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Thursday April 18, 2024

History of Attock Jail, Attock Fort and its famous inmates

Nawaz, Zardari, Shehbaz were also imprisoned in this city

By Sabir Shah
August 06, 2023
Attock jail.—prisons.punjab.gov.pk
Attock jail.—prisons.punjab.gov.pk

LAHORE: After a court sentenced him on Saturday to three years in jail for illegally selling state gifts, former Pakistani premier Imran Khan was shifted to the historic city of Attock, where his political adversaries including Nawaz Sharif, Asif Zardari and Shehbaz Sharif were also incarcerated in the past.

Situated at the confluence of the Indus and Kabul Rivers, Attock city was formerly known as Campbellpur, named after Field Marshal, Colin Campbell, Commander-in-Chief of British forces during the 19th Century.

Attock has been a layover town for people like Alexander the Great and the legendary Ibn-e-Battuta, the man who travelled more than any other explorer in pre-modern history, totalling around 117,000km.

While Imran is imprisoned at the Attock Jail, Messrs Nawaz, Zardari and Shahbaz were made to languish in the nearby Attock Fort. Nawaz Sharif was sentenced to 14 years of rigorous imprisonment’ at the Attock Fort compound on July 21, 2000. An eminent British newspaper “The Guardian” had reported: “Sharif, who was overthrown in a coup in October 1999, was also banned from holding public office for 21 years and fined 20 million rupees. He is already serving two life terms for hijacking and terrorism in connection with the military takeover, and he condemned the verdict as a personal vendetta led by the military.”

The media house had added: “Nawaz was found guilty of failing to pay tax on a £600,000 Russian Mi-8 helicopter which he leased and then bought in October 1993 and used for electioneering. Despite being one of Pakistan’s richest men, Sharif paid no income tax in the year 1994-95, the accountability court heard, because he claimed all his income was from agriculture, which until now has never been taxed in Pakistan. Last week prosecutors charged him with tax evasion for failing to declare income used to buy and develop his lavish £2.9 million, 100-acre family estate in Raiwind, near Lahore. The trial was the first civilian case to be heard in the 16th-century Attock Fort, which has been used for at least three military courts- martial for attempted coups.” Asif Ali Zardari, former Pakistani president and the widower of a two-time former premier Benazir Bhutto, had also spent almost half of his imprisonment period of seven years at the Attock Fort.

On February 15, 2002, Zardari was produced before an accountability court judge, Farrukh Latif, at the Attock Fort premises in an illegal assets reference. Zardari’s worst political foe and best political ally of today, Nawaz Sharif, had registered dozens of cases against him before sending him to the Attock Fort.

Incumbent Pakistani Premier Shahbaz Sharif and Nawaz Sharif’s elder son, Hussain Nawaz, were also kept in this fort in separate barracks and were made to face accountability trials here in this building. The Attock Fort is located in the middle of a jungle where deadly snakes and scorpions are common. According to media reports surfacing about 23 years ago, once a deadly snake had reportedly crept into Nawaz Sharif’s cell and was about to bite him when a security guard killed the venomous reptile.

Renowned political figures like PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi, former NWFP chief minister Sardar Mehtab Abbasi, ex-federal communications minister, Azam Khan Hoti, and a noted MQM leader Dr Farooq Sattar, etc have all enjoyed the traditional hospitality of the men controlling this majestic fort, which was constructed between 1581 and 1583 during the reign of Mughal Emperor Akbar, who had initially named this town as “Attock-Banaras.”

The 118-year-old Attock jail was built on land measuring 67 acres, six kanals and 12 marlas.

According to the 169-year-old Punjab Prisons Department website, the area of this jail’s building measures 17 acres, the prison’s colony is spread over 26 acres, two kanals and 12 marlas, while the agricultural land spans over 22 acres and four kanals. The area of barren land on this facility is two acres.

While the authorised accommodation of this jail is for 539 prisoners, not fewer than 804 prisoners are confined here. Attock Jail is one of the 40 prisons currently functional in the Province of Punjab. A British officer, Dr. C. Hathaway, was the first Inspector General of Prisons posted here.

At the time of independence, Punjab had inherited 19 jails, whereas 21 more prisons had commissioned after 1947. It was also at this Attock Fort that the trial of various officers of country’s armed forces were held in 1973 and then in 1985.

Eminent lawyers like Manzur Qadir, S.M. Zafar, Ijaz Hussain Batalvi, Aitzaz Ahsan and Wasim Sajjad have been defending the disgruntled officers of armed forces in these Attock Fort trials.

All of these solicitors had gone on to win a lot of glory and acclaim in decades that followed.

A large number of Army and Air Force officers were reportedly arrested in the “1973 Attock Conspiracy Case” on March 30 of the same year on charges of conspiring to overthrow the government of premier Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

The detainees at Attock included Major Nadir Pervez, who later became a federal minister in one of the Nawaz Sharif governments.

These officers felt Bhutto’s refusal to accept Sheikh Mujibur Rehman’s election victory in 1970 had led to the resentment, which ultimately resulted in their loss in the 1971 war with India.

Dozens of Armed Services personnel, along with some civilians, lawyers and police officers, were also arrested in January 1984. Many of them were interrogated and subsequently released. They were charged by Special Military Court Number 64 with plotting to ‘wage a war’ against the sitting General Zia-ul-Haq regime and conspiring to commit sedition by holding meetings and publishing subversive literature. They were also charged with colluding to assassinate Zia and blow up strategic state and Army installations.

These January 1985 trials had ended in the acquittal of 12 people, including that of noted Barrister, Raza Kazim. The government claimed it had uncovered a ‘foreign-inspired’ plot to smuggle arms from a ‘neighbouring country’ aimed at ‘subversion’ and ‘terrorism.’