The Arsalan affair

supreme court of pakistan

Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry’s son, Dr Arsalan Iftikhar, has in a statement submitted in the Supreme Court (SC), strongly refuted any relationship, intimacy or acquaintance with real estate tycoon Malik Riaz, his daughter or son-in-law.

The statement is a rebuttal of the allegations by Malik Riaz leaked to the media, that Arsalan had received Rs 400 million from him to influence the cases Malik Riaz faces in the SC, along with other benefits such as travel, accommodation abroad, shopping, etc. Dismissing the allegations as “baseless, frivolous and unfounded”, Arsalan argues that no “cogent and logical evidence” has been submitted to substantiate the accusations, and even the media persons who have been fanning the story admit they have no proof of the matter and therefore their statements should be dismissed as hearsay.

If and when any cogent and admissible evidence is presented against him, Arsalan said he would furnish a comprehensive reply. Arsalan has prayed to the court to deal strictly with Malik Riaz according to the law for besmirching his name and dragging him into court. Arsalan stressed that whenever he had travelled abroad, it was always at his own expense.While the two-member bench hearing the case will no doubt take account of Arsalan’s refutation of the charges against him, it will have to wait until the ‘ailing’ Malik Riaz returns to the country and deposes, as he has promised, before the court. Strictly speaking, while the charge of besmirching Arsalan’s repute has weight, it cannot be said that it is Malik Riaz who has dragged Arsalan into court.

It was the suo motu notice of the spreading scandal by none other than his father, the honourable CJP, that brought the affair into the legal domain. Initially the CJP seemed inclined to head the bench, attempting justifications by recourse to Islamic history examples, but then it seemed that better sense had prevailed and the CJP appropriately recused himself from the bench.

Meanwhile Malik Riaz’s plea to constitute a larger bench to hear the case of immense importance with national level implications has been turned down by the CJP in his order of June 7. Other parties have by now also jumped into the fray. Barrister Zafarullah Khan of the Watan Party has petitioned the SC to issue a red warrant against Malik Riaz in order to bring him back to the country and present him before the court. That petition is still pending, but Malik Riaz’s counsel has stated that the ill Malik Riaz will return soon and depose before the SC.

Musharraf’s All Pakistan Muslim League General Secretary Barrister Muhammad Ali Saif wants a commission (‘tis the season for commissions methinks) to be formed with former judges and heads of investigation agencies to probe the allegations against Arsalan. He thinks a probe by the SC would not be within the parameters of justice, implying a lack of confidence in the impartiality of his brother judges in a case involving the CJP’s son. The Pakistan Bar Council has similar views, arguing for the SC to distance itself from the case and hand it over to any investigation agency.

These objections and reservations on the matter being dealt with by the SC constitute a vote of no confidence in the impartiality of the SC bench in such a sensitive matter having ramifications for the CJP himself. Whether these reservations are valid or not, and without imputing any partiality to the honourable judges of the bench hearing the case, the argument that since the case involves the CJP’s son, it may be considered too close to the SC for it to be appropriate for the SC itself to conduct investigations and hearings into it, is not without merit.

While there are two opinions about the appropriateness of the CJP’s swift response through a suo motu notice of the Arsalan affair, since the matter is sub judice, it would not be in the fitness of things to say more than plead for a thorough, impartial, fair probe. This is critical for the reputation of the CJP, the SC, the entire superior judiciary, and indeed, for the country as a whole.