On March 21st, just two days before Pakistan Day, The Supreme Court (SC) is expected to rubber stamp perhaps the greatest series of crimes ever committed in Pakistan by a single organisation. Although nothing is confirmed, property dealers and investors are rejoicing that Bahria Town and The SC have supposedly reached a settlement. One of Bahria’s lawyers also confirmed off the record that the rumours are true, an agreement has indeed been made. The State has been chasing Malik Riaz in an endless game of cat-and-mouse since his rise from an improvised contractor to an untouchable oligarch. Every year, Malik Riaz or his company is accused, often with irrefutable evidence, of crimes ranging from bribery, intimidation, land grabbing, and tax evasion to even murder. A state organ, usually NAB, takes up the matter but always to no end. The case’s inevitable burial is temporarily resuscitated with the hues-and-cries of a few maverick news-anchors and journalists. Coincidently the same channel that was running exposés on Malik Riaz is suddenly flushed with Bahria Town commercials. That usually signals the end of that. However, since 2018 Bahria Town and its management has been under immense legal scrutiny. A supercharged judiciary led by former CJP Saqib Nisar spearheaded multiple cases against the company. The current CJP, Asif Saeed Khosa has been described by some in the legal fraternity as a ‘submarine; quiet and full of torpedoes’. With Imran Khan at the helm of affairs it seemed the shade Mr Riaz enjoyed from the top brass has finally diminished. If Mr Riaz’s latest settlement offer of Rs 485 billion is accepted, then he walks away scot-free with a clean slate. Proving once again, that he is above the law If there ever was a team that could hold the Bahria behemoth accountable this was it. It looked as though finally the ruthless evictions of Malir residents, the brazen land encroachments and the corruption on all levels would finally be exposed and penalised. Unfortunately if the speculation is true, everything will be forgiven. All for ’30 pieces of silver.’ If Mr Riaz’s latest settlement offer of Rs 485 billion is accepted, then he walks away scot-free with a clean slate. Proving once again, that he is above the law. There will be no jail time. There will be no penalty or fine. There will be no investigation into Mr Riaz’s own confessions of bribing public officials, which he often forgets is a crime under the Pakistan Penal Code. Essentially Malik Riaz will just pay, in instalments, for what he is accused of stealing. That is the extent of punishment for the sum of his crimes. Ironically, it’s not even Rs 485 billion. According to the fine print, Mr Riaz will only pay Rs 20 billion as a down-payment and the remaining balance will be adjusted into a payment plan spanning years. A similar situation arose when Mr Riaz was made to refund a controversial payment of Rs 62 billion earned from the now defunct DHA Valley joint venture. In principle an amount was agreed, but how much was actually refunded remains unconfirmed. In 2010, Pakistan was hit with a series of devastating floods. Mr Riaz responded by publicly pledging to spend 75 percent of his total wealth to rebuild affected areas. To what extent that pledge was honoured also remains a mystery. History warns that Malik Riaz’s promises should be taken with a pinch of salt. Furthermore, Rs 485 billion is not a significant amount from a national perspective. It’s a month and a half of the government’s budget. It is barely four percent of the national debt. There is no guarantee the settlement will fund the Diamer-Badsha Dam, but even if it were to it would only be enough to cover one-third of the total cost. Of course that is assuming the settlement is paid in one lump-some amount, which it won’t be. On March 23, our forefathers laid the foundation for Pakistan. Jinnah gave an incredible speech that ended with “unless you get this into your blood, unless you are prepared to take off your coats and are willing to sacrifice all that you can and work selflessly, earnestly, and sincerely for your people, you will never realise your aim.” One can only hope that the SC takes this opportunity to rekindle the nation’s faith in the justice system. One can only hope that justice is served with wisdom and valour and not on a platter, like Mr Riaz’s supper. Otherwise a dangerous precedent will be set. This settlement will confirm what Mr Riaz has long claimed; that everything in Pakistan is for the taking assuming you can afford it. That the fine line between business and criminality is perception. That justice is not blind, bribery is a necessity, and all is fair in love, war and real-estate. But most of all, that the ideological aspirations of our forefathers and their dream of a ‘pure land’ is officially dead. The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Published in Daily Times, March 19th 2019.