Dismissal of a judge
AN administrative committee of the Lahore High Court led by the chief justice has dismissed from service Judge Arshad Malik who was at the centre of a controversy regarding a leaked video. As judge of the accountability court, he had convicted former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in the Al Azizia steel mills case while acquitting him in the Flagship reference case. In July 2019, Maryam Nawaz Sharif had released a secretly recorded video in which Judge Malik was heard confessing that his judgement against the former prime minister was given under tremendous pressure. The PML-N maintained this confession proved that Mr Sharif’s convictions were mala fide and part of a conspiracy to bring about his downfall. PTI leaders had doubted the veracity of Mr Malik’s leaked video and blamed the PML-N for blackmailing him.
His dismissal from service by the Lahore High Court on Friday is of consequence both legally and politically. It is also open to interpretation. Both the PML-N and PTI have claimed this development as a vindication of their positions. While PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz Sharif tweeted saying Nawaz Sharif’s innocence had been proved as it was established that Mr Malik’s conduct was compromised, Barrister Shahzad Akbar of the Asset Recovery Unit said in his tweet that Maryam Nawaz was also culpable in leaking the video of the judge and could face punishment. The law will, however, take its own course. The PML-N legal team will need to decide how they want to factor in the dismissal of the judge in the Azizia steel mills case, keeping in mind the repercussions on Nawaz Sharif’s acquittal in the Flagship reference case. However, it is fairly clear that in terms of a political narrative, the PML-N will use this to reinforce its position that Mr Sharif’s ouster and convictions were part of a conspiracy to remove the PML-N from power and usher in the PTI. For its part, the PTI has already taken a position that Mr Malik was compromised by the PML-N itself. The logic may wear thin but in a polarised environment like ours logic can easily be sacrificed at the altar of political expediency.
Of greater concern, however, is the impact of this sordid episode on the overall judicial system. Already burdened with credibility issues, the Judge Arshad Malik affair will raise additional questions about how cases are handled under various pressures, and judgements likely compromised under duress. It may be a while till we find out who actually made Arshad Malik go rogue, but it is now increasingly becoming clear that elements inside the judicial system are vulnerable to influence from private parties and state agencies. It is obvious that Mr Malik has not been the only one manipulating justice to cater to various agendas. It is high time the superior judiciary took steps to stem the rot.
IT was yet another instance of a rail tragedy waiting to happen. The collision between a train and a passenger bus carrying Sikh pilgrims on an unmanned level crossing near Nankana Sahib, the birthplace of Guru Nanak, on Friday afternoon could have been averted and 22 precious lives saved if the railways had secured the crossing instead of leaving it unattended. The responsibility for the deadly accident lies squarely with the Pakistan Railways. It isn’t the first such accident nor will it be the last one unless the railway authorities accept responsibility for the unfortunate incident and start taking action to avoid similar happenings in future. The accident may have reminded many of a similar one a few months back when a train rammed into a passenger bus on another unmanned crossing in Rohri, resulting in the loss of 19 lives. Or of the one near Pattoki where two newly married couples were killed in May. Meanwhile, yet another accident took place on Saturday; at least two people were injured when the Shalimar Express, en route to Lahore from Karachi, collided with a cargo train. Accidents involving trains on railway crossings are quite frequent in Pakistan. Yet no effort is ever made by the railway authorities to properly secure them. Instead, after every accident we find railway officials shifting responsibility for securing these crossings to the provincial governments or blaming road users for being ‘too reckless’.
Pakistan has a long history of train accidents owing to years of lack of investment in railway infrastructure and the absence of minimum operational passenger safety standards. Pakistan Railways is not known for its passenger services and facilitation. But that is nothing when it comes to its appallingly bad safety record and deadly accidents. In recent years, the frequency of train accidents, because of derailment and engine failure, has been increasing. Last year is considered to have been the worst in the history of the railway because of a surge in the number of train accidents and lives lost. Most accidents are not reported by the media because these do not involve the loss of life and are now seen as routine. Surprisingly, the government has for the last two years focused on launching new train routes instead of investing in railway infrastructure and updating its operational safety guidelines. This would involve securing unmanned level crossings in order to prevent fatal accidents.
Uzair Baloch JIT
IN a rather dramatic development, senior members of the Sindh government announced on Friday that they would make the joint investigation team report of Lyari gang kingpin Uzair Baloch, the Baldia factory fire tragedy as well as former Fishermen Cooperative Society head Nisar Morai public. According to the officials, these documents would be uploaded on the Sindh home department’s website on Monday. The move has apparently been made to pre-empt a petition by Federal Minister Ali Zaidi, which he had filed in the Sindh High Court in 2017 before the PTI came to power, asking for these reports to be made public. According to the provincial government’s spokesman Murtaza Wahab, making the reports public would substantiate the PPP’s position that Baloch had nothing to do with the party’s senior leadership. However, Sindh-based PTI leaders have questioned the PPP’s intentions, and have alleged that the party may upload ‘doctored’ reports.
While all of this makes for great political theatre and the release of the JIT reports may well dominate the news cycle on Monday, key questions remain unanswered. For example, how was Baloch — who has been sentenced by a military court for espionage — whisked away by security forces in 2017? What prompted his equally mysterious reappearance earlier this year? And was his confession, which supposedly contained explosive details of his underhanded dealings, and friends in high places within Pakistan’s political parties, given voluntarily? Instead of using Baloch as a pawn to sling mud on each other, Sindh’s political players, especially the ruling PPP, need to ensure that his trials — he reportedly faces over 50 cases for a range of crimes — proceed without delay. In this way, the crimes he is accused of can be established in court. Indeed, the issue of a nexus between criminal elements and political parties is a very serious one, which is why the truth of the matter must be established in a court of law, instead of through media trials.
Published in DAWN, July 5, 2020