A WEEK after the allegations surrounding the son of the Chief Justice of Pakistan and Malik Riaz, the real-estate tycoon with deep connections to the political and military elite, erupted, few facts have been adduced and conspiracies have only grown thicker. Now, then, is the time for the Supreme Court to take a second important step: hand over the investigation of the case to a high-powered independent commission consisting of legal experts with impeccable records and no overt political or judicial affiliation. While in ordinary circumstances the judiciary is well-equipped to determine the facts and the legal liability in a case before it, in the present instance the allegations go to the heart of judicial integrity — and are linked to the figure who sits at the apex of the judicial pyramid and is the administrative head of the institution. Arguably, it is because of the special position and history Chief Justice Chaudhry enjoys that a suo motu action was taken in the first place.
Similar allegations involving family members of another judge would not have generated a media storm of the kind that has been unleashed nor would there have likely been such an urgent attempt to deal with them.
An independent commission is also required because the facts will likely be fiendishly difficult to establish. The Malik Riaz camp suggests it is the victim of extortion by Arsalan Iftikhar, who was allegedly looking to cash in on his familial connections in a manner all too familiar to anyone who has been in power or interacted with it in Pakistan. But, others suggest, a greedy Arsalan Iftikhar was trapped by a cunning Malik Riaz in order to sully the chief justice’s reputation by association. And yet, so far nothing concrete has been brought on the record.
The sums being bandied about, Rs300-400m, could prove to be a figment of an overactive imagination or even downplayed to hide the true extent of empires built through illegal means. Such a commission will also be expected to unravel that if Arsalan Iftikhar did in fact receive inducements in a bid to try and subvert the judicial process, was the chief justice, however inadvertently, a beneficiary of the proceeds that were flowing to his son who lived in the same house?
If the Supreme Court really does want to draw a line under the Arsalan Iftikhar-Malik Riaz affair, it must first hand the matter over to others to determine what the facts are. A clean bill of health from an independent commission will be more meaningful than one bestowed on the judiciary by the judiciary itself.