August Issue 2019
On the Wrong Footage
Reports from the Punjab Science Forensic Laboratory confirm that the video featuring accountability court judge, Arshad Malik, released by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Vice President, Maryam Nawaz, is authentic. Maryam had publicised the video at a press conference on July 6, underlining how the judge had confessed to being “pressurised and blackmailed” to convict her father, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, in in the Al-Azizia reference case. Nawaz Sharif has been awarded a seven-year sentence, which he has been serving at Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat Jail, since December.
The video prompted the judge to issue a press release the day after Maryam’s presser, maintaining that the video had been doctored and multiple conversations with PML-N supporter, Nasir Butt, were put together to form a narrative without any context. The press release was followed by Maryam tweeting two more videos, contradicting Arshad Malik’s claims.
As a result of the leak of Arshad’s videos, allegations that the military establishment has engineered the spree of cases against Nawaz, have resurfaced. Many note that there has been a history of blackmailing the judiciary into issuing verdicts as per the will of the military establishment.
A report published in the British newspaper, The Times, on November 11, 2007 titled ‘Judges ruling on general faced sex blackmail,’ underlined how the then judges of the Supreme Court, and their family members, were filmed in compromising positions in a bid to influence that year’s verdict over the eligibility of General (R) Pervez Musharraf’s presidential rule.
Video and audio leaks have long dogged the judiciary in Pakistan, with many cases having surfaced over the decades showcasing how the independence of the institution has been compromised by both the military rulers and the civilian governments at a specific time.
Two prominent cases from the year 1998, feature a former attorney general of Pakistan, Justice (R) Malik Muhammad Qayyum, as the then chief justice of the Lahore High Court. The first was a leaked audio tape of his conversation with Shehbaz Sharif, then the chief minister of Punjab, asking him to “take care” of then PML-N MNA, Chaudhry Sarwar, in a disqualification case.
The second prominent leak featured Justice Qayyum and his conversation with PML-N leader, Saif-ur-Rehman, the then right-hand man of Nawaz. The leaked tape revealed a conversation over the prison tenure of Asif Ali Zardari – then under arrest over corruption charges – with the judge asking Rehman what its duration should be.
The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has long accused the PML-N of using officials, judges and institutions against their opponents. In 2010, the PPP released 42 pages of telephonic conversations involving the PML-N leadership and their efforts to influence verdicts against the PPP leaders. A transcript of the PML-N leaders’ conversations with Justice Qayyum was also published in the February 4, 2001 edition of The Sunday Times.
Another prominent case involving the PML-N came to the fore in 2016, when the audio of the meeting between then army chief General (R) Raheel Sharif and then prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, was leaked. The meeting had come on the heels of the Panama Leaks, which eventually resulted in the disqualification of Nawaz the following year. Where the usual protocol dictates that the audio accompanying the video footage of the PM’s meeting with the army chief be muted, a few seconds were leaked, in which Nawaz could be heard saying that the “date has been set.” Many alleged that the date in question was regarding the Panama Leaks hearing and that the army chief was pushing the premier to resolve the issue at the earliest.
Despite the omnipotence of the military establishment, the all-powerful institution has occasionally been at the receiving end of such leaks as well. Video leaks of Musharraf portray him seeking covert support from the US House of Representatives to bring him back to power, after he had been ousted in 2008. Some of Musharraf’s videos have been released in Mohammad Ali Naqvi’s documentary, Inshallah Democracy.
In the recent past, two leaders of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) have also been engulfed by controversies emanating from audio and video leaks. Last year, Punjab Law Minister Raja Basharat’s telephonic conversation was leaked, in which he is heard threatening Benazir Bhutto Shaheed Hospital’s MS, Dr Mehmood Khan Niazi with “dire consequences,” over the transfer of a lady doctor.
In 2016, the video of former PTI leader, Abdul Qavi, with social media star and model, Qandeel Baloch, surfaced days before she was murdered. Baloch’s brother cited the video – in which she can be seen in a hotel room with the cleric – as one of the mains reasons for killing her. Qavi, who was removed from the PTI and the Ruet-e-Hilal committee after the video leak, was also named in Baloch’s murder case, before being released on bail.
While leaked tapes have impacted politics around the world, the growing concern in Pakistan is whether blackmail is being used as a systematic tool to control institutions that influence the governance of the state.
Before Arshad Malik’s video was leaked, this particular question was doing the rounds in May, when a local TV channel aired a leaked video of the chairman of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Justice (R) Javed Iqbal, conversing inappropriately with a woman. While the channel retracted the video and apologised, many felt the move was designed to intimidate the NAB chairman into giving the desired verdict.
Certain quarters maintain that the PM had been unhappy with the NAB chairman in recent months, especially after Justice Iqbal had reiterated that the premier “does not enjoy immunity from proceedings” and the NAB’s interrogations in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), which has been under the PTI’s rule since 2013.