WASHINGTON - The Arsalan Iftikhar case has not made big headlines in the United States but some newspapers are covering developments as it involves accusations against family of Pakistan’s Chief Justice.
There has been no editorial comment so far. Also, the controversy in Pakistani media over a leaked video revealing that a Pakistani television interview with Malik Riaz Hussain, the property tycoon, was planted, has not yet hit American newspapers.
But ValueWalk, a New Jersey-based financial news service focusing on value investing, hedge funds and asset managers, has commented on the episode. It said the two anchors - Mehar Bokhari and Mubashir Lucman - probably acted under one of two conditions, personal gain or orders given from above. “There may have been some mix of the two,” the financial news service said.
ValueWalk wrote, “Mian Amer Mahmood, the owner of Dunya TV, has a great deal to answer for in this case. In behind-the-scenes footage Mubashir Lucman mentioned him by name as a source of pressure at the network forcing him to do the interview. News emerged today that Mubashir Lucman had been suspended from the network for his comments.
“Gratitude must be felt for the man or woman that leaked this video onto the internet and exposed the corruption. It is hoped that more like them will emerge from any other corrupt alcove of Pakistan’s media and unleash a wave of justice to wipe out the corruption.
“Though exhausted after the Riaz legal battle, Pakistan cannot rest. The corruption in the media is one of the most powerful negative forces operating in the country at the moment. The leak of this video, the source of which Dunya TV is now investigating, is but the first step in what will form a long battle for purity in broadcasting.”
On the Arsalan-Riaz case, American newspaper dispatches so far have brought out CJP Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry’s crusade against corruption and towards promoting human rights and the rule of law.
In this context, here is what The New York Times wrote about him (excerpts), “Pakistan’s chief justice has wielded his court as a whip against the status quo, the country’s rich and powerful, calling top government officials and military spymasters to account and asserting himself as a political force in his own right.
“But on Tuesday he found himself at the centre of a new political firestorm when a well-connected property baron stood up in court and accused his family of corrupt dealing, detailing $3.7 million in kickbacks and cash payments.
“The allegations were a serious blow for the chief justice, who until now has been virtually venerated by many Pakistanis for his flamboyant court crusades against powerful figures...
“The lurid accusations and dark innuendo represented a once-unthinkable challenge to Chief Justice Chaudhry, who has steered the court into new and often controversial legal waters in recent years yet never faced such public questioning about his personal ethical standards...
“Until now Mr (Riaz) Hussain, who made a fortune on the back of property development deals with the military, had a reputation as a well-connected but discreet power broker who shunned media attention. But in court his lawyers furnished extensive details of payments that they said were linked to the chief justice’s close family.
“What was least clear, and most speculated about in the Pakistani public in recent days, was what had motivated Mr Hussain to come forward” - to which Hussain said what had prompted him.
The Times said, “While Chief Justice Chaudhry has been criticized this year for pursuing what was seen as a personal grudge against President Asif Ali Zardari in the courts, he has also been praised for taking on the country’s top generals, including those of the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, for their part in suspected human rights abuses in Balochistan.
“Some have speculated that those military cases may have prompted Mr Hussain’s aggressive actions, which he flatly denied. Still, it appeared clear that the businessman wants to see Chief Justice Chaudhry ousted from office — something that is not easy to achieve.
Under Pakistan’s Constitution, the chief justice can only be fired by the Supreme Judicial Council, which is composed of fellow judges. The last time Chief Justice Chaudhry faced such a council was in spring 2007, when the country’s military ruler at the time, Gen Pervez Musharraf, tried to have him fired.
“That effort ended badly for General Musharraf when the streets filled with huge protests in support of Chief Justice Chaudhry.
“Nevertheless, there is little doubt that Chief Justice Chaudhry’s position is suddenly weaker than it has been in years.”
A dispatch in McClatchy Newspapers said, “Malik Riaz Hussain bought his way to becoming possibly the most powerful man in Pakistan. Political leaders, bureaucrats, journalists and military generals are said to be in the pocket of the millionaire property tycoon – all the way up to the president and army chief.
“Now a new scandal involving Hussain has embroiled the only public institution in this nation – a troubled US ally – that was considered clean: the judiciary...”
The dispatch said the controversy “threatens to destroy the moral authority of Chief Justice Chaudhry, and the rest of the judiciary - the institution that many in Pakistan feel is the only thing stopping the country from sliding into all-out anarchy.
“Pakistan has reeled from legal crises all year, as the courts under (Justice) Chaudhry have humiliated the government of President Zardari over alleged corruption and hounded the military over alleged human rights abuses...
“The latest judicial intrigue has badly embarrassed the chief justice and transfixed even scandal-weary Pakistan...”
The dispatch said, “Hussain, a millionaire property developer, stands accused of a long list of crimes, with 100 cases currently before the courts, ranging from murder to land-grabbing. He also has a relationship with extremists. His Bahria Town company provided a luxurious house for radical cleric Abdul Aziz. In addition, he’s on good terms with the leadership of the main opposition party.
“A brother of the army chief, Gen Ashfaq Kayani, is reportedly in a lucrative business partnership with Hussain, and it was shown in court last week that Hussain keeps at least two retired generals and several other retired military officials on his payroll.
“Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said this week that Hussain is ‘close to everyone’. “It’s unclear who’s behind the tycoon’s risky assault on the judiciary. Many believe that Zardari instigated the furore, as his enemies in the media, the judiciary and the military have all been badly sullied by it. One possible sign of the government’s leanings was the official security detail accorded to Hussain Tuesday outside the Supreme Court - plainclothes and uniformed officers deployed in force - which was no less than that given to the prime minister in court appearances earlier this year.”
“So far, there’s been no suggestion that Chaudhry benefited financially from Hussain’s alleged dealings with (Arsalan) Iftikhar, or that the money led to favourable treatment by the courts.
“(Justice) Chaudhry took on the country’s last military dictator and is widely lauded as a hero in Pakistan. He has hauled military and intelligence officials up before the courts on charges of ordering extrajudicial executions and forced the prime minister to answer charges he shielded the president against corruption accusations. In April, the Supreme Court ruled that Gilani should be disqualified from office - though he remains in the job.
“But many in Pakistan are asking how (Justice) Chaudhry could have failed to notice that his son was amassing wealth.”