Five Crore worth of a System
Its about life and death. Its about freedom. Its about political survival. Its about narratives. Its getting uglier. Its getting dangerous. There is no respite, there are no holds barred. There is nothing to lose and yet everything is at stake.
Mariam Nawaz Sharif is at the center stage again, but this time she is bolder, brasher, and more audacious. She knows there is little time, and she must get her father out before all is lost. Thus, the hardline position overlapping with Maulana’s, albeit in minority, to oust this government, to declare her father a political prisoner, to call it a day.
The silence didn’t serve her well, it was the lull before the storm. There was no relief, no space, no extension of bail, no foreign treatment afforded to her father. The party was disappearing into oblivion, her uncle’s reconciliatory approach got nothing for the father-daughter duo, on the contrary he was unable to save himself and his own family. It was time to take matters into her own hands and play on front foot again. She is no bibi- she is bibi plus, in that she is redefining all red lines.
Justice Arshad Malik’s affidavit makes some serious allegations including being blackmailed by a certain clandestine video. My sources, set deep within two political parties involved, and at the heart of this entire fiasco, reveal an altogether ghastly account. It is an unfortunate thriller based on immoral conduct and debauchery at its worst, complete with betrayal and blackmail worth five crore rupees.
According to sources, there was an important meeting held with two PPP leaders (names not to be disclosed currently, for now one of them LK) and a PMLN loyalist (linked to the youth wing during the last government, for now MMR) sometime before Ramadan this year. The meeting was about a specific “adult content video” of a judge that could come in handy for the PMLN, for whatever reasons. The asking price was fifty crore rupees. LK expected his cut for having played the part of a bridge (ended with only a crate of wine). The judge in question had been filmed by none other than one from his close circle of friends, who happened to be connected to LK as well.
MMR took the message of the game changing video offer to Mariam who allegedly demanded a more reasonable price in exchange for it. Soon Nawaz Sharif was also taken into confidence who then gave the go ahead for the video to be purchased. The exchange took place; a four-minute video of highly explosive, adult content which could be a career destroying, personal integrity crushing, cataclysmic-consequences entailing footage for anyone, let alone a judge! 5 crore was the settled amount. All this allegedly transpired in Ramadan. The plan had to be fool proof, and the judge while on Umra in Saudia Arab was approached and blackmailed.
According to these sources, the agencies neither recorded the video, nor have it to date, it was an opportunity that presented itself to PMLN, and was eagerly availed. As Mariam Nawaz said in Mandi Bahuddin, “yeh sirf Allah ki taraf se aya hai” (it has been a divine intervention). One thing is for sure, this x-rated video is out there, who all has it merits investigation. It is possible it was used by both sides to blackmail the judge, it is possible one side had no idea about it till recently. In the video with Nasir Butt, judge Arshad Malik confesses that he was made to take an oath that he would not favour anyone and would decide on merit. This “merit” is being interpreted differently by different quarters. PMLN believes the agencies wanted their desired verdict. Some within these agencies claim the judge was being asked not to succumb to PMLN pressure and decide independently. Could it be possible the gentleman was playing both sides?
The problem here is not an individual’s private life but one significantly greater with far reaching consequences. When such calamitous videos of judges begin to take over national discourse, the issue becomes one of state structure, machinery, working and accountability.
Unfortunately, Judge Arshad Malik’s clarification has arisen more questions than its answered. He calls the videos “a despicable attempt to mesh together various instances and topics spoken about, and to present them out of context” and later labels them “fake”. He also alleges having been “repeatedly offered bribes…and also given threats of serious consequences if I did not cooperate” by PMLN “representatives”. He refrains from identifying these representatives and disclosing the nature and medium via which these threats were hurled. Why hasn’t the judge exposed these individuals? His affidavit is nothing less than a criminal report, yet no FIR was registered. Apparently, he has no witnesses either. Why didn’t he recuse himself from the bench? Why did he not take the monitoring judge of the Supreme Court, Justice Ijaz ul Ahsan into confidence? Why didn’t he take his administrative head, CJ Islamabad High Court, Justice Athar Minallah into confidence? If he did so, what action was taken thereafter? Judge Arshad Malik’s counter allegation of being threatened and offered bribe merits investigation but also raise serious questions of his inaction while all this was being done “during” trial.
More disturbing is the judge referring to a notorious gentleman, with murder allegations as an “old acquaintance.” One who hasn’t lived in Pakistan for the better half of the last decade. How far back does this acquaintance date, not-withstanding recent meetings in Dubai and Saudia Arabia? Just like superior judiciary, district judiciary is also governed by a code of conduct, including minimal social contacts and interactions. Hanging out with a high-profile party loyalist, notorious at that, and one present inside his court during Nawaz Sharif’s hearings at several occasions, is a question the judge can best answer for himself.
The most quizzical, however, is Judge Arshad Malik’s demand that “legal action should be taken against those individuals involved in this.” Legal action should be taken by whom? Has he written or plans to write to the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) regarding this? Aggrieved party is the judge himself, defamation can be filed by him.
Judge Arshad Malik has a lot to clarify. He seems to have transgressed one too many a code of conduct he swore to uphold. Rules, boundaries are all too vague here and his explanation has left much to be desired. One thing is for certain the standards we hold for a judge’s character and conduct have been compromised, putting the old simile “to be sober as a judge” to shame. One thing has surely been put in perspective: with great power comes great responsibility, and if I may add, demands an even higher awareness of when, where, how and who might be taking an advantage of you.
The trial conducted by Arshad Malik is now enveloped in doubt. It remains to be seen if Nawaz Sharif’s case heads towards retrial, including hill metal establishment (HME reference) . Now that the judge has been asked to step aside, PMLN faces its share of consequences too. If the video is deemed unauthentic post- forensic audit, the entire row of PMLN leaders sitting in the infamous presser shall face subversion of trial charges. In light of the new allegations in the judge’s affidavit, a string of laws come into action including blackmailing law, coercion, including the justification of ownership of such material. Interestingly, most if not all of the PMLN stalwarts sitting in the blasting press conference on July 6 had no idea what was going on. They were briefly taken into confidence and then told that Mian Nawaz Sharif had given his go ahead for this conference and that all must be present and seated. Albeit their discomfort, all sat down.
Unlike his many of his predecessors who were insatiable in their love for judicial activism and lack of interest in overhauling the judicial system, CJP Asif Saeed Khosa seems to want to put his house in order. The SC has taken notice of the issue and a bench headed by CJP Khosa will hear this case on the 16th of this month. At stake is the very reliability and integrity of the institution he heads. After NAB Chairman, NAB accountability court judge has been pulled into a controversy, this is no small matter. Owing to our sordid past, full of coercion and foul play, of institutional excesses, a high-powered judicial commission to investigate this matter, including forensic auditing, is the need of the hour.
This is no longer a story of individuals, or parties, it is a story that threatens to shake the very foundations that a state stands on. Besides the glaring question of where we are headed as a society, where office-bearers are secretly filmed, threatened and blackmailed by political parties, the ideas of an upright judiciary, of fair trials, of equitable dispensation of law are all at stake again as well. The freedom of the judiciary is under question, again. Common man’s faith in the system was already doubtful to begin with, what is being reinforced today, successfully by the opposition, are ideas of a censored Pakistan, of negotiable justice, of coercion, compulsion and blackmailing.
The gains in the form of systematic correction, democratic continuity, independence of the judiciary derived from charter of democracy and restoration of the judiciary are being eroded, this time more brazenly than ever before. The precondition for democracies to function is the application of the rule of law and to enforce rules and boundaries on the behavior and actions of those in power. We are threatened by a justice system devoid of integrity, an establishment adamant on controlling outcomes, a political elite unwavering on continuation and protection of their privileges. When you disfigure a system to the extent that it cannot be salvaged, it is time to stop and reflect, are we designed to self-destruct.
The writer is a senior journalist and television anchorperson. She tweets at @meherbokhari