Gustave Flaubert in Sentimental education writing about a corrupt individual says: “He is so corrupt that he will willingly pay for the pleasure of selling himself.” The striking thing about Malik Riaz is not that he admits to paying bribes and perpetuating corruption, which he does, but rather the complete absence of any embarrassment on the matter, there is almost an element of a vague pride and entitlement. The allegations against Dr Arsalan Iftikhar can under no circumstances be brushed aside and should be investigated to their logical end. The order does make some good points about media ethics and responsibility, however, the impression that it is only when one of their own is targeted that they felt the need to say all that does not go away easily. The order of the Supreme Court poetically and perhaps, inadvertently, attempts to give Arsalan Iftikhar a clean chit, which is disturbing. The Supreme Court should not adopt the role of a trial court and give observation on factual matters. The judgment makes some very large claims for the brief proceedings.
Having said that, let us be clear Malik Riaz is not a victim. There is also something thrillingly forbidden about the entire episode and in watching the invincible squirm. Yet, it should not distract us from the toxicity of it all. Malik Riaz is a representative example of everything that is wrong with us. The billionaire contractor in whose all engulfing-personality political opponents, media rivals and allegedly judges converge. However, not mentioned or considered enough is that Malik Riaz is also a one-stop employment shop for generals retiring. His ‘A’ team that appeared on the first day of hearing, including a former DG of the MI and a DG of ISPR should have sent a message. He has reportedly made outrageous amounts of money dealing with and under the patronage of Pakistan’s armed forces. Anyone who is inclined to ascribe this episode to a ‘conspiracy’ or a “plan” should at least point to the most probable planner, if there is one, namely the ISI headquarters and GHQ. It might be a coincidence that all institutions, now including the relatively scared media and judiciary have taken a nosedive in credibility while the armed forces remain missing in action, but it has to be some coincidence. However, even if there is a plan, does not absolve anyone, including Arsalan Iftikhar, from any guilt of misdemeanours actually committed.
Malik Riaz is admittedly not the most confidence inspiring of accusers. However, the Supreme Court or the media should not be relieved just yet. A few days ago, I heard someone on television making an arresting observation, namely that in the Memo Commission report the Supreme Court has already set the precedent of taking the word of a buffoonish liar, namely Mansoor Ijaz on face value, that I dare say might come back to haunt them. I say with the utmost of deference, yet the word most appropriate for Memo Commission proceedings and findings is ‘travesty’. No material evidence beyond the words of a self-confessed liar has been relied upon. The army and the ISI were practically the petitioners and they have had it their way. Terming Husain Haqqani practically as a traitor on the basis of that is a new low for fair trial and due process in Pakistan. I do not think Mr Haqqani should worry too much as he is in the august company of those previously declared traitors including Mr Jinnah, Bacha Khan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti. To the naked eye, it seemed that the Supreme Court applied the shallow principle of that the ‘enemy of an enemy is a friend’ and hence sharing the contempt for the civilian government played right into the hands of the military establishment. Sipaah-i-Saalars do not have a history of being particularly respectful to the Court. Let me remind My Lords, all civilians are “bloody civilians” for them.
The same goes for the media: those who were certain of the veracity of the memo, the corruption of the civilian governments and the infallibility of the Chief Justice of Pakistan are no longer that sure, not even of themselves. Most of you would have by now seen the leaked video of Malik Riaz being ‘grilled’ by Meher Bokhari and Mubashar Lucman. I don’t like any of them; in fact, I quite heartily dislike Meher Bokhari for her role in Salmaan Taseer’s assassination and general pretentiousness and I will be glad if they are fired. The deference and even outright sycophancy extended to Malik Riaz by many (most of them have ironically been uncritically repeating their belief of the CJP as the saviour, some are still doing the rather admirable job of doing both simultaneously) is unbelievable.
One easy prediction is that this scandal is likely to reveal a lot of wrongdoing by a lot of people. It is befitting that a scandal which begins like most of our scandals as a cliché with unnecessarily ‘gating’ (Watergate is a group of actual buildings) has clichés to analyse it. “It is the best of times and the worst of times”, all is not lost and silver linings etc are all relevant. Malik Riaz can attempt to partially redeem himself and divulge the name of everyone who has been a recipient of his largesse, if this house is going to go down let it go down in style, with a bang, though we know that is not going to happen. In the meanwhile, it is also important to maintain a degree of composure; all political forces, media and judiciary should realise that it is unlikely that any one of them emerges as a beneficiary out of this and any attempt to protect one of their own is ultimately unsustainable. It is perhaps naïve to expect any significant purge or an overhaul from any political party or the media, but is a pleasurable imagination. The cynical thing about this entire episode is that while there certainly would be casualties, there is little hope for martyrs.
Published In The Express Tribune, June 17th, 2012.
More in OpinionSoniaji, Sardarji and S&P