Not a day goes by when some scandal or the other does not appear in the national news that shocks the average citizen of our wonderland. Many of them are of such a magnitude, for which governments would topple or heads of important individuals would roll in any civilised country and a few lessons will be learnt. But we are different. Our attention span is short, confined to a few days or at best a few weeks, till we discover another sensation to our delight and fun. We derive no conclusions, make no corrections, nor do we persevere to expose the truth.
The Supreme Court is the only institution still left with some teeth that was struggling to curb the freefall with the zeal of a crusade against corruption and maladministration in the corridor of power – across-the-board. This was a great balancing act of walking on a tight rope without a single misstep. The judges patiently looked the other way at the taunts, ridicule, obstructions and finally the defiance of the Prime Minister and the Speaker to implement the court rulings in spirit. The majority of the parliamentarians stood firmly behind the Prime Minister in an ironic demonstration of mob rule against the rule of law. A confrontation between the two institutions thus assumed the form of state policy.
Is it a coincidence that a US-based journalist and group editor of a Pakistani newspaper revealed the details of the ‘from rags to riches’ story of the son of the Chief Justice in a novel way - by posting a carefully worded discourse on YouTube? The interview narrated a sting operation in which Arsalan Iftikhar was showered with benefits of millions of rupees in the guise of corporate expenses and business deals during the last three years by the property tycoon Malik Riaz Hussain, a man of immense wealth and connections (except with the Supreme Court). It is construed as a sting operation because the middle-man in the front was a third person, an unknown entity, while the payments were disbursed by the order of the property tycoon. All payment records and several video films are alleged to have been meticulously maintained as dossiers for use at the appropriate time. No documentary evidence has been produced, but is claimed to have been shown to a few television anchors.
The episode is also being construed as a conspiracy to discredit the Chief Justice, who has acquired an unprecedented significance of integrity due to his fearless treading a path that no one had dared before. It is also alleged to be a blackmail of the Bahria Town tycoon by Arsalan Iftikhar, who became greedy and asked for more without delivering favourable judgments in the cases pending in the Supreme Court.
The carefully planned and executed three-year operation could as well be a deep conspiracy with innumerable sinister objectives or it could just be a simple case of a resourceful but disgruntled victim frustrated with being cheated or taken for a ride by an irresponsible young man. The timing and the purpose of the interview could be to create an internal unrest in an already unstable country with formidable domestic and external pressures or it could be to pre-empt the sting operators and expose the scandal before time, in order to provide an opportunity to the Supreme Court to clear the name of its Chief Justice by following due course of law.
Our judicial system, like all other systems in the country, has failed to bring radical reforms and has allowed prolonged indecisions to continue. The courts appear helpless, while lies, perjury and biased investigation reports are thrown at them. The cases are permitted to be delayed endlessly by legal wrangling. The civil cases can take generations for a verdict where the lower judiciary is deeply infested with the corruption of influence and money, despite substantial increase in the emoluments of the judges. The independence of the present higher judiciary was a single matter of pride for the entire nation that stood firmly behind the Chief Justice. The Supreme Court is now confronted with a test it has never had to face before. The outcome would have far-reaching impact on the future of the nation and of our judicial system. The nation must also face this challenge and emerge stronger and with its head high.
President Asif Ali Zardari has accomplished much that all political leaders dream of, but could not achieve. He has brought several legislative reforms, allowed political activity and freedom of speech. He has beaten all odds by keeping the various components of his government together to see the fifth budget presented to the Assembly. He is all set to call the next general elections and transfer power in a democratic manner prescribed in the Constitution.
At the same time, his government has been unable to deliver much to the public by way of jobs, prosperity, services, security or any hope for the future. His foreign policy is in tatters with the nation isolated as never before and his financial managers have lacked vision or administrative competence that has pushed the country on the verge of bankruptcy. Yet, the vote bank of his party appears intact. He has skilfully managed to keep all political parties in the coalition government obediently toeing his line and has kept the army subdued. The opposition is confused and in disarray.
The President has proved to be a master tactician, but has lost an opportunity to emerge as a leader and a statesman that could wash away his past murky reputation. The governance of the last four-and-a-half years by the democratically-elected representatives has brought little credit to democracy that appears dysfunctional or to the politicians that have been tainted with scandals of mega financial corruption.
This latest scandal has the potential of blowing up the remnants of whatever morality may be left in our country. In this adversity also, lies the opportunity for the President. He should rise above petty self and party political interests. The enemies of Pakistan must not be allowed to put the last nail in its coffin.
n The writer is an engineer and an entrepreneur.