Kulsoom Nawaz, wife of Pakistan's deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif, gestures during a press conference at her residence in Islamabad after a meeting with Sharif in Attock jail, on December 9, 2000. Photo: AFP / Saeed Khan
Kulsoom Nawaz, wife of Pakistan's deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif, gestures during a press conference at her residence in Islamabad after a meeting with Sharif in Attock jail, on December 9, 2000. Photo: AFP / Saeed Khan

The wife of Nawaz Sharif and former first lady of Pakistan, Kulsoom Nawaz, died in London on Tuesday after battling throat cancer. Kulsoom was born in 1950 in the city of Lahore. She graduated from Forman Christian College in that city and went on to earn a PhD in philosophy.

She had a profound taste for philosophy and was known for her good taste in literature. Her resistance against the martial law of General Pervez Musharraf made her an icon of civilian and democratic supremacy.

General Musharraf staged a coup against Nawaz Sharif in 1999 and put him behind bars along with his younger brother. It was a time when the closest of Sharif’s political aides left the party to avoid the wrath of the military dictator. Kulsoom at that time of crisis assumed the charge of Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) as its president and started a countrywide protest movement against the dictator.

She also brought different political parties under the umbrella of a Grand Democratic Alliance with the help of the late Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan. It was her untiring efforts and resistance that forced Musharraf to make a deal with Sharif, and as a result he was released from prison and sent into exile in Saudi Arabia.

Kulsoom Nawaz always had an impact on her husband’s decision-making and she improved his political acumen by giving him the right advice at the right time. She also nurtured her daughter Maryam Nawaz into a political leader and she persuaded Sharif to make her the part of the decision-making process in party affairs.

As first lady, Kulsoom always led a low-profile life, with most of her time spent on philanthropist work. She decided to return to mainstream politics after her husband was disqualified by the Supreme Court over corruption charges, and she successfully contested the by-election for the National Assembly seat vacated by Sharif, but during the process she was diagnosed with throat cancer and left for London for treatment.

Her election campaign was run by her daughter Maryam Nawaz and eventually Kulsoom, even in her absence, managed to win the by-election. But because of her illness, she was not able to take the oath as a member of parliament.

It was also speculated that Sharif was again planning to make her the president of PML-N, but her illness prevented him from making this decision.

During her illness Kulsoom Nawaz fought a war on several fronts, and not just with the cancer itself. She faced criticism from political opponents that she using her illness to get sympathy from the vote bank for her husband and daughter, while at the same time she had to stay strong to motivate Sharif and Maryam to take on their opponents on the power chessboard.

It was never an easy battle, as going against the deep state in Pakistan means risking everything, including one’s own life. In June, Kulsoom suffered a cardiac arrest and was put on a ventilator. At the time, Sharif and Maryam were holding successful public gatherings across the country.

Kulsoom’s serious health condition forced Sharif and his daughter to go to London and take care of her. This left a vacuum and halted the momentum they had create for PML-N. Meanwhile, the rival party, Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, started propaganda that Kulsoom was not really ill but was staging a political stunt to gain sympathy from voters.

The judiciary, already hostile to Sharif, also made negative comments about Kulsoom’s illness when he and his daughter requested leave to go to London to see her and to delay the accountability verdict for a few weeks. The establishment-dominated electronic media and their allies in the print media also started a propaganda campaign suggesting Kulsoom’s illness was a delaying tactic by Sharif in a bid to avoid arrest.

In the end, Sharif was left with no option but to leave Kulsoom on a ventilator in London and come back to Pakistan to face arrest in order to save his political party, which was under the wrath of the military establishment.

Leaving an ailing wife or a sick mother is never an easy decision, and it is much to the credit of both Sharif and Maryam that they decided to return. Their party, however, was defeated in the July elections, allegedly by the establishment hijacking the mandate and denying PML-N a level playing field.

In their eagerness to throw Sharif and his daughter out of power at any cost, the deep state in Pakistan did not even spare an ailing Kulsoom Nawaz, but propagated the narrative that she was not sick. As a result, she was mocked during her illness, and had to die to prove that she was really ill.

It was her graceful silence toward her critics that showed how low we have fallen as a society. One wonders when we will be able to understand human tragedies and learn to share one another’s grief without being divided on a political basis.

Nawaz and Maryam both were denied the opportunity to spend time with the ailing Kulsoom Nawaz because the deep state wanted both the father and daughter behind bars before the July elections to pave the way for the hijacking of the ballot and bringing the puppet Imran Khan into power.

Probably Sharif and Maryam both will live with the scar of not being able to be with Kulsoom in her last moments, but they are not alone: The state of Pakistan will also live with the scars of fascism on its face. It will always be remembered that the deep state can go to any extent and hatch inhuman conspiracies in order to marginalize and suppress its opponents.

Imad Zafar

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.

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