Two cases before Pakistan’s Supreme Court underscore the state of affairs in the country. One relates to garden variety allegations of bribery and corruption in high places, which may or may not be true, while the other involves much deeper intrigue and skullduggery over a feared coup and a top diplomat trying to avert it, which also may or may not be true.
The cases are symptomatic of the more fundamental malaise that seems to have gripped Pakistan for a long time, that of a society that has never really managed to fully strike social, political and cultural equilibrium throughout over six decades of its existence.
The bribery and corruption case, which like all such cases began as whispers, reportedly involves Arsalan Mohammad Chaudhry, son of Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, the Chief Justice of Pakistan. Riaz Malik, one of Pakistan’s leading business tycoons, is supposed to have documents showing that between 2010 and 2012 Arsalan was a beneficiary of Malik’s hospitality to the tune of 350 million Pakistani rupees (about $3.7 million). The implication is that Arsalan’s luxurious foreign travels and other favors were allegedly payoff in return for influencing the outcome of criminal cases pending against Malik and his businesses before the Supreme Court.
Arsalan has strongly denied the allegations while Malik has forcefully asserted their authenticity. In a curious turn that probably befits the state of affairs the chief justice, who ought to recuse himself for obvious conflict of interest, has instead chosen to head a three-member bench to deal with this case whose note he took suo moto or of its own motion. The chief justice is said to have quoted the Quran to say that a father is not responsible for his children’s sins. Also at the heart of the debate is whether the sins of the son should be visited on the father.
So that is one of the two cases.
The other is far more serious in that it reflects on Pakistan’s entire political and military leadership. It is has its origin in the dramatic night raid by US Navy Seal Team 6 on Abbottabad in May last year that killed Osama bin Laden. As the realization grew about how flagrantly it violated Pakistan’s fundamental sovereignty, many, including Ambassador Haqqani, were said to have feared a military coup in the aftermath. In order to preempt it, according to the allegations made by Pakistani American businessman Mansoor Ijaz, Haqqani drafted a memo that he wanted the former to deliver to Admiral Mike Mullen, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time.
The alleged plan was to seek the Obama administration’s help to avert the military takeover in return to make Pakistan’s military more receptive to American priorities.
The word treason was quickly used to describe Haqqani’s action, something he has strenuously denied. A lot rides on Haqqani’s BlackBerry, which according to Ijaz, contains vital evidence. Naturally, the BlackBerry in question has not been produced yet.
It is perhaps no coincidence that the Haqqani memo case is also being overseen by a bench headed by Chief Justice Chaudhry. What this means is that the man who would determine whether his son took bribes to influence the Supreme Court is also the man who would decide whether Haqqani is guilty and his action indeed treasonous.
A judicial commission appointed to investigate the memo has concluded that it was real and was written by Haqqani. According to the IANS wire, in two tweets after the finding was announced the former ambassador said, "Those who endorsed military dictators & allowed them 2 amend constitution cannot judge my – or anyone else’s – patriotism” and "Patriotism cannot be judged by those who bend over backwards 4 a foreign accuser but dont even hear Pakistani citizen’s version."
The good thing about Pakistan is that reality is so obviously sordid that one does not have to adorn it at all.