She was the housewife who became party president, lawmaker and leader of the battle for democracy. And now Begum Kulsoom Nawaz is no more.
It is only right and just that Prime Minister Imran Khan has authorised the Pakistan High Commission in London to assist the Sharif family in any way possible following the news of the former First Lady’s passing. Similarly, the PPP’s Aitzaz Ahsan has done the needful — albeit rather belatedly — and apologised unconditionally for his controversial comments regarding both her illness and subsequent treatment at a Harley Street clinic.
It is hoped that in death Begum Kulsoom may be afforded the dignity of which many sought to rob her during the last year of her life. For she spent the last fifteen months at the centre of manufactured controversies. The common denominator being that her husband, Nawaz Sharif, was somehow exploiting her suffering from cancer for political conniving. Or else faking it. All to win sympathy for himself his dethroning from the premiership last summer.
Begum Kulsoom was the one constant in her husband’s political life. Indeed, when the chips were down she was always there. Such as when Gen (rtd) Musharraf overthrew the Nawaz regime back in 1999 and promptly threw the latter in jail before sending him into exile in Saudi Arabia. One of the most enduring images of that tumultuous period is of an overhead crane lifting up Begum Kulsoom’s car; with her precariously ensconced inside. This was resistance at its finest. A housewife and mother-of-four suddenly finding herself party president and standing up to a military strongman to break free from house arrest. It was a similar story last year when the three-time First Lady fought and won her husband’s former constituency; all from her hospital bed.
Of course, it is important to resist the temptation of reducing Begum Kulsoom to simply the little wife of a powerful man. Even as some party insiders talk in hushed tones of how she was an unwitting pawn in the undeclared power struggle between the Sharif brothers. Far more urgent is the realisation that this is a country that embraces misogyny to the point where a dying woman is vilified for her husband’s alleged misdeeds. Naturally, other first ladies came before Begum Kulsoom and were administered similar doses of bad medicine; such as an Alzheimer-suffering Nusrat Bhutto. Yet it had been hoped that Pakistan had begun to creep slowly towards the 21st century.
After all, if the most affluent, privileged and influential women are victims of the most un-casual misogyny — what hope is there for those belonging to lower socio-economic brackets? The answer, is unfortunately, all too-well known. Thus it is hoped that Begum Kulsoom’s passing will encourage the drawing of lines under women being used as the political punch bags of men. For we, here at Daily Times, can think of no better tribute to our former First Lady.
Rest In Peace, Begum Kulsoom Nawaz. *
Published in Daily Times, September 12th 2018.