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16 - 22 June , 2012

VIEWPOINTChief Justice Faces The Toughest Test Of His Career

Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry has heroically passed the first three phases of the toughest test of his judicial career by taking suo motu notice of the alleged corruption by his son, Dr Arsalan, holding open trial and detaching himself from the bench hearing the case in which billionaire owner of the Bahria Town Malik Riaz Hussain is accused of providing some Rs300 to Rs400 million to the young man to get relief in a multitude of cases before the Supreme Court.
Chief Justice of Pakistan, Mr. JusticeThe real estate mogul got nothing as the quid pro quo, and decided to spill the beans in order to ditch the top judge. However, despite the fact that he got no relief in his litigation, he kept greasing the palm of Arsalan. He did brief a number of media persons about the evidence including the videotapes against the young man but didn't hand over even a shred of the proof. This was deliberate and the purpose was to use the documents at the time of his choosing. When on March 9, 2007 the then military dictator, Pervez Musharraf, deposed Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry after the latter gave a resounding no to his order to step down, the judge indeed faced a serious crisis of his life. As he declined to bow to the diktat of the general, the whole country rallied behind him and did not rest till his complete restoration. First it was the chief justice alone, who picked up the courage to stand up to the all-powerful military man. But as he went ahead, his caravan kept swelling. And then Pakistan saw a totally unusual public upsurge, unheard of before. All the charges framed against the chief justice were thrown out of window by the apex court, and even the federal government was fined for the frivolity of some of the documents that were submitted to it in support of the allegations against the judge. When the chief justice came back on the force of the court order, Musharraf did not tolerate him for too long and again dismissed him a few months later on November 3, 2007.
The nationwide protests by lawyers, civil society activists and political parties finally forced the present government to restore the deposed chief justice as well as the other judges in March 2009. By that time, the dictator had become history. In fact, he signed on his death warrants by promulgating the state of emergency on Nov 3, 2007.
Dr. Arsalan IftikharStarting from the day of his reinstatement, the chief justice never rested even for a single day, he took up the most difficult and sensitive cases and decided them with unique valour and nerve. At the end of the year of his restoration, he and all the other judges of the Supreme Court declared the despicable National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) null and void. The guts, boldness and fearlessness demonstrated by the top judge was a source of inspiration and courage for all the judges of the superior judiciary. As a result, the apex court and high courts were purged of corruption and docile judges. They no longer remained a condemnable place of sale and purchase of justice as had been the practice in previous years. As the chief justice continued his journey of dispensing justice fearlessly, writing a new history in the world, his nemeses kept conspiring and plotting to weaken him and to ultimately bundle him out of office. But they remained unsuccessful in their search to find skeletons in his cupboard.
Ultimately, like every nasty enemy, they found an easy prey in the shape of Dr Arsalan, who dreamed to become rich on the strength of corruption money. Malik Riaz Hussain, tormented by the successive rulings in the Bahria Town cases became a willing tool in their hands. He aspired to kill two birds with one stone: to settle score with an un-obliging chief justice, who was not prepared to give him relief and to appease the real conspirators by attempt to blacken the public image of the top judge.
The greedy young man, who loved a playboy's life, was available to do for Malik Riaz what he in reality has no capacity and power to do. Even if a small fraction of the fairy tales surrounding the princely spending by Arsalan, his visit to Monte Carlo and his trips to Britain is true, his hands are completely soiled with the corruption money. Last time when the chief justice faced the embarrassing situation, it was because of Arsalan's deep desire to be in the police against all rules and regulations. This time, his lust for money has brought serious problem for the father, who is adored even by his detractors for his bold judgment.
By all counts, prima facie the son is guilty but the father is absolutely not, having no hand whatsoever in Arsalan's doings. Almost everybody would like to believe when the father said he swore on the Holy Quran that he did not even know the business Arsalan was doing. This is perfectly correct because since his restoration the chief justice has been focused only on his judicial work by sitting till very late in the night in his office (working 18 hours a day). However, as father it was Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry's lapse not to Malik Riazpay attention to the unprecedented lavish lifestyle of his son, living independently in Lahore, to at least know from where he was getting so much money. But this doesn't mean at all that he knew his improprieties and just shut his eyes.
As the chief justice has been put down by the handiwork of his son, his opponents, who were dreaming since long to humble him, are brimming with joy. On the forefront are the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) government and its allies, who were all extremely irate over the way the top judge was dispensing justice. Some of their leaders have now demanded his resignation while others have suggested that he should go on leave till the decision on Arsalan's alleged corruption. But they are appreciative of his suo motu notice of the actions of his son and recusing himself from the panel of judges. Undoubtedly, by arraigning his son through a suo motu notice the chief justice has given a befitting reply to his detractors, who had been attacking him for initiating hearing on a number of issues on his own. Even some lawyers including Asma Jehangir had been critical of him in this connection.
Despite facing unparalleled but natural distress, suffering and agony, at no point of initial hearings of the suo motu notice for two days the chief justice showed any signs that he is treating his son in a different way. "I will call him Arsalan, not my son," the top judge said moving all and sundry sitting in the courtroom number one. "Even if my son is found guilty of corruption he would be dealt with severely under the law. Had it been in my hands, I would have ordered handcuffing both Arsalan and Malik Riaz," the justice, who has been a crusader against corruption, remarked. He made it a point to put the Holy Quran before him during the hearings. The mere fact that he ordered an open hearing "in a broad daylight" showed that he has nothing to hide and wants each and every fact before the public even if it is extremely painful and agonizing for him. Unlike him, all top politicians including Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, had been taking every step to save the skin of their talented sons, accused of massive corruption. On the force of their official positions, they played havoc with the investigation process with the prime objective of getting their heirs apparent extricated. There is no obstruction of justice on the part of the chief dispenser of justice. Through his actions, he has told everybody very loudly that he would not mind seeing his son behind bars if he has committed corruption.
Although it is difficult to predict the outcome of the high profile case, but one thing is certain that the chief justice is going to face a tough time as facts about Arsalan's shady dealings are unveiled in the days to come. His rivals are hell-bent to paint him black in the public eye and create a situation where he steps down. Malik Riaz too is unlikely to walk away unscathed in this saga. However, there is no denying that the chief justice has no hand in whatever illegality was committed by Arsalan. His premature departure from the judicial scene will indisputably be a great tragedy, and Pakistan may not get such a genuine crusader against financial fraud and corruption of the high and mighty for a long time to come. Such judges are rarely born in countries like Pakistan. Millions of Pakistanis should be praying to Allah Almighty to help Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry overcome this crisis and annihilate the conspirators and plotters.

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