Fallout from Arsalangate
By Khaled Ahmed
The PPP government was already in the dock for corruption. Arsalangate dragged some other entities into it: the army, the media, and the chief justice
Malik Riaz Hussain, arguably the biggest real estate developer in Pakistan with ‘connections’, decided to reveal that he had been blackmailed by the son of Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and had allegedly been forced to spend nearly Rs 40 crore on him. He used journalists of a media house on a social media website to deniably make his case, after which the country witnessed a full-blown media scandal undermining the authority and credibility of the Supreme Court.
Called to the Supreme Court on suo motu, Malik Riaz submitted evidence of payments made to Dr Arsalan Iftikhar. He then went on TV and made additional allegations, some of them implying that Chief Justice Chaudhry may have been aware of what was going on. In answer, Dr Arsalan Iftikhar claimed that he had never met Malik Riaz and that he had received no payments from him or his relatives to finance his clearly lavish holidays abroad. Chief Justice Chaudhry expressed his complete lack of knowledge of all this.
The linguistic divide: One partisan of the debate that followed stated: ‘The Chief Justice took suo motu notice of the case and presided over the Bench while in the complete knowledge of the code of conduct of Judges. Given the experience and acumen of My Lord, the Chief Justice, one can say to a moral certainty that he would be aware of the general principle and the specific provision of the code of conduct, which requires judges not to hear matters involving immediate family members’. This comment was in English.
The first divide became visible on the subject and it was linguistic. In Urdu, the issue was addressed in the light of the example of Hazrat Umar who presided over the trial of his son and punished him with his own hands. This linguistic split – which is the most glaring ideological bifurcation in the country – was followed by politicians squaring off against one another: the PMLN and Tehreek Insaf announced themselves on the side of Chief Justice. They accused the ruling PPP of having engineered entrapment through Malik Riaz to get rid of the Chief Justice.
First Army, then TV Anchors: The media rallied to the defence of the Chief Justice. Most of the TV anchors thought it was a conspiracy to challenge the Chief Justice because he had made pointed investigations into “disappearances” in Balochistan. The implication was that the Army was offended and wanted the judge to ‘lay off’, and had used Malik Riaz to make revelations about Arsalan whose reputation was already subject of rumours in Pakistan for some time.