A view from outside Pakistan's Supreme Court building in Islamabad. Photo: AFP / Aamir Queshi
A view from outside Pakistan's Supreme Court building in Islamabad. Photo: AFP / Aamir Queshi

A man is always defined by the struggle he makes when he is put to testing times. The bravery of Supreme Court of Pakistan Justice Qazi Faez Isa and his wife Serena Isa has proved this fact.

Qazi Faez Isa, since authoring the famous Faizabad sit-in verdict in 2019, has been facing the wrath of the powers that be. A presidential reference against him by the hybrid regime of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) forced Isa and his wife to face unjust inquiries about the means of their wealth.

For any common judge, it would not have been possible to withstand the pressure of the visible and invisible authorities, but Isa has proved his mettle against the odds.

On Monday, the Supreme Court of Pakistan accepted Isa’s review petition against the verdict of the presidential reference. Isa’s review petition was accepted by six judges while four opposed it. The Court also declared the inquiry of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) against Isa and his wife null and void.

Now Isa will have the opportunity to question his detractors through his review petition. This also means the end of the harassment of his wife through the FBR inquiries.

In Pakistan, governments and invisible forces have typically employed a formula of victimizing dissenting judges and politicians by making them subject to inquiries over assets allegedly beyond their means. Many politicians and civil servants prefer not to challenge the status quo, fearing the wrath of the government or the powerful quarters.

Isa, however, belongs to a different breed – he made it clear from Day 1 that he would never surrender and would take his detractors down.

The Supreme Court last June already dismissed the presidential reference against Justice Isa. However, it authorized the FBR to probe the matter and compile a report of its findings after investigating Isa’s wife Serena and her financial dealings.

The government cleverly changed the FBR chairman to get the desired result, and Serena Isa appeared in front of the board on numerous occasions. All her replies were challenged by the FBR, and it seemed that it already had made up its mind not to accept Serena Isa’s version.

This was the hardest of battle as Serena Isa, walking with a stick, appeared every now and then in front of FBR, but none of her replies were accepted. But not only Justice Isa but his wife as well showed nerves of steel, and Isa decided to challenge the proceedings by filing a review petition against the Supreme Court verdict of the presidential reference.

In a country that is run indirectly by the invisible forces and where everything from the government to the mainstream political parties is a hybrid entity, it is nothing short of a miracle that there are still judges like Isa who show resilience and challenge the status quo.

In fact, Isa surviving and gradually asserting himself is a development that is crucial for the future course of political discourse in Pakistan. The country currently is run by a hybrid regime and the invisible quarters have silenced nearly every dissenting politician and journalist.

We saw just a few days back how the famous journalist and ex-chairman of the Pakistan Electronic Media Authority (PEMRA), Absar Alam, was shot in front of his house. Absar, a critic of the military establishment, was lucky to survive the assassination attempt.

The mainstream parties also have been busy in back-door talks, while the surrender of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) at the hands of the establishment, the hypocritical approach of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) over the issue of expelling the French ambassador, and the failure of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) – everything has strengthened the hybrid regime.

Had the mainstream parties shown a little courage at the decisive juncture in March and gone ahead with the long march that had been planned in protest against the PTI regime, it would have been game over for Prime Minister Imran Khan and his backers. But the political parties failed to take the risk and granted a new lease on life to the hybrid regime.

So the only one left to defy the current hybrid regime was Justice Isa, and many thought he would be gone sooner or later. After all, his bold judgment in the Faizabad case and accusing the sacred cows of staging the sit-in of Tehreek-e-Labbaik was a decision that exposed the nexus of faith merchants and invisible forces.

So this was not about Isa only; it set a precedent. If Serena Isa were declared corrupt or her assets were linked with her husband, it would be over for him. Yet knowing the consequences, Isa still decided to fight, and he actually has defeated the invisible quarters.

Also a precedent has been set that if an honest judge decides to render fearless verdicts and withstands the pressure of his opponents, there is no power that can bring him down. It is to be hoped that the other judges of the higher judiciary will learn from Isa’s defiance and now will try to repair the image of the judiciary, which has been tainted by controversial political decisions and by aligning with the country’s dictators.

Had the hybrid regime been able to remove Isa or continue to harass her wife, the establishment’s alleged plan to install another government of its own choice in next year’s election would not have faced any substantial challenge.

However, now the situation is different, as not only have six of the judges of the Supreme Court rendered a verdict in favor of Isa, but in 2023 he is poised to become the chief justice. And we all know what a fearless chief justice can do to visible and invisible dictators.

Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, during his tenure as chief justice, played an instrumental role in the demise of General Pervez Musharraf from power. However, Chaudhry afterward became a controversial judge who probably thought that he was bigger than the entire judicial system.

The Memogate case, the sacking of the elected prime minister, and judicial activism are just a few examples of how Chaudhry undermined democratic and judicial principles. One hopes that Isa will not repeat Chaudhry’s mistakes and that his re-emergence as a fearless judge will strengthen the fragile judicial system.

However, the question is, what is the political elite doing and why does it not show defiance like Isa?

The PML-N under Maryam Nawaz has shown defiance, but otherwise the party consists mostly of pro-status-quo politicians. The same is the case with the PPP, which at any cost wants to remain in the good books of the powers that be.

If a man like Isa along with his wife can take a lonely stand against the unjust and exploitative political order, why can’s the mainstream political parties? After all, it is not the job of Isa or his wife to fight the atrocities of the hybrid regime. The mainstream political parties like the PML-N and PPP are supposed to resist the undemocratic forces, but that is not happening.

So the recent development is not only significant for the judiciary but will have an impact on the political horizon as well. What if former prime minister Nawaz Sharif files an appeal against his conviction in the Supreme Court when Isa becomes chief justice?

There is hardly any doubt that Isa will not surrender to the invisible forces and he for sure will give his verdict according to the constitution. This means the long route of resistance Isa has taken will create more problems for him in the future.

After all, those who engineered the political discourse to bring Imran Khan to power will not sit silent and watch their entire doctrine of ruling from behind collapse at the hands of Isa. But then judges like Isa probably know the price of taking the difficult route of dispensing justice without any dictation.

Whatever happens to Isa in the future, he for sure has written his name in the judicial history of the country through his fearless verdict and by showing great resilience against the invisible forces. And not to forget his wife Serena, who stands taller than the compromised political elite by not bowing down to pressure.

Imad Zafar is a journalist and columnist/commentator for newspapers. He is associated with TV channels, radio, newspapers, news agencies, and political, policy and media related think-tanks.