International Boulevard

Iftikhar Chaudhry isn’t Sweet. He Like, Ruined My Life!

A 15-page mortar shell from Pakistan’s Supreme Court was just lobbed at the press: a list of every journalist in Pakistan paid off by the Ministry of Information. But as The Friday Times‘ Fayes Kantwala points out, no one knows anything about the list’s provenance or reliability: were payoffs fabricated to smear certain journalists?

Towards the end of the last century, when the Backstreet Boys were relevant and Chechnya was the new Rwanda, there was a collective pop culture obsession with American high school teen movies. A new one was coming out every week: teens getting killed; teens getting laid and then killed; teens trying to get laid, failing and then killing other better-looking teens out of coital envy or frustration; teens laying deeply intricate plans to end the reputations of those who got laid more often, and so on. One of the enduring legacies left to our generation of nomads from those awful movies was the universal concept of The Burn Book.

The Burn Book was like a communal bible of rumors, the idea being that people would anonymously write nasty things about someone else (teachers, students, principals) to vent their anger, and soon one had an entire collection of little facts and figures that, once made public, became irrefutable truths. This was a much bigger phenomenon at all-girl schools, obviously. For some reason the boys didn’t give bitchy looks and knowing glances of a reputation squandered so much as beat everyone up.

Proving once again that living in Pakistan is like surviving a never-ending high-school catastrophe, the Supreme Court released its own Burn Book recently. A few weeks ago a bunch of journalists asked the court to stop the (alleged) practice of government funds being used to pay journalists, something the previous [Pakistan People’s Party] government was apparently apt to do. Ever the knights in unshining armor, the men at the SC rose to the occasion like social climbers at a debutant ball and posted a long list of names on their website. The document, a scanned excel spreadsheet of about 15 pages, gives names and affiliations followed by how much was dispensed from the abstract-and-very-CIA/Mi6-sounding Ministry of Information fund.


This is the first time such a list has been made public, and not since 1996 when a roster of British spies working abroad was mistakenly released to the world has Pakistan been so captivated by a list of names. (My former school principal’s brother was on that list, which made sixth grade seem James Bond-ish in retrospect). There was a great deal of anticipation online in the days before this list was made public. Who would be on it? Who wouldn’t? How many? How much? What details are they going to release? Was Cirque du Soleil hired for some big shot’s son’s wedding? Did someone’s daughter get an unexpected tiara? I was dying to know. I think secretly everyone wanted to be on that list, if only to be able to put on their dark glasses Jackie-O style as they came out of the courtroom. (“I’m so cool everyone is trying to sabotage me…”) How does one get in, I wondered? Can I apply to be on the list or is this an illuminati, invite-only kind of club? Seriously, that list is mad street cred and I was dying to be on it.

Many journalists named in the list claim that details on the Burn List have been fabricated to obliterate their credibility. To a certain degree, that’s true, despite the fact that that’s exactly what you would say were you on the list (which I am not. *tear*).

There is something fishy about the brazen, suspiciously no-holds-barred manner in which it was released. It’s not like the list was leaked to the press or anything. It was put up on the Supreme Court’s website, which to me suggests that it was thoroughly vetted, right? Turns out no, which leaves me rather embarrassed for the SC. I mean, c’mon, how could you, the highest court in the land, release something that hasn’t been tried or entered as evidence or is even, apparently, entirely factual? Judges, girls, you tripping.

Read the list and immediately see that big nuggets have been buried in a barrage of useless info (Rs 65,000 [$650]for journalists’ widows, Rs 5,000[$50] for a plane ticket) that does not, hopefully, constitute large-scale corruption. And if it does, you ain’t looking in the right places. Vastly more interesting is the ominously vague entry right on the last two pages of Rs 2 million [$20,000] to the SC “media commission”, or the amounts that were paid quarterly to the President of the IRS. (Institute of Regional Studies. Yeah, I didn’t know it existed either.)

Maybe the Supreme Court will explain parts of the list, having become so intimately involved with its disclosure. I doubt it, though, seeing how much fun they’re having with the macabre mouth-watering scenario that is Musharraf’s fate. Have you seen someone so screwed? I haven’t. He’s now been arrested on changes for murdering Benazir Bhutto (the truth of that murder will only come out when everyone responsible is dead), and one is repeatedly left asking: what did you think would happen, Mush? You’d come back to an altar of roses and be prom queen?

Fayes T Kantawala

TAGS: Journalists Ministry of Information List Pakistan Supreme Court

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