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Islamabad Diary: Et tu Brute?

By Ayaz Amir

We know the kind of influence Malik Riaz Hussain of Bahria Town has been famous for peddling: chummy with presidents and prime ministers, close links to all major political parties, ex-generals and air-marshals in his employ, leading champions of the fourth estate in his pocket, or at least beneficiaries of his largesse. We can even go a step further and for the sake of argument say that he is the biggest wheeler-dealer this side of Suez.

But in the unfolding saga before us that is hardly the point. What on earth was Arsalan Iftikhar, the son of the chief justice of Pakistan, no ordinary chief justice at that but our hero and icon, someone so many of us looked up to, someone for whose sake we had marched up and down Constitution Avenue, doing in this sordid company? If there is a point to this drama it is this.


Ponder over this for a while. A son of Iftikhar Chaudhry and receiving favours from Malik Riaz? First class tickets to London for himself and family, swanky accommodation, a trip to Monte Carlo – lady-companion in tow, her identity known to everyone in the right circles in Karachi and Lahore – expensive gifts, etc, to the tune of a cool 32 crores. Small change perhaps for Malik Riaz but for most Pakistanis a fabulous sum. All between a period from My Lord the CJ’s second restoration in March 2009 to the end of 2011. We’ll have to hand it to the young man, not bad at all.


Commenting on Warren Hastings’ doings in Bengal, Edmund Burke said that considering his opportunities one was “astounded at his moderation”, meaning to say that the Governor General could have made so much but made so little. No such fear in Arsalan’s case. If the documents Malik Riaz has presented in the Supreme Court are anything to go by, there is no squeamishness in the favours extracted, or willingly bestowed. Bold as brass is the cliché which comes to mind.


Whatever opinion judges, high or low, may like to entertain of themselves, most Pakistanis look cynically at the judiciary. Judicial failings, to put it no stronger than that, are the stuff of popular legend. So if these accusations had been about the son of any other judge most people would have just shrugged their shoulders and moved on. But Arsalan Iftikhar living it up at the expense of the guy we have for the sake of argument dubbed the shadiest character this side of Suez? This is the real shocker. Et tu Brute?


Are we in the least bit surprised by President Zardari’s reputation, Pervaiz Elahi’s son, Moonis Elahi, caught in a land scam, the prime minister’s sons and other members of his family named in corruption scandals, the money-laundering exploits of political leaderships past and present? No we are not. But Justice Chaudhry’s son in the same boat, caught in the same hamam? It takes a stiff shot of brandy to swallow this one.


For when you hear such a thing you are apt to just raise your hands and ask what next? Far from being titillated by Malik Riaz’s accusations, I felt depressed. I can say the same for many of my friends. Not that Justice Chaudhry is without his shortcomings. I think he has quite a few. Even so, he was a different chief justice, the Supreme Court under him the nearest thing to a populist court in Pakistan. And because he stood up to Gen Musharraf when there was darkness all around, so many of us, even while aware of his failings, considered him our hero.


So despite the fact that he, like other judges, was baptised in the waters of Musharraf’s Provisional Constitutional Order, and was part of the benches which validated the general’s usurpation of power, we closed our eyes to this past because we were desperate to believe in the future.


It was not just that we suspended judgment. We made a near-Khomeini out of the CJ and persuaded ourselves that a new dawn had arisen. As Aitzaz Ahsan drove the CJ around during the tumult and excitement of the lawyers’ movement it seemed as if he was not at the wheel of a car but heading some caravan of history.


And now to see the son wallowing in Malik Riaz’s cesspool, at one with the sharks and the octopuses…it is enough to give anyone a headache.


Ah, but My Lord says he knew nothing. Coming from the highest judge of the land, our hero no less, such a statement has to be taken at face value. Still, is it not a little strange that the son should have taken to wearing fancy suits and driving around in fancy cars, and taking expensive holidays, and become a prosperous entrepreneur perhaps in a shorter time than it took Field Marshal Ayub Khan’s son, Gohar Ayub, to become a thriving industrialist, and the father should have not the slightest inkling of this magical transformation? Sounds like something from the Arabian Nights.


A father, moreover, sitting constantly in moral judgment over others, inveighing against corruption and wrongdoing in high places, delivering mighty verdicts, not afraid to hold the highest in the land to account, not afraid to look into the shadows and poke with a rough stick institutions hitherto treated as the holiest of cows. For such a one especially charity should have begun at home.


Does anyone remember that amusing episode about the American evangelical pastor, the Reverend Ted Haggard? This was some years ago. One of the Reverend’s pet hates was homosexuality which he was forever denouncing. One day someone wrote to the Denver Post that he was a male prostitute and that for the past three years the holy reverend had been one of his regular clients. The reverend had to step down and has been doing community service ever since.


I am not saying that any similarities exist with our current saga…only this that when you are on any kind of a pedestal you just have to be that much more careful. If we begin with the proposition that this Supreme Court is different, that its resurrection and restoration were a reflection of the popular will, then the very tenets of this gospel demand that we apply a higher standard of conduct to its performance and standing.


True, Arsalan’s sins cannot be visited upon the father. But this is a bit like the Abbottabad operation. Osama bin Laden’s prolonged presence on Pakistani soil was certainly no proof of our complicity but it did raise questions about the competence of our vaunted intelligence agencies. The father keeping an eagle eye over everything else but oblivious to the shenanigans so close to him…this also raises some uncomfortable questions.


It is not easy to admit this but Malik Riaz is being at least partially honest in this affair. He is not saying that the money gifted to Arsalan was for charity or the Salvation Army. He is frankly admitting to trying to bribe him in expectation of favours in return. This is self-incriminating and could boomerang on him. Arsalan, on the other hand, is protesting innocence. The CJ is pleading ignorance.


Others smell a conspiracy which, for all we know, may be true. The CJ has stepped on too many powerful toes and it stands to reason that he would have powerful enemies. But just consider: with the ammo that Arsalan’s escapades have provided them, would those enemies have missed their opportunity when it came their way? We are talking of power-brokers not saints. In a game of power the rules do not vary: favour for favour or an eye for an eye and woe betide the innocent soul who forgets this.


The SC is under attack. No question about it. But its defence is also in its hands. The clouds should lift if it only ensures that the dice are not loaded against anyone and that justice is seen to be done. Above all, the CJ must distance himself from all Bahria Town cases. Else impartiality will become all that harder to establish.




Courtesy: The News

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