Another damaging leak

Published November 25, 2021

THE system cannot bear much more without sustaining irreparable damage to its prestige and credibility. That is why its custodians must move urgently to uncover the facts and act on the findings.

With yet another leaked audio clip featuring retired Supreme Court chief justice Saqib Nisar having surfaced, the political point-scoring was inevitable. Consider the stakes involved. On the one hand is the conviction of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter by an accountability court only days before the 2018 election and on the other, nothing less than the PTI government’s very legitimacy.

The audio clip is of a purported conversation between Mr Nisar and an unidentified individual in which the former can be heard saying “institutions … dictate judgements” and that “we will have to punish” Mr Sharif in order for Imran Khan to be brought to power. It is explosive stuff if true, especially coming on the heels of the apparently incriminating affidavit by Rana Shamim, former chief judge of the Supreme Appellate Court of Gilgit-Baltistan. In the document, Mr Shamim alleged that Mr Nisar had spoken to an IHC judge asking him to deny bail to Mr Sharif and Maryam Nawaz until the election was over.

Twice in as many weeks, the retired chief justice has issued rebuttals, and said the audio clip was “fabricated”. Both the PTI government and the PML-N appear to want to get to the ‘truth’, though they are of course approaching it from very different perspectives.

FactFocus, the website that broke the story, had the audio clip forensically analysed by a well-known US-based firm prior to publication, and quotes its report as saying that “this recording has not been edited in any way”. The firm itself, while acknowledging that it did “perform work” for the website and not denying the latter’s claims on its behalf, has refused to divulge any details citing a confidentiality clause with the client.

In the interest of transparency, FactFocus should allow the full report to be released, particularly as a section of the Pakistani media has done a persuasive job of demonstrating how the audio clip could have been strung together using snippets from Mr Nisar’s various speeches.

In all this murkiness, what is clear is that the superior judiciary cannot remain on the fence in this saga. There has for too long been a steady drip-drip of corrosive stories — some reported, others whispered behind closed doors — about outside influence in the halls of justice. The rumblings of discontent within the legal fraternity over the issue came to the fore at the Asma Jehangir Conference over the weekend. IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah on the occasion rightly observed: “The judicial organ cannot afford to bury its head in the sand and ignore its mistakes.” Indeed, for its own sake it must seek to shine a light on what has transpired of late.

Published in Dawn, November 25th, 2021

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