This article was published in Dawn on July 13, 2019 and is available at the following link
The release of an explosive video which shows possible evidence of a wrongful conviction of jailed ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif by an accountability judge, Arshad Malik, has upped the ante in the ongoing battle between Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) government of Imran Khan. The video, was released by Sharif’s daughter, Maryam Nawaz, in the presence of the entire PML-N leadership.
It was Judge Malik, who sentenced Sharif to seven years’ imprisonment seven months ago in what is commonly referred to as the Al Azizia Steel Mill Case. The decision to release the video and then face its ramifications indicates that after almost a year of indecisiveness, the PML-N has decided to fight back after all.
The current state of PMLN is in stark contrast to just two years ago when Sharif ruled as Prime Minister of the country and the largest Province, Punjab, was firmly under the saddle of his younger brother Shehbaz Sharif. Balochistan was ruled by a coalition led by PML-N and all major public opinion polls were predicting the re-election of PML-N. The tide turned in the summer of 2018, about a month before the general election. The guilty verdicts of the accountability courts sealed the fate of Sharif and PML-N and wreaked havoc with their public following and image. A second guilty verdict of the accountability court which carried a seven year prison sentence was delivered by the judge in the released video, Judge Malik, and it sent Sharif to Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat prison.
The decision to release the video and then face its ramifications indicates that after almost a year of indecisiveness, the PML-N has decided to fight back after all
Ahmed Bilal Mehboob
It is against this background that raising questions about the integrity and credibility of Judge Malik makes perfect sense for the PML-N. If the much publicized video proves to be genuine and its content goes on to establish that the verdict was indeed influenced by some kind of pressure or temptation, then, many legal experts believe, it may be difficult to maintain the judgment.
Legal experts cite previous cases especially one involving Justice Malik Qayum, now retired, of the Lahore High Court, a conversation of whose was recorded, wherein he promised to tailor his verdict against late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto according to the government’s wishes. The audio recording, which was made public, played a major role in quashing the verdict against Bhutto, although the Supreme Court judgment did not directly attribute its conclusion to the recorded conversation.
Using audio-video material to trap judges is not a new phenomenon in Pakistan. Back in 2007, when a Supreme Court bench was hearing the petition of Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Iftikhar Chaudhry against his removal by then President General Pervez Musharraf, scandalous photographs implicating some of the judges (including the CJP) were included in the reference filed by Musharraf.
This created quite a flurry of panic. The Supreme Court and the homes of all judges were swept for bugging devices and the practicing license of the advocate on record who had filed the reference on behalf of Musharraf was suspended. Around the same time, unseemly video recordings of some judges and their family members surfaced in the media and it was reported that the recordings were made by certain agencies with the intention of blackmailing judges into getting desired verdicts.
Whether the video recording released by Maryam Nawaz is capable of making the impact she desires and whether it ultimately leads to the annulment of the verdict given by Judge Malik remains to be seen, but a series of high-level meetings indicate that Pakistan’s top judiciary is certainly considering its options and a very public conversation has begun, at least initially, to the benefit of Maryam Nawaz and her party.
However, final decisions and the credibility of the judiciary will depend on how much pressure it can take while it handles this very complicated, and very hot potato.