There are wheels within wheels behind every explosive scandal involving the high and mighty of this country. Whispering campaigns and media leaks that bring such scandals to the fore often lead to negotiation of some benefit for the so-called aggrieved party, and seldom to prosecution of the wrong-doer. Invariably what surfaces is much dirt and ugliness.
The whispering campaign against the Chief Justice of Pakistan’s son, whose recent life offers a highly suspect rags-to-riches story that culminated in a suo motu action by the CJ himself, seems no different. If it runs its course, this case is very likely to open a Pandora’s box of Pakistan’s corrupt movers and shakers and promises nothing short of a major shift of cultures. Noted individuals from key civil, military and media institutions have been dragged into this case, taking sides and passing judgments – driven by their whims or motives, corrupt or virtuous.
While the purported whistle-blower and the intelligentsia run away with their own narratives and judgments, very few appear to appreciate that all Malik Riaz, Arsalan Iftikhar and their Bahriagate have done is to convince the people of Pakistan that there is no hope for the poor and the powerless. One needs to pay to get anything done in Pakistan, is how Malik Riaz summarised his insight of the Pakistani society and the prevalent business ethic during an interview with a private TV Channel the other day. An interesting perspective for a man who has amassed more power and wealth than any other in Pakistan of the last decade.
Is it possible that the person at the centre of Bahriagate is unhappy that while he can claim, as he does, to have successfully bought the favour of every other institution of the state, he cannot claim that he has some control over the judiciary as well? And this, despite, as he alleges, having paid in excess of 300 million rupees to the Chief Justice’s son? Is Malik Riaz’s desperate cry really an indictment? If it isn’t, as it seems, then why are so many of the wise anchorpersons continually asserting, directly or indirectly, that judiciary has been forced on the back foot and not the three key players of the Bahriagate. Why do all allegations and analyses carry with them insinuations to the effect that Malik Riaz will not get justice from the Chief Justice or a Supreme Court headed by Iftikhar Muhammad Chauhdhry as its Chief Justice?
The allegations against the CJ’s son, which will very likely lead to his prosecution, have been made public in a manner suggesting motives other than prosecution only. One cannot help but notice some clever-by-half calculations or rather miscalculations to “tame” the judiciary by forces whose vested interests have been undermined by its activism against corruption and violations of fundamental rights. If the purpose was to have the CJ out of the way, the architects of Bahriagate never factored in the possibility of the CJ taking notice suo motu and proceeding to have the case heard by the Supreme Court. Some might argue that Bahriagate has undermined the moral authority of the CJ, particularly after aspersions were cast by Malik Riaz during his press conference on Tuesday where he asked him three pointed questions regarding his meetings with the PM, with him under the cover of night in which, he claimed, Arsalan was also present. But is it possible that beyond the smokescreen of Bahriagate, there is a bigger war going on: the war of mafias of recent years struggling for domination over one institution that they cannot claim to dominate … dare one add, so far!
Curiously the whispering campaign and media leaks regarding Arsalan Iftikhar’s “financial misdeeds” came on the heels of Bahria Town’s extensive advertisement campaign both in the electronic and print media, highlighting its various projects and corporate social responsibility. Notably it ran and has been running 10-minute ads on all major Pakistani news channels and half page ads in all the mainstream newspapers. And what followed we all know. Bahria magnate’s version of the scandal splashed all over the media, in the news bulletins and talk shows. And all breaking news was replete with Malik Riaz’s version of Bahriagate.
No need to repeat here details of allegations against the CJ’s son as they have been all over the media that ran away with the story in no time. The figures floated for the alleged extortion by CJ’s son were repeatedly flashed on TV screens as if the payments were proved.
It appears, and one hopes, Bahriagate will be the unraveling of the increasingly popular mindset: that every public functionary, every executive authority, every prosecutor and every judge has a price. One hopes Arsalan Iftikhar will get the maximum punishment on each count of corruption if proved that he was indeed a tool in the hands of this mindset, or its part. One hopes Malik Riaz’s contention that he did not offer bribe but was blackmailed into asking his son-in-law to bribe Arsalan Iftikhar will also be examined by the Courts to find if it amounts to an admission of the tycoon greasing palms to gain favourable settlement of his pending cases. One hopes the courts will also look into why he chose not to report the matter to the concerned authorities and instead collected material to himself blackmail the alleged extortionist. And why did he choose to go to the media first instead of going to the court.
“Whoever digs a pit will fall into it, and a stone will come back on him who starts it rolling.” If Arsalan Iftikhar dug this pit for his father at the behest of Malik Riaz, it is his pit to fall into jointly with Malik Riaz. If it was Malik Riaz who did all the digging and thought he would pull a Musharraf on the CJ, then it is Malik Riaz’s pit. As a Pakistani, this scribe just hopes that the judges of this cause will be able to deliver. For it is not Malik Riaz or Arsalan Iftikhar’s cause, but it is the cause of every powerless Pakistani who wishes to live in a country where the judiciary has the courage and the capacity to deliver justice without fear or favour.
The writer is a senior journalist and has been a diplomatic correspondent for leading dailies. She can be reached at: email@example.com