THE Supreme Court has wrapped up the suo motu case concerning Malik Riaz’s involvement with Arsalan Iftikhar perhaps sooner than most expected, ordering that investigating agencies and trial courts take up the matter of wrongdoing on the part of the two men. This is in line with legal procedure, but the important thing now is that the case be pursued with the commitment it calls for. Mr Riaz is an influential man, and the process of digging into his actions could well be held up by fear or favour on the part of those who have to investigate him. Already there is resistance from the National Accountability Bureau, for example. But a bold inquiry is critical in a case that reveals just how brazen corruption in Pakistan can get. And the documentary evidence Mr Riaz provided relates only to a negligible portion of the over Rs340m allegedly exchanged. Much needs to be looked into, but what is plain is that both men are guilty of wrongdoing and need to be held responsible.
When it comes to the impact of the case on the judiciary, however, the short order, issued after just three hearings on a critical issue that has gripped the country, is less satisfying. It declares that the matter of the independence of the judiciary has been settled, an argument based on Mr Riaz’s statement to the court that he received no special treatment from the SC despite paying Dr Iftikhar for it. The unfortunate fact is, though, that the businessman has also made a series of statements outside court. His and others’ allegations about multiple meetings between him and the chief justice, at least some in Dr Iftikhar’s presence, have left lingering questions. Then there are the reports of the chief justice having knowledge of his son’s involvement with Mr Riaz before the matter surfaced in the media and suo motu notice was taken in response. The short order has reiterated confidence in the judiciary’s independence despite these doubts. And there is no evidence of Mr Riaz being favoured by the SC. But questions about the chief justice’s role remain, and a transparent process that revealed the answers was required. The suo motu case has not done so.
Yesterday’s full court meeting also focused on the media’s role and took a defensive posture against outside attempts to malign the judiciary. But the country needs to rest assured that the highest court in the land is fiercely independent and resistant to corruption. To satisfy the nation in a matter of serious public concern, a deeper look inward was required.