KARACHI: Wasim Akhtar sleeps on a charpoy as a ceiling fan hangs from the top, sharing his eight-by-10 feet cell with four inmates. The jailed mayor of Karachi enjoys a television set, a refrigerator and a stove, access to all of which ends after 6:30pm.
Akhtar, a leader of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), was nominated as the mayor of Karachi in December last year. On July 19 this year, Akhtar, along with his party colleague Rauf Siddiqui, former colleague and Pak Sarzameen Party leader Anis Kaimkhani and Pakistan Peoples Party’s Abdul Qadir Patel, was taken into custody in the terrorists’ facilitation case against former petroleum minister Dr Asim Hussain.
For the first time in the history of Pakistan, an imprisoned mayor-nominee of Karachi contested the mayoral election at the old Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) building on August 24 this year after his production order was released by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). Then, on August 30, the mayor and his deputy, Arshad Vohra, took oath when Akhtar was again transported from the Karachi Central Jail to Bagh-e-Quaid-i-Azam after the ECP’s production order.
Within the confines
While The Express Tribune was unable to obtain permission for a personal interview with the jailed mayor, senior jail superintendent Kazi Nazir Ahmed offers some details into the activities and life of Akhtar inside the prison. Ward 18 of the Karachi Central Jail is the cell that houses four political leaders: Akhtar, Siddiqui, MQM MPA Sheeraz Waheed and MNA Kanwar Naveed Jameel. According to Ahmed, Akhtar has got all the B-class facilities of the jail and nothing more than that.
According to Ahmed, the four are enjoying facilities of B-class barracks in the ward. The B-class is better than the ordinary class jail, he explains. “The elected representatives, taxpayers and people with a respectable status in society usually get B-class jail,” he says, adding that convicted inmates get B-class jail on the government’s orders while under-trial inmates get the facility on the orders of the court.
Privileges and routine
The barracks and cells inside the jails get unlocked at around 6:30am, explains Ahmed. The inmates are then allowed to walk outside their cells to stretch their muscles. However, they must remain inside their barracks – the same is the case with Akhtar.
The food that Akhtar eats is brought from his home. He stores the food inside his refrigerator and heats it on the stove. The television present inside the barrack offers access to all the news and entertainment channels. However, all the inmates have to go back inside their cell after 6:30pm and cannot use the refrigerator, television or stove facilities after that, says Ahmed.
Akhtar is not allowed to meet the denizens of Karachi or listen to their civic woes as the mayor of the city. “The mayor will be allowed to meet people as a prisoner [and not as a mayor],” says Ahmed, adding that Akhtar’s wife, children and several MNAs and MPAs do come to see him often.
However, Akhtar cannot see inmates from other barracks as are severe security concerns in this regard, says Ahmed, adding that they have to be very careful with the high-profile prisoners. Nonetheless, Akhtar made himself useful for his fellow inmates as the mayor of the city and had fumigation conducted by the KMC inside the jail, shares Ahmed.
A wife’s plea
Akhtar’s wife, Naila Wajid Khan, tells The Express Tribune that she visits Akhtar inside the jail daily and most of the times she takes their children, too. “One can never compare a jail with the home,” she says, adding that Akhtar is naturally stressed out and cannot run the city from inside the prison.
According to her, their family life has been disturbed due to Akhtar’s incarceration. “Our children are very young and close to their father,” she says.
First session as mayor
Confusion regarding the session of the KMC persists as it is unclear who will produce Akhtar’s production order. In case of assembly sessions, the speakers issue the production orders of imprisoned MNAs or MPAs, says Ahmed. However, in the city council’s case, he says, it is the mayor himself who is the speaker and it is unclear who will issue his production order. He adds that the policy guidelines provided by the Sindh government will be carried out, whatever they may be.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 4th, 2016.