As skipper of Pakistan’s cricket team, Imran Khan had the reputation of being stubborn to a fault. He brooked no interference in his work, which made him unpopular with many.In his new job as Pakistan’s leader, Imran seems to have lost none of his reputed stubbornness. However, politics isn’t a gentlemen’s sport like cricket and the going in it is proving far more difficult and tougher for him than it was on any cricket pitch.
Cricket may have prompted rivalries for Imran, but politics and governance are earning him enmities and, to be fair, not entirely because his political adversaries are a callous lot. His stubbornness in waging his mission to rid Pakistan of corruption—with a crusading zeal—is also partly responsible for his plummeting popularity graph.
Whilst nabbing many a known, mega-corrupt politician in his web of accountability for their incredible loot of Pakistan, Imran seems to be unwittingly stepping on some toes that by no stretch of imagination share the same space with Pakistan’s notorious tormentors. He is, in plain language, casting his net in troubled waters that might sully his own reputation and tarnish his credentials as a crusading leader.
Pakistan is agog at the deliberate leakage of the news that a sitting judge of Pakistan’s apex court is under investigation for owning properties abroad beyond his known sources of income, and a reference has been filed against him before the country’s Supreme Judicial Council.
But Justice Qazi Faez Isa—in line to become the next Chief Justice of Pakistan—is no rogue politician or corrupt bureaucrat. By all accounts he has impeccable credentials and earned his laurels as the Chief Justice of Baluchistan, the province that has been a tinder box of discontent for the past so many years. Justice Isa had piloted the troubled province’s justice system with great dexterity and aplomb for five years until his elevation to the apex court.
Besides, the impugned judge is no pushover. He’s a man of noble pedigree. His father, Qazi Muhammad Esa, was a right-hand man and trusted lieutenant of Muhammad Ali Jinnah and has, thus, his place in the pantheon of Pakistan’s founding fathers.
The so-called accountability reference against him alleges that he owns three properties in London. But as Isa has explained in an eight-page letter to the President of Pakistan—which he also released to the media—the properties belonged to his children, settled and working in UK, and were bought by their mother—Isa’s wife—who comes from one of the wealthiest families of Pakistan.
It seems, however, that Imran Khan has been cast in the role of a front man and skipper of what Justice Isa has bemoaned in his letter as ‘a media trial’ for his ‘character assassination.’
The media-hyped case carries all the footprints of Pakistan’s much-talked-about and reviled ‘Establishment,’ a.k.a. the notorious ‘deep state.’
The genesis of this extraordinary episode, where a sitting judge of the top court is in the dock—only the second of its kind in Pakistan’s judicial history—can be traced to a historic judgment handed down by Justice Isa in February this year, in a case pertaining to the rowdy ‘siege’ of Islamabad back in November 2017.The culprits of that siege or sit-in (gherao, in popular parlance) which had paralysed the capital city for more than a week were tens of thousands of rabid and rowdy camp followers of an ultra-right religious faction that styled itself as Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan.
But the most intriguing part of that grisly episode was when army officers, in uniform, were caught on camera doling out cash to the vandals besieging Islamabad and egging them on to carry on their dirty game. It was, to say the least, a bizarre spectacle.In his verdict, Justice Isa minced no words in condemning that explicit endorsement of acts of vandalism by factotums of the ‘deep state.’ He ordered the chiefs of the army, navy and air force to take disciplinary action against those complicit in lawless activities.
It’s obvious that the ‘deep state’ is seeking to make a horrible example of a judge as astute and candid as Justice Isa; not for the first time, though, in Pakistan’s history.
This latest act of undisguised brinkmanship to malign the judiciary harks back to the grisly episode of 2007, when the then military autocrat—a power-besotted General Parvez Musharraf—had tried to bring to heel Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.
Musharraf’s bluff was called when the legal community rose as one against that brazen abuse of power. Musharraf tried to muzzle the voices of discontent and protest by declaring an ‘emergency’ in the country. But that backfired on him, too, and within months he was driven out of power as a pariah.
This time, too, the Supreme Court Bar Council is leaving none in doubt that it will resist this assault on its citadel with full force, including, if necessary, street power. Imran could be in serious danger of burning his fingers in his unsuspecting attempt to pull someone else’s chestnuts out of the fire. Imran may have a sticky wicket to contend with.