Attempting an op-ed on this week’s events is a bit like slicing fugu. One wrong move and your delicious little piece may be the end of you. Property barons, a Chief Justice looked upon as a hero, gleeful chortles muffled under solemn condemnations up on the Hill, bickering anchors and a gap-toothed smile that begs the question: “Do I look like a Don?”
Arsalan Iftikhar almost a sideshow now, the main target of Mr Riaz’s ire seemed to be the Chief Justice himself; his “meetings in the dark of the night” with the tycoon, his “refusal to look at proof about Arsalan” that Malik Riaz insisted he tried to show him six months before the suo motu action was taken and the supposed details of terms of reinstatement of the Chief Justice, to which the tycoon said he was privy. He made the remarkable claim that in meetings towards the end of the long march, the CJ had promised not to “unduly harass” the PPP.
Further, trouble came when Aitzaz Ahsan seemed to whip the rug out from under the CJ’s feet by confirming that he too had been worried about Arsalan, and had mentioned to the Chief Justice that his son’s behaviour was the topic of much discussion and could result in embarrassing his father.
The investigation into Arsalan and Malik Riaz and Co’s deals has now been lobbed in a full toss to the Attorney General, of whom it is “expected” that he will bring the full “machinery of the state” into play. For the state, though, this may be an opportunity to exercise the proverb: “If you really want to frustrate your enemies, forgive them.” If someone was looking for a chance to serve, it doesn’t get much better than this.
As the saga unfolded, it seemed clear that the attention drawn by Arsalan had done the kind of damage to his father, the Chief Justice, that General Musharraf is, probably, wishing he could have.
These developments and the daily drama on television have caused many a brow to furrow in worry. But what exactly is the source of this worry? That, should, for any reason, the Chief Justice no longer be Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, would any other Chief Justice take the same kind of interest in the same variety of cases? If our faith in the Supreme Court is centred in the person of one, that is the Chief Justice, as a result of the historic movement to restore him and the tremendous popular support that not only enabled, but also encouraged his unique brand of activism - what if the Pakistani public’s willingly bestowed faith in that one individual is shaken as a result of assertions of either “midnight meetings” with powerbrokers, or a blind eye turned towards the excesses of a child, or the publicly bandied claim that the Chief Justice had “promised” to go easy on the PPP.
Although the source is a dubious one, these allegations cannot easily be disregarded. It is an uncomfortable reality that the Supreme Court is not being viewed the same way as a week before. In this case, we should ask just what legacy the current Chief Justice is leaving us with. If the main source of our concern is that this Chief Justice is the only one who can deliver what we expect of a Chief Justice, that is a problem indeed!
Institutions can only be called successful if there is the certainty that no matter whose name is on the door, the office of the chief is a position that will be held by one of only the best character and judgement. The real test of the CJ’s legacy will be if the Supreme Court continues to function in the same way, if one day he is no longer heading it. The victory for those who want it and the worry for those who fear it, is that if this particular Chief Justice is weakened or no longer in office, will the court do things as before? If not, then what on earth are we fighting for?
In Malik Riaz’s words: “I want to see Pakistan flourish.” Give the man what he wants: a country with courts that work, no matter who the Chief is. Khawaja Asif of the PML-N called the Supreme Court, “a light at the end of the tunnel.” In this, there must now be a distinction - does he mean the Supreme Court or does he mean the Supreme Court under its current leadership, alone? Yes, public confidence will stumble after this furore - but, it is also an opportunity to show that it isn’t just one man fighting. It’s many!