ONCE upon a time there was a rich man from Pakistan. He flitted between Europe and the United States, sometimes in Miami, other times in Monaco.
His was a charmed life, with beautiful cars and beautiful people, such comfort and luxury as is available only to the most blessed in a world full of want.
Mansoor Ijaz certainly had fortune, and then last year, he also found fame when he came out with allegations that Husain Haqqani, then Pakistani ambassador to the US, asked him to deliver a memo to the Pentagon asking US assistance against Pakistan’s military leadership. An avalanche of accusations forced Husain Haqqani to resign and Ijaz became notorious.
Recently, Pakistanis were introduced to another man of means eager to be the moral conscience of the nation. Malik Riaz, a well-heeled property baron, came out with allegations that the son of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry accepted bribes amounting to several crores and demanded lavish vacations to Europe.
The accusations are damning, coming from a man, who like Ijaz before him, seemed to have no direct vendetta against the chief justice himself. With the expositions came the firestorm, the accompanying counter-scandals and accusations.
Around the pulsing centre of the hurricane that sought to bring down the chief justice, a cabal of sycophants emerged, each one threatening the character of the one man whose morals seemed to be undergirding all justice in Pakistan. In his moment of moral superiority, Malik Riaz gave a press conference holding all the while a copy of the Holy Quran.
When something happens once, there is some room to scratch one’s head, puzzle over the architecture of accusations and scandals and the possibility of some small and beat-up kernel of truth among the lies.
When it happens a second time, the ingredients become imbued with design, reveal themselves to have been amassed by intent over coincidence — the served-up meal is a dish prepared and not a sandwich of leftovers.
In this second iteration of the moral mogul, blowing the whistle on the nefarious intentions of politically powerful others, there is again a rich man, previously unknown and seemingly lacking a direct motive.
In the first case, the target was a man whose power in brokering relations was greater than what insecure others shifting uncomfortably in their Pakistani seats could tolerate; in the second it is a chief justice whose power to prod just about anyone in Pakistan and ask annoying questions about people made invisible had became too threatening to too many.
In both cases, the accusations cut to the quick an ambassador accused of treason, a judge suspected by some of allowing his family to engage in corruption. The spice and sauce was added by the media eager as always to act as midwife to the deposition of the venerated few.
In some ways, the deposition of the powerful via moral missiles delivered by rich moguls is an improvement. In the past, Pakistan has had its share of powerful leaders, and removing them has involved the grisly business of executions and assassinations, murders that have occurred with alarming regularity and remained shrouded in infinite mystery that will always elude solutions.
This new form of destruction aims for a political death and not a physical one and the easy proliferation of information and counter-information so that the only truth that remains is the one that insists that there is indeed no truth. While the stage was being set for the chief justice’s morality to be questioned, the commission convened to investigate the allegations Ijaz made against the former ambassador announced that they were truthful. No one was listening, the nation was already on to the next killing having learned long ago to expect nothing at all from commissions.
While the emergence of the moneyed mogul as moral executioner is better than eliminating political opponents by actually killing them, it has its own problems. In the current circus featuring Malik Riaz’s allegations, Arsalan Iftikhar’s gluttonous expenditures and the chief justice’s true capacity for providing or presiding over the provision of justice, it is not simply the truth that is absent but also the mechanics and frameworks provided by institutions.
Allegations are presented on television, argued about by anchors and commentators whose own moral dubiousness is also in question and judged by the average Pakistani in breaks between loadshedding and CNG strikes.
It is perhaps precisely for these reasons that the new moral hero in the country, the man who can lift a finger and merely point it at others to invoke their demise, is not an inventor, or a public servant or a doctor or social reformer but just an extremely wealthy man.
Money then suggests that nothing is wanted and hence an objectivity, a superiority that renders a person above the fray. Tremendously wealthy men, because they already have so much of what many others may crave, have been determined by Pakistanis, the media and others alike, to be worth listening to.
Their words are imbued with the authority that everyone else by virtue of their lesser wealth simply cannot have. Mansoor Ijaz can tell the truth because he already has his mansion in Monaco; Malik Riaz can ‘expose’ powerful individuals because his wealth ensures that he is himself above the pettiness of needing justice to protect himself
This resurrected age of the magnate as Pakistan’s morality police is one in which wealth has been solidly replaced the truth in a country sick of craving for it, where money and those who have it can insist that it is their judgments and their accusations that will determine the survival of others.
The great moguls, have arrived, ready to depose and expose, not because they are themselves better, truer or more virtuous than those they take down, but because they are simply, deliciously and unquestionably something that everyone in Pakistan wants to be … a rich man.
The writer is an attorney teaching political philosophy and constitutional law.