On Thursday, the two member bench of the Supreme Court delivered a short order in the high-profile case involving Malik Riaz, arguably the country’s most controversial and unquestionably its most influential power broker, and Arsalan Iftikhar, son of the iconic chief justice of Pakistan. The order directed Attorney General Irfan Qadir to handle the controversy surrounding charges of a Rs340 bribe from the business tycoon to the chief justice’s son and said, “It is our expectation that he [AG] will set the state machinery in motion so that all those who may have committed any illegal acts including Malik Riaz, his son-in-law Salman Ahmed Khan and Dr Arsalan Iftikhar are pursued and brought to book with the full force and rigours of the law.” The sensitive nature of the case notwithstanding, the court has subjected the matter to the normal course of law, views about which are bound to differ. Since the SC is not an investigating authority and as the matter pertains to two individuals, it is was the right thing to do. It can be argued that had the court accepted the plea of Malik Riaz’s lawyer to constitute a special judicial commission to conduct a probe, there would have been more controversy and the court’s detractors would have accused it of ‘maneuvering’ investigations as well as the ultimate outcome to favour the CJ’s son. There was already talk that if the matter stayed with the SC, the judges on the bench would be under inadvertent pressure simply by the fact of hearing the case.
By subjecting the CJ’s son to investigations carried out by government-controlled investigation agencies, the court has thus sent a clear message that it does not seek any privileged verdict for a privileged son. This is unlike the government that has persistently displayed an unsavoury tendency to register lack of faith in the apex judiciary. We hope that fair and impartial investigations will now follow and the guilty will be made to pay their just and legal dues. It is also hoped that the government’s biases will not sully the investigations and, indeed, that those in power will take the matter to its logical conclusion. What is now clear is that a deep conspiracy has been at work to malign the chief justice and the top judiciary to force the CJP out of office. It may now have been thwarted to a great degree. Indeed, the outcome of this case will be the litmus test of the Supreme Court’s resolve to spread accountability to even the most holiest sanctums of power in Pakistan. The case will also serve as a warning for the powerful and their progeny. The additional note of Justice Khilji captures the essence of it all: “Although family members of public functionaries are not performing state functions, the alleged facts of this case highlight the necessity of extreme caution and discretion in their private and public dealings and conduct”. Could there be better advice for the land’s high and mighty and their privileged first sons and daughters?