Well get your chief justice by July, max, he leaned over and whispered in my ear. We were both at a conference, waiting to take our places on the stage. He was one of the speakers on a panel of which I was the moderator. The time between panels presented the opportunity to share important information.
The original plan, he told me, was to hit the chief justice while he was abroad receiving an award in London; but the Malik Riaz disclosures were delayed on the ill-advise of a silver-haired top legal aide of the government a newly re-discovered party asset, to borrow someones words. The top lawyer, according to my fellow speaker at the conference, had advised the unleashing of the corruption-charges avalanche when the CJ got back in the country.
Why? I asked. A resigned shrug of shoulders and rolling of the eyes was the only response I got. So what happens now was my next question. We will make his continuity simply unviable for the continuity of the institution itself, he said with a knowing smile. But why did Malik Riaz suddenly start talking to so many senior journalists in what appeared to be an obvious and desperate bid for the Arsalan affair to become shoptalk? He turned, looked me straight in the eye and said, You wanted us to wait till the court had read the last rites of the PM in the conviction case? Something bigger had to occur before that.
And then we were both called to the stage. This happened mid-week.
The contours of the get-CJ-by-July strategy became evident the day after, within hours of my stage-side discourse, and right in the well of courtroom 1. In what was clearly a preplanned move, Attorney General Irfan Qadir stood up at one point and addressed the bench, led by Chief Justice Iftikhar, in an extremely rude and provocative manner. He brashly accused the court of rushing through the case and dismissively asked the CJ to recuse himself from hearing the prime ministers conviction case review. And then, insisting that the seven-member bench that delivered the guilty verdict against the prime minister had immediately fled the courtroom, he shocked the packed courtroom by gesticulating in a manner known to every street urchin of Pakistan.
Understandably, the AG has his personal bias against the CJ who cost him his illegal continuation in the office of Chief Prosecutor NAB, but Qadirs behavior was still shameful. However, there was a clear method to the AGs madness. The plan was simple: force the bench to react and respond in the same coin a reaction that would have been presented as more evidence, a footnote perhaps, of conduct unbecoming of a judge in some future presidential reference.
But the bench saw through the scheme and responded with utmost restraint with only Justice Khwaja advising the AG to conduct himself properly. For how long such restraint will last, is the real question.
I am fond of my whispering friend on a personal level and though his politics may be problematic, his access to the epicenter of political maneuvering and intrigue in the capital is certain. He knows what he was talking about and isnt someone whose utterances can be ignored as typical Islamabad conspiracy-theorising. Another gentleman also in the know of things had another interesting take to share on the Arsalan Iftikhar saga. According to him, the entire issue would have been outed even if Arsalan had supposedly delivered on his commitment and Bahria Town had been blessed with favourable court verdicts. In such an eventuality, the favourable verdicts would have been presented as being irrefutable evidence of a criminal collusion between an erring son and his collaborating father. Unfortunately, for the CJ-slayers, no incriminating favourable verdicts were handed down to be exploited as proof of a successfully-concluded criminal arrangement.
The first setback came when instead of cowering into a corner or submitting to the will of Malik Riaz & Co, the CJ took the bull by the horns and brought his own son and his accuser in the dock. The second blow was struck by the two-member bench on Thursday when it referred the case to the government for thorough probe and action against Arsalan, Malik Riaz and Ahmed Khalil. The ball to investigate and convict is now in the governments court. Surely that was not a part of any Plan A, B or C.
The fundamental question at the heart of the Malik Riaz explosion remains unanswered to date: why would a super rich businessman, a multi billionaire in dollar terms, put his entire empire and his own future at risk for a paltry Rs340 million? Especially when only recently the same man doled away Rs 140million to secure the release of a Pakistani sailor from Somali sea pirates? He claims to have donated Rs850million to subsidise Shahbaz Sharifs Ashiana housing scheme for the under privileged. In his high roller power games, giving away hundreds of millions of rupees to politicians, generals, bureaucrats and dirty journalists is business as usual for him. So why the fuss over a measly Rs340m? He is man who has made his billions by buying the powerful and bullying the weak and has never alienated centres of power and influence. Looking at his past, his latest behavior just doesnt add up unless one configures the picture to the much larger than that painted by the self-proclaimed victim, Malik Riaz.
The script may have been read by Mailk Riaz but he is definitely not the sole author. He has to be part of a bigger conspiracy and must have been given impregnable guarantees that no harm would come to his person, or personal fortunes for throwing himself in front of the judicial juggernaut. This raises another question: What do you offer a man who already has everything?
How about public office? For a man of Malik Riazs humble beginnings, and who has controlled the political scene from behind the curtain for over a decade, what could be more desirable than to be occupying the very high offices that he has so diligently served and serviced? Its a fact that he had been assured the governorship of Punjab, both by Zaradri and Nawaz, in recognition of his mediatory services during their 2008 parlays. Indeed, Malik sahib often makes references to late governor, Nawab of Kalabagh, and never hides his desire to walk in Nawab sahibs footsteps.
Unfortunately, Nawaz and Zardari fell apart and so did Maliks dreams of being Punjabs Laat Sahib. Second best alternative: interim prime minister? Fantastical as it may sound, you can never blame someone for being overtly ambitious. Clearly the gentleman has big plans for the future and the controversial mode of his entry notwithstanding, he seems to be moving from being a king maker to a king of sorts himself. And what better beginning than slaying a giant like CJ Iftikhar Chaudhry?
For all practical purpose, public office may forever remain a pipe dream for an individual who had the audacity to justify, in a televised interview, that he offered bribes and illegal gratifications to conduct routine business in Pakistan. That he has been intelligently used is now quite obvious and its only a matter of time before the real players get exposed.
There is always a time to cut losses and quit and the sooner the executive and the intelligence combine realize this the better. About 60 judges of the superior court quit when Gen Musharraf sacked Justice Iftikhar. In the event of an attempted repeat of the same stupidity, the government will not be able to find a single sitting judge in any of the high courts and the supreme court to abandon the CJ and cross over the dirty line. Lets face it, the crude attempt to malign the CJ is already showing signs of failure, and showing itself detrimental to the powers that be.
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