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Scandal clouds another institution

Nation's top court faces scrutiny and ridicule

  • Silent Thinker, Lahore
  • Pakistan
  • June 15, 2012
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An ongoing crisis in the country’s justice system is just the latest in a long string of social and political challenges, but it is a dire one.

There is no denying that allegations of colossal corruption involving the chief justice’s son and a multi-billionaire have demoralized the nation.

The situation became even more contentious after Malik Riaz, chairman of an urban development enterprise, scandalized and ridiculed the top court and its judges during a recent press conference in which he questioned Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry’s failure to investigate his son.

Riaz continues to make headlines after leaking to the media that Arsalan Iftikhar Chaudhry had received between 300 and 400 million rupees to help influence ongoing cases at the Supreme Court, along with other benefits including travel, accommodation and shopping trips abroad.

The court yesterday directed the attorney general to investigate the charges against all suspected culprits.

Other scandals have rocked the Pakistan government, with no significant outcomes. The president successfully saved his convicted prime minister, as I predicted.

But “this one is the mother of all scandals,” a popular television talk show said of the chief justice’s son. Many are still pointing fingers at the head of the highest court in the judicial hierarchy of the country who is regarded as a beloved hero. There are many reasons for him being a favorite.

Chaudhry stimulated the popular mass protest “Lawyer’s movement” after being deposed by the former military dictator, Pervez Musharraf, emerging successful in restoring a free judiciary.

He confronted the ruling government over allegations of corruption, took notice of kidnappings allegedly carried out by the military and intelligence agencies and even of the unending target killings in Karachi. The government failed in addressing all these issues.

Until the allegations against his family are clarified, the whole country is once again plunged into crisis. The media has sidelined major issues facing the country; a news channel even aired a planted interview with the controversial billionaire.

The off-camera clips, which have gone viral on social media sites, revealed him dictating the questions to anchors and even receiving a phone call from the son of the prime minister. The ruling party enjoys the show while still denying any involvement.

“This is an ongoing tussle beneath the table. The power players are pursuing their own agenda; nobody is thinking of the country,” a Catholic lawyer told me on condition of anonymity.

She may be right. The depressed nation had high hopes for the judiciary, the only state institution considered credible these days. That’s the reason everybody was hurt when the business tycoon labeled the judiciary as a “hostage to a don” (referring to the prodigal son).

Whatever the result of this saga with the Supreme Court, another Pakistani idol has been smashed to pieces. This is a bad omen for a state already neck-deep in hot water. All the four pillars of the state – executive, legislative, judiciary and the media – are now tainted with controversies. The court may have barely maintained its reputation but will justice prevail over blood ties? We are keeping our fingers crossed.

Silent Thinker is a pseudonym used by a Catholic commentator in Lahore
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