Justice (retd) Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui, Sindh’s Governor died after chest pain, on Wednesday, January 11, 2017. He was 78, and was ill for quite some time. May his soul rest in peace. Amen!
Siddiqui was Sindh’s 31st governor, who took oath on November 11, 2016 when Sindh’s longest serving governor, Dr. Ishrat ul Ebad was forced to resign because of the controversy created around him after his war of words with Mustafa Kamal, former Mayor and now head of the Pak Sarzameen Party.
Siddiqui’s oath taking was delayed by a day because he was seriously ill, and immediately after this oath taking he was admitted in the hospital from where he was discharged on December 15, after an intensive care unit was set up in the Governor House. He barely survived 25 days after this special arrangement and died on Jan 11, 2017.
No doubt that given the circumstances surrounding his health his selection by PM Nawaz Sharif and his acceptance of the offer to become governor of Sindh were controversial from day one. And in any system, worthy of being called a democracy, this would have been subjected to serious scrutiny.
After all it is only natural to ask: was PM Nawaz not aware, was not briefed on Siddiqui’s serious health condition? Are there no advisers or cabinet members around PM Nawaz Sharif to advise him on matters of state interest or PM Nawaz is totally independent in doing whatever pleases him without any regard to the consequences for the state of Pakistan? What is the yard stick of top level decision making in Pakistan? These will be serious questions in any democratic system. But Pakistan appears to be totally immune to such considerations.
One may ask: was Siddique himself not aware of his inability to serve as the governor of Pakistan’s second largest province? Or his desire to add the title of ‘Governor’ under his belt was so strong that it over powered any other consideration or reflection. Can one conclude that both Nawaz Sharif and late Saeed uz Zaman Siddiqui, in their calculus of personal interests, cared little about the decorum of the office of the Governor of Sindh. Many had thus speculated that Nawaz, fully aware of Siddiqui’s health condition, only selected him because he was trying to send some sort of the political message to the judiciary.
All of us have to die; the only certainty in man’s life is death. All religions and moral orders command us to become magnanimous and forgive people in their death and remember them by their good deeds. However, in a system, as unethical as Pakistan one has to be careful, because rich and powerful derive political mileage from every event, from every tragedy. And if we become a little more critical in ‘public interest’ it will be better for Pakistan’s teeming millions – 65% of whom are less than 35 years of age.
On Siddiqui’s death, Nawaz Sharif said that Siddiqui’s services will be remembered for the supremacy of the law and the constitution. He further said that Siddiqui had never compromised over principles and always confronted non-democratic characters. God Almighty will definitely forgive us if we remain a little skeptical about Nawaz Sharif’s commitment to supremacy of law, democracy and constitution etc etc, as some famous Punjabi politician had once written on a file somewhere. [in relaxation of rules x,y,z etc etc]
This eulogy of Justice Siddiqui has been repeated endlessly by almost all print and electronic media; most of that is a copy and paste job. Most South Asian political and social discourse runs on knee jerk stereotyping anyway; this practice is much older than the computer age. Independent critical thinking is rare and hordes of barbarians of all sorts are ready to fix those few who demonstrate ‘critical thinking’ of any sort.
So the basis of Justice Siddiqui’s larger than human life portrait is derived from a mythical account of his boldly defying Gen. Mushaarrf when he was the Chief Justice of Pakistan in 1999 when the Oct 12 military coup happened.
Apparently Justice Siddiqui refused to take a new oath under the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) and his famous words done to death by a potpourri of politicians and media were: “Taking an oath under the PCO, in my opinion, will be a deviation from the oath I had taken to defend the constitution of 1973”.
Since hero-worship is very deep in South Asia, most have conveniently forgotten that Siddiqui was always viewed as a “man of Nawaz Sharif” because of his controversial role in engineering a revolt against former CJP Sajjad Ali Shah. This was the time period, in 1997, when hordes of barbarians organized by Nawaz Sharif and his party actually stormed the Supreme Court in Islamabad and Honorable judges, in sheer horror, had to run with their lives.
Media persons can be gagged or punished by saying a few loose words but – just like Model Town massacre in June 2014 – real schemers and perpetrators of the infamous horrendous attack on Supreme Court were never punished. Admittedly Justice Sajjad Ali Shah was no angel either and was hands in glove with the then president, Farooq Khan Leghari and both were apparently planning a coup against Nawaz Sharif.
Nawaz planned his counter-coup with the help of his judges and the period of “brief case diplomacy” and the alleged horse trading amongst few good men is still to this day the most painful and controversial chapter of Pakistan’s judicial history. While all that was happening, Pakistani military remained neutral; what is merely a euphemistic term to refer to the fact that under Gen. Jehangir Karamat, military remained aligned with the Punjabi Prime Minister – this period in no small way created the sense of helplessness and sentiments that lead to a widespread relief and welcome when Gen. Musharraf finally intervened to end Nawaz regime on Oct 12, 1999.
But lets come back to 1997; In Nawaz Sharif’s counter-coup, Justice Sajjad Ali Shah was humiliated, dragged in mud and soon removed as the chief justice on the basis of rules of seniority. Justice Siddiqui always defended his position; he maintained that 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. But its not a rocket science to fathom that all what happened was politics, ugly politics; politics of one side against the other, politics of one interest group against the the other; there were not any principles; it was not about rule of law or constitution; it was about power and privilege.
Mr Siddiqui, the loyalist, later became the Chief Justice of Pakistan 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, in a gesture of good will, CJP Siddiqui and other judges of the superior judiciary were not asked to take their oath afresh.
This goody goody situation changed as soon as the famous Zafar Ali Shah case was filed in the apex court. Gen Musharraf and people around him feared that CJP Siddiqui, the known Nawaz loyalist, will plan something in alignment with Nawaz and his supporters. It was then that Musharraf asked the judges of the superior judiciary to take the oath under the PCO. It was, as some insiders claimed, a pure “Machiavellian move” to shunt aside those who were not wanted. Justice Siddique, the known Nawaz loyalist, was one of them.
It was then that apparently, principled Justice Siddiqui refused to take a new oath under the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) and his famous words done to death by a potpourri of politicians and media were: “Taking an oath under the PCO, in my opinion, will be a deviation from the oath I had taken to defend the constitution of 1973”.
But there is another version of events too. He and another honorable Justice were never offered the oath or such terms were crafted which were only designed to get rid of them. It was politics once again – there were no principles on either side. Many will remember that there was another famous oath under a PCO offered by Gen. Zia ul Haq in 1981. Young men are generally more idealist than old, but a young Siddique had gladly signed that PCO. He once explained this by saying that “I was appointed by a dictator, but later took oath under the 1973 constitution” But 1981 PCO was only a few years after the 1973 constitution came into effect. Gen. Zia had executed, ZA Bhutto, the architect of 1973 constitution – through a process what is often described as a ‘judicial murder’. If Siddiqui and others thought of resigning, from their respective positions, whatever these were, its not known.
In 2008 elections, Nawaz fielded Justice Siddique as presidential candidate, but it was only a matter of prestige and optics for it was obvious that PPP and allies will manage a clear majority for Asif Ali Zardari. After 2013 elections, Nawaz could have easily appointed Justice Siddique as President of Pakistan. He would have been far more impressive, far more deserving, far more worthy of that office than its incumbent, Mamnoon Hussain. Argument was that Siddiqui was not a card carrying member of PMLN, but neither was he in Nov 2016 when Nawaz made him, in the terminal hours of his life, Governor of Sindh. No wonder many suspect that once again there were no principles and Nawaz was only playing politics; sending a message: “I am eternally willing to reward all those who do favors”
Those who are keen students of history, will come across this criticism from western writers that most Muslim history consists of shameless hagiography; whether it aptly describes the medieval Muslim historian or not, it certainly describes most Pakistani media. Let’s grow out of this immaturity; lets be honest with our young; 65% of whom are 35 or below.
Perhaps Justice Siddiqui was only human – imperfect like all of us. May his soul rest in peace and may Allah grant fortitude to all loved ones to bear his loss. Amen!