KARACHI: Spending the almost entire two months he held the office of Sindh governor in poor health, retired Justice Saeed-uz-Zaman Siddiqui died in a hospital on Wednesday. He was 78.

“Sindh Governor Saeed-uz-Zaman Siddiqui passed away at a hospital. He was Sindh’s 31st governor,” said a spokesperson for Governor House.

According to officials, Justice Siddiqui’s condition deteriorated at Governor House in the afternoon. He was rushed to hospital where he passed away.

Two days after he was sworn in as governor on Nov 11, he was admitted to a hospital because of a chest infection. He was treated there for more than a month and discharged last month. A panel of medics was deputed at Governor House to take care of him.

Justice Siddiqui was the shortest-serving governor of Sindh and none before him had died in office. Incidentally, he had succeeded the longest-serving governor.

Born in Lucknow on Dec 1, 1938, Justice Siddiqui’s family migrated to what was then East Pakistan. He acquired his early education in Dhaka and then moved to Karachi.

He did his graduation from Karachi University and then studied law. He enrolled as advocate of the high court in 1963 and the Supreme Court in 1968.

He held various positions in the bar 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 to the Supreme Court as its judge. He remained chief justice of Pakistan from July 1, 1999, to Jan 26, 2000.

Justice Siddiqui was first of the two chief justices of Pakistan who were dismissed by military dictator Pervez Musharraf and put under house arrest. However, Justice Siddiqui refused to take the oath under the controversial Provisional Constitution Order (PCO).

Although he never joined any political party, his critics viewed him 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 problems for the prime minister, and his subsequent removal as the chief justice on the basis of rules of seniority in 1997.

Justice Siddiqui always defended his position by saying that the decision that Mr Shah’s appointment was not in accordance with the Constitution had been taken by a 10-judge bench and not by him alone.

When Gen Musharraf toppled the PML-N government in a coup on Oct 12, 1999, held the Constitution in abeyance and issued the PCO, CJP Siddiqui and other judges of the superior judiciary were not asked to take their oath afresh.

After the Zafar Ali Shah case was filed in the apex court, Gen Musharraf feared that CJP Siddiqui might decide it against him. He asked the judges of the superior judiciary to take the oath under the PCO, which Mr Siddiqui refused and was put under house arrest until Irshad Hasan Khan took the oath as new CJP in January 2000.

After his removal, Justice Siddiqui led a quiet life until 2008 when the PML-N and Jamaat-i-Islami fielded him against Pakistan Peoples Party’s Asif Ali Zardari as their joint presidential candidate. He lost the election.

Published in Dawn, January 12th, 2017