The first time I entered a courtroom was in 2002. I was there on a sales call hoping that a high court judge in Karachi would take the Rs100,000 loan that my employer Standard Chartered Bank had pre-approved him for due to his credit card record.
During recess he called me in his office where we had a brief but passionate discussion on cricket, politics, corruption and justice.
Reportedly 97% of voters had recently elected General Pervez Musharaf as Pakistan’s President for the next five years through nationwide referendum.
Like most people, I too had grievances with many politicians of the time. Now, under army rule, a lot of those who had not been driven away, or fled the country, were on trial.
“Why don’t we punish these guys?” I asked. “We as judges can only act upon evidence,” he replied. He explained how very often he knew that he was acquitting someone who was guilty.
But it was due to either weak or lack of evidence presented by prosecution that many offenders roamed free, and even held office. Most times he was powerless but tried very hard not cloud his judgment with bias, he admitted.
Like our politicians, my faith in our judiciary was also thin; I grew up believing that the entire system was rotten, and was up for sale to the highest bidder. However, this judge gave out a vibe of an honest man.
And while his bank statements indicated of his intact integrity, his dire need for a relatively small sum of money reaffirmed the high moral ground he appeared to be on.
Fast forward to 2010. In the middle of an on-going Test match at Lords, a red top British newspaper The News of the World released videos of a bookmaker Mazhar Majeed spot fixing the match in cahoots with some Pakistani players.
A video showed Mazhar predicting exact overs and deliveries when Mohammad Amir and Mohammed Asif were to bowl no-balls, under captain Salman Butt’s watch. It also appeared that Mazhar handed over a jacket with 10,000 Pounds to Wahab Riaz, who was accompanied by Umar Amin.
In another video released from the same sting operation, Mazhar also said that he had Kamran Akmal, Umar Akmal, Wahab Riaz and Imran Farhat in on his fixes.
The ill of fixing was not a new phenomenon in Pakistan cricket. Just like the politicians of the 90’s, many cricketers of the time were also tainted. The repute of the sport and the integrity of some of Pakistan’s biggest names was in tatters.
In the single bench court of Justice Qayyum in year 2000, it was all laid out. However, tampered audio recordings, credit card bills, unverifiable testimonies and fingers pointed in all directions constituted as frail evidence.
Eventually, bans were only handed out to Salim Malik (who was at the end of his career) and Ata-ur-Rehman (who had lost contention for selection). Mild sanctions and pocket change fines were levied on Pakistan’s biggest names including Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Inzamam ul Haq, Mushtaq Ahmed and Saeed Anwar.
Others like Ijaz Ahmed, Saqlain Mushtaq, Basit Ali and Zahid Fazal were acquitted due to lack of admissible evidence.
Should we celebrate those who escaped through inept tribunals? And continue to pelt stones at easy targets convicted by a judicial system more efficient than our own?
For all the fixing drama that had taken place over the years in Pakistan cricket, there were a few elements in the 2010 saga that distinguished itself from what had happened before.
Firstly, Pakistani players faced criminal charges in the United Kingdom, and not in the high court of Pakistan. There was also impeachable evidence against at least three players: Butt, Asif and Amir. And this time, the drama unfolded in front of public eye and under the scanners of social media.
Here, it is pertinent to introspect. Would the trio have been convicted and banned if the investigative foreign press and law enforcement had not decided their fate? Probably not!
Earlier in 2007, the same army General who had once sworn to get rid of corrupt politicians, signed the National Reconciliation Ordinance.
This granted a blanket amnesty to politicians, political workers and bureaucrats who were accused of corruption, embezzlement, money laundering, murder and terrorism between 1st January, 1986 and 12th October, 1999. An entire generation of serious offenders was given a clean slate to start their careers afresh.
Many in exile returned to resume office and a man who had been in and out of jail for over a decade on a long list of corruption charges (without a single conviction) became the first civilian president to serve a full constitutional term in the country’s history.
Should we then celebrate those who escaped through inept tribunals? And continue to pelt stones at easy targets, convicted by a judicial system more efficient than our own and crucify those who have already served their sentence?
On Amir’s return, Imran Khan said, “Criminals are running the country, so it is irrational that someone who has completed his sentence is opposed on his return.”
Amir has made a reasonably successful comeback to the national squad. And there is a growing belief that if Amir can play, why shouldn’t Mohammad Asif, or Salman Butt be allowed the same luxury? Why has Amir gotten preferential treatment from the PCB?
For one, their charge sheet was not the same, and neither was their punishment.
Amir pleaded guilty, while Asif and Butt challenged allegations till the court convicted them. They had seen their predecessors go scot free for crimes they might have viewed as far greater then their own. And perhaps that gave them heart and hope.
However, the Southwark Crown Court of England proceeded in a manner very different to the courts in Pakistan.
Majeed confessed to have paid Asif £65,000, Butt £10,000 and Amir £2,500.
The criminal court sentenced jail terms: Amir, six months; Asif, twelve months; and Butt, two years and six months.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) tribunal slapped bans as well: Butt, ten years; Asif, seven years; and Amir, five years.
Five years of Butt’s sentence and two years of Asif’s were to be “suspended on condition that he commits no further breach of the code and that he participates under the auspices of the Pakistan Cricket Board in a program of anti-corruption education.”
Thus one can understand the leniency that the PCB has shown towards Amir, and has tried to fast track his comeback from day one.
Public sympathy was also with Amir due to his age, his involvement in the crime and an honest attempt to plea-bargain his case from the start of court proceedings.
I confess, in the light of the above, and multiple other reasons, I too always held a soft corner for Amir.
I was a massive fan of Asif the bowler, but given his dirty laundry and lack of remorse, I was never keen on him returning to national colours.
And Butt, well, lets just say he was the last person I wanted to see wearing a Pakistani jersey again.
I was judging the three of them, and soon found myself arguing their cases with family and friends.
This feeling took me back to the High Court justice who had told me how difficult his job was. That one of the most daunting tasks in life was not to cloud your judgment with bias. It became more vital if you were in a position to punish or pardon, he had said.
Punishment is a process designed to deter others committing the same crime. It puts you through retribution and gives you time to rehabilitate and reform yourself.
Once you have ticked the boxes, you are expected to return and assimilate into society.
The role of your family and friends, your peers and colleges, and society at large is to embrace you with open arms, and help you blend into the community without discriminating and dwelling into your past.
Salman Butt has hit a purple patch on his domestic return, and his twin hundreds in the final of the Quaid-e-Azam trophy makes his case even stronger.
For now though, Azhar Ali and Sami Aslam have been given the nod, with Sharjeel Khan as back up. Mohammad Hafeez, Khalid Latif and Ahmed Shehzad also wait in line.
Mohammad Asif is 34 years old, and might not have the legs that Pakistan cricket could invest in for long-term returns. But the magic is in his wrists, not his legs. And all it takes is one spell from the genius for you to rekindle thoughts of him bowling on a green top, with a green badge on his chest.
Others like Mohammad Talha and Ehsan Adil wait in the wings for national duty, while all-rounders Bilawal Bhatti and Sohail Tanweer also stake claim for the shorter formats.
But it is the comeback of Juanid Khan from injury that the selectors could look towards to energise Pakistan’s fast bowling battery.
If the PCB has allowed Asif and Butt to come back into the fray, they must do so without any prejudice. Decisions of the selection committee must be based on cricketing reasons and not influenced by former disposition.
May justice be served!
Do you think Asif and Butt should be given a second chance? Are you a cricketing enthusiast, player, or trainer? Tell us your story at firstname.lastname@example.org