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Profile: The CJP who refused to bow to a dictator

Updated November 10, 2016

LONG before the March 9, 2007 removal of Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry as the chief justice of Pakistan, military dictator Pervez Musharraf had not only dismissed another head of the apex court but also put him under house arrest. While the two actions were quite similar in nature, the sole reason the dictator sent packing then CJP Saeed-uz-Zaman Siddiqui over 16 years ago was his refusal to take the oath under his Provisional Constitution Order (PCO).

But unlike Mr Chaudhry, Mr Siddiqui never earned the same fame or even support from both the bar and the bench, and majority of people in the country did not even become aware of the fact that he stood by his principles and did not bow to the military’s wishes.

Although he never joined any political party, he has always been viewed as a “man of Nawaz Sharif” because of his controversial role in what many regard as a revolt against former CJP Sajjad Ali Shah, who was then creating a lot of trouble for the prime minister, and his subsequent removal as the chief justice on the basis of rules of seniority in 1997. Mr Siddiqui has always defended his position; he says the decision that Mr Shah’s appointment was not in accordance with the Constitution was made by a 10-judge bench and not him alone.

Mr Siddiqui became the CJP in July 1999 — less than three months before Gen Musharraf toppled the then Nawaz Sharif-led government in a bloodless coup on Oct 12, 1999. When the general held the Constitution in abeyance and issued the PCO two days after the takeover, CJP Siddiqui and other judges of the superior judiciary were not asked to take their oath afresh.

However, the situation changed as soon as the famous Zafar Ali Shah case was filed in the apex court and Gen Musharraf feared that CJP Siddiqui might decide the case against him because of his perceived leaning towards deposed PM Nawaz Sharif. He asked the judges of the superior judiciary to take the oath under the PCO. Mr Siddiqui refused and was put under house arrest until Irshad Hasan Khan took the oath as the new CJP in January 2000.

After his removal, Mr Siddiqui led a quiet life far from the public eye until 2008 when Gen Musharraf resigned as the president and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Jamaat-i-Islami fielded him against Pakistan Peoples Party co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari as their joint presidential candidate. He lost the election.

Many believe Nawaz Sharif never wanted Mr Siddiqui to become president. This might be true, because when Mr Sharif got a majority in the National Assembly in 2013 and got a chance to get his own man elected as the president he chose a loyalist — Mamnoon Hussain — instead of Mr Siddiqui.

The reason that the PML-N gave for not fielding Mr Siddiqui was that he was not a member of the party.

But three years later when Mr Siddiqui is still not a member of the ruling party, Nawaz Sharif has chosen him as the successor of the longest-serving governor of Sindh, Dr Ishratul Ibad, primarily because he too belongs to the Urdu-speaking community.

However, the septuagenarian jurist will merely be the constitutional head of the province since all powers rest with the chief minister — Murad Ali Shah of the Pakistan Peoples Party — who is much younger and more energetic than him.

Born in Lucknow on Dec 1, 1938, Mr Siddiqui’s family migrated to then East Pakistan.

He acquired his early education from Dhaka and then moved to Karachi, then capital of Pakistan.

He got admission in Karachi University from where he did graduation and then studied law. He enrolled as advocate of the high court and then the apex court in 1963 and 1968, respectively.

He contested elections of the bar and held various positions until he was appointed a judge of the Sindh High Court in May 1980.

Ten years later, he was appointed chief justice of the SHC and in May 1992 elevated as a judge of the Supreme Court. His tenure as the chief justice of Pakistan began on July 1, 1999, and ended on Jan 26, 2000.

Published in Dawn, November 10th, 2016