By Humayun Gauhar

Judges may come and judges may go, but Mehdi Hasan lives on forever. May his soul rest in peace.

The tragedy is that there are few in our echelons of state power that we can be proud of. No wonder the atmosphere is sinister, our condition so fragile that a homemade interview on U-tube by the odious Sehbai could send the country into a spin, just as the odious Mansur Ijaz’s newspaper column sent it into a tizzy.

However, one shouldn’t confuse the messenger with the message. Just because the messenger is odious doesn’t mean that the message is necessarily wrong. It then becomes incumbent upon us to seek evidence behind allegations and test it through impartial investigation and a court of law, remembering that all are innocent unless proven guilty under due process. Sadly, when the allegations are against the chief justice’s propriety it becomes all the more difficult, for it would strike some as self-serving, sitting in judgment in one’s own cause. Impartiality would be strained. But in the end we will each have to come to our own conclusions and not be held hostage to opinions and judgments. 

Riaz Malik the real estate tycoon may be what he is. I am more concerned with the chief justice. It is imperative that he be unblemished if he is to retain his moral stature and credibility as a judge. Right now, it has come down a notch or two despite a Supreme Court judgment asking the Attorney General to take legal action against the chief justice’s son Arsalan and the tycoon’s son in law. However, in my view they have brushed the more important issue of whether the chief justice knew of his son’s shenanigans or not under the carpet. So long as it remains there the matter will not come to rest. To use the judgment’s own language, ignoring it is to deny history – history in the making. What is the Supreme Judicial Council for? Young Arsalan featured prominently in Musharraf’s reference against his father, but the Supreme Court threw it out and never let it go to the SJC. Now the CJ has come face-to-face with it again. That too is history, my friends – history in the making.

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I am neither for nor against Iftikhar Chaudhry, the chief judge. I am for the judiciary. The CJ is not the judiciary. No CJ is. But when anything about any judge threatens to compromise the standing of the judiciary it is everyone’s right to be concerned and ask for answers and clarifications. That is not a conspiracy. All doubts must be removed, and with alacrity.

To clear doubt we must see the big picture and not get diverted by tangential issues. The following questions are most pertinent.

Did the chief justice’s son take money and benefits from Riaz Malik?

If so, did the chief justice know about it?

If he did, what did he know and when exactly did he know it?

If he did not we start skating on this ice, for it immediately begs the question: “Should such a naive man hold public office, much less that of the judge, least of all the chief justice of Pakistan?”

Judges are held to a higher standard than ordinary mortals. They, more than anyone else, should know the difference between right and wrong. It is all very well to say that relatives of the high and mighty should be careful about their behavior, but should not the high and mighty, and most importantly a judge, teach their progeny the difference between right and wrong before they can lecture us about the lote tree and the acacia tree? When the CJ saw that his son was suddenly living at a higher standard, did he not wonder? “Kahan say ayae hain yeh jhumkay?” and all that jazz? Did we ever hear about any misdemeanor by Musharraf’s children, or Shaukat Aziz’s for that matter? One was a soldier, the other a banker. The inevitable conclusion has to be that their standards and family values are higher.

Like many of you, I don’t like saying that the CJ’s moral stature has come down a notch or two. I, like you, want to be proud of those who lead our institutions. But consider this: you saw the CJ castigate the head of the electronic media’s regulatory authority, PEMRA, for not seeing that the media were casting aspersions on judges and maligning the judiciary and what he done about it. Supposing if, instead of quivering, the PEMRA boss had asked the chief justice: “Why couldn’t you see what your son was doing?” That is the problem. How come this conversation between the CJ and the PEMRA chief was aired on GEO? Is that not the same as the off-air conversation between Riaz Malik and the two anchors being telecast by rival channels? In that conversation the CJ too accused the media of hatching a conspiracy to undermine the judiciary. That accusation has now gone public, without evidence. I wonder? What is good for the goose is may be good for the gander, but what is bad for the media is not bad for a judge? It would be easy to say that either the CJ reclaims his lost high moral ground or resign to save the judiciary. “Go, in the name of God, Go,” said Lt. General Oliver Cromwell to the Long Parliament after throwing the Speaker out of his chair and placing his dirty boots on his stool. After all, institutions are more important than individuals and often individuals have to fall on their swords to save institutions. That is the test: does the CJ love himself more or the judiciary more?

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However, on consideration the CJ’s resignation would be playing right into the hands of the trappers. Best that he should step aside until this awful matter is resolved one way or the other.

Because the CJ is held to higher standards is why he must be doubly careful. That he took suo moto notice of the allegations flying around creating grave uncertainty is admirable and some moral ground was recovered. That he removed himself from the bench is more creditable. That despite the alleged bribery of Riaz Malik no case against him has been decided in his favour by the SC is a very big thing. This is the moral ground the CJ retains. He should build on it and reclaim the rest. For a businessman to give bribes is no big deal. But for a judge, and the top judge at that, to not know that his son was busy taking bribes as alleged is to strain our credulity. It is an insult to the intellect. Who would give young Arsalan the time of day much less money if he weren’t the chief justice’s son?

The next question is: who could be behind this kerfuffle? Who benefits if the judiciary, the army and the media are trashed? Who could have laid the trap, for you have to dim not to feel that this was entrapment? This is not another conspiracy theory that America and their agents accuse us of when they have no answer. Our tragedy is that those who are being trapped give the trappers enough material to set the trap. That is why we fall into it, looking pathetic in trying to cover their tracks, be it the issue of the sons of the chief justice or the prime minister.

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“Who are the trappers?” is the last question. “Those who benefit,” says Hercule Poirot. Ask yourself: who benefits if the judiciary, the army and the media are made toothless? This question can only be answered next week, for now I am running out of space. For now, suffice it to say that Riaz Malik certainly is not, for he is destroying himself. Obviously he is being used by forces more powerful than he is. I can think of only two beneficiaries: America and Zardari. America wants him to deliver. He wants to deliver. The judiciary, the army and the media are hurdles in their way. If, for example, the NATO supply and exit routes were re-opened, who is to stop me from petitioning the Supreme Court seeking first an injunction and then a judgment against it? Who is to gainsay that the Supreme Court won’t accept my plea? Who is to stop the ISI from making sure that the supply fails? Who is to stop the media from raising a storm, which it will? With all three of these institutions gone, the trappers will trap Pakistan and have it on a platter. Game, set and match.