Five significant developments hit last Friday’s newspapers. Each of these will cast shadows, in the days and weeks to come, over how the country will steer itself out of the various crises facing it. These relate to:

(1) The Malik Riaz-Arsalan Iftikhar case Supreme Court judgment and its follow up;

(2) How the media’s role and image is getting distorted;

(3) How, along with the passing of the budget with all its good and bad dimensions was fast-tracked in the National Assembly, a resolution designed to boost the Speakers’ ruling on the Supreme Court’s judgment was rammed through;

(4) How a powerful US Senator has taken up the issue of the “apology” for the Salala killings and how, at last, a stubborn Defence Secretary is showing willingness to accommodate, to some extent, Pakistan’s stand for resetting some of the terms of engagement; and

(5) How the USA has taken another far-reaching step to firm up India’s role in the post-withdrawal Afghanistan by signing a pact with New Delhi.

First the Supreme Court judgment on the Arsalan-Malik sensational case. The matter has been handed over to the government and specifically to the Attorney General. The court particularly mentioned the laws under which the three people named would be tried, that would include Section 163 (illegal gratification using personal influence over a public servant), Section 383 (extortion), and Section 415 and 420 (cheating) of the Pakistan Penal Code, and Section 9 of the National Accountability Bureau. One may well wonder how the present Attorney General will be handling the matter. His behaviour in the court, casting aspersions on the Supreme Court judges, has already evoked strong protests and condemnation from various groups of lawyers. It may also be mentioned that, according to a leading newspaper, he is said to have told reporters that “the first option might be asking Arsalan and Malik to go for a settlement themselves or enter into a plea bargain by paying the money back under the NRO or a formal corruption reference be moved.” In other words, a way might be found to quietly get the case settled or have it closed possibly in accordance with the wishes of the bosses overseeing the matter. (The worst scenario would be somehow to indirectly drag the Chief Justice into the case in his capacity as a father). The court recognises the historic importance of the case and how it might affect the working of the higher judiciary in the future. This is how the judges put it: “Today, we as a nation stand at what is undeniably a fateful crossroads in our history…….if we fail in this (our) duty, we risk returning to the period before March 9, 2007…….The matter of public importance in this case was the aspersion cast on the independence and integrity of the superior judiciary in this country…….To put it simply, even a resourceful person such as Malik Riaz has been forced to concede failure in his attempt to compromise the integrity and independence of the country’s superior judiciary despite the alleged payment of Rs 340 million.”

Now a word about the media. One has to recall how the story was broken by the editor of a leading group of newspapers through the social media (Facebook); and how suddenly all over Pakistan, the TV channels and newspapers were abuzz with all sorts of revelations, including senior TV anchors and journalists having had meetings with the real estate tycoon and with talk shows making bizarre disclosures and sensational inferences.

While the hands-on and prompt taking up of the suo motu case by the CJ pre-empted a possible plan to damage and disable the higher judiciary, the master operator went ahead with the ready cooperation of the media to spill the beans, thickening the plot. Two of his bold initiatives pertain to his unexpected press conference after his appearance before the Supreme Court when with the Holy Quran in his hand he hurled loaded questions at the Chief Justice and his repeated appearances at TV talk shows. The Supreme Court has taken notice of these shenanigans on his part and, in particular, of the insinuations during his talk to the journalists; it is presently questioning him on the charge of contempt of court. His participation in the talk show at a private channel has attracted a lot of attention where two anchors appeared to have acted in a somewhat dubious manner. Caught by the camera during breaks, they at times appeared to be in cahoots with the billionaire, while the show was allowed to go on for two hours. Rightly has the Supreme Court remarked: “Without proper care and professional excellence even sincere and honest journalists risk being used as tools in the hands of those who may not be obedient to the laws and the Constitution of Pakistan.”

It is worth taking note of the fact that the two national institutions - the judiciary and the media - which in these days of gloom and doom (rank incompetence and rampant corruption) had emerged as saviours and beacons of light for the hapless people of a benighted country, had suddenly been assaulted by a fabulously rich property dealer, who has been known as a master operator and has a record for effective use of close contacts and influence to gain favours and negotiate all kinds of deals. Through an ingenious scheme both the independent judiciary and the media were to be roped in scandalous turn of events. The CJ’s quick and timely initiative has, to a considerable extent, neutralised the attack. But considering the thinking and design of the power wielders in Islamabad, it cannot be said that the attempt to discredit the media has totally failed. Indeed, it has dented its fair name and fame. With the blessings of the lawyers and the right-minded political parties, our wide awake and people’s welfare-oriented higher judiciary will, hopefully, emerge stronger, more alert to the machinations of evil-doers and keep upholding its integrity and independence of the country as envisaged by the Constitution.

They are up against a political coalition, which, taking advantage of the noisy protestations of the PML-N on Thursday, rushed though a resolution that lays down that the Speakers’ ruling on the Supreme Court judgment against the Prime Minister is a part of the Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament) and, therefore, “cannot be questioned.” Let us see how the issue pending before the Supreme Court will be addressed.

As for the other two developments, comprising the issue of an apology and the US pact with India on Afghanistan, wait for my next column!

    The writer is an ex-federal secretary and ambassador, and political and international relations analyst.