by the Supreme Court for the arrest of all accused, except Aamirullah. “Some of the accused, he recalled, were arrested the following day whereas some had already fled the country after being acquitted.

He recalled that specific orders were given and the police had been directed to arrest and confine the accused in Central Jail until the appeal was heard by the Supreme Court. The Muttahida then boycotted the local elections under protest. However, the party contested the 2002 elections under the new regime headed by General Pervez Musharraf.

The current Advocate General of Sindh, Anwer Mansoor, claims that the case is still pending in the Supreme Court and the accused are still in police custody. Beyond this assertion, the trail then goes cold. The appeal is still pending in the Supreme Court and the whereabouts of the arrested accused are not known. When contacted, no one was willing to divulge information on the current status of the case.

Eight years on, the wounds have healed, passions assuaged and memories of the murder have slowly faded into obscurity from the collective psyche of the people. Yet, the Hakim Said murder mystery, like so many similar cases, still remains unsolved.

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