RIP Kulsoom


No light at the end of the tunnel

The massive outpouring of sympathy across the political spectrum for the family on the demise of the Sharif matriarch begum Kulsoom Nawaz was a bit surprising. Thousands representing a wide political spectrum turned out on Friday at her funeral at Jati Umra.

Even Imran Khan – Sharif’s nemesis and implacable foe -demonstrated the grace to facilitate incarcerated Nawaz Sharif and his daughter to attend the last rites of Kalsoom.

Unfortunately in an era of free for all news and social media, no holds barred criticism bordering on personal hatred has become the norm. The PTI, led by the Khan himself exacerbated this unsavory trend. A large swath of television news anchors buttressed it.

Soon the PML-N also joined the muckraking fest. As a result the political atmosphere became inexorably vitiated. Resultantly the thin red line between the personal and the political became completely blurred.

Sharif family’s health issues became a particular point of interest for their opponents. When Nawaz Sharif traveled to London for a heart by pass surgery in May 2016, his numerous detractors told us he had no heart issues. It was all a ruse we were told.

He had only gone there to escape the gauntlet of the law and will not return to Pakistan, they claimed. But when he did return the rumours and innuendos died down.

Similarly in case of Kulsoom, after the former first lady reached London for treatment of her throat cancer in July last year, it was alleged she was not ill at all. Later contrarily, it was claimed on good authority that she was already dead. Adding insult to injury it was alleged that the Sharif family was only waiting for a politically opportune time to announce her death.

Kulsoom’s singlehanded resistance to the Musharraf regime in the year 2000 has been especially highlighted across the media painting her as a brave woman who was the first one to stand up to a dictator.

Only PPP (Pakistan Peoples Party) stalwart Aitzaz Ahsan had the decency and moral courage to apologize to the Sharif family for his acerbic comments in the past. Prime minster Khan who while in opposition was leading the chorus of the skeptics, has somewhat atoned his past bad behaviour by expressing unqualified sympathy for Sharif and the family. The rest of the badmouthing crowd including quintessential Sharif-hater the ubiquitous Sheikh Rashid have preferred to maintain a stony silence.

Kulsoom’s singlehanded resistance to the Musharraf regime in the year 2000 has been especially highlighted across the media painting her as a brave woman who was the first one to stand up to a dictator. Interestingly that was the time when most of the PML-N leaders from Lahore simply vanished from the scene.

That is why it was mockingly quipped at the time by critics that the PML-N Lahore leadership should be wearing bangles. It is another matter that the same year Nawaz Sharif cut a deal with Musharraf courtesy Saudi Arabia and agreed to take the whole family in exile to Jeddah.

In Pakistan’s checkered political history women have mostly shown more courage as compared to their male counterparts. Are these mere coincidences?

There are exceptions of course. The kind of courage demonstrated by the late Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto is exemplary   and perhaps unprecedented in the subcontinent‘s history. He literally paid with his life by standing up to the usurper general Zia ul Haq and simply refused to buckle under the pressure.

Later his wife Nusrat Bhutto kept the torch of freedom burning. Subsequently another dictator general Musharraf through forces of obscurantism generated by him also eliminated her daughter Benazir Bhutto.

Nonetheless in Kulsoom’s demise and its fallout, there is a lesson to be learnt for our political elite that everyone is mortal. Hence political differences should not be brought down to the lowest common denominator.

So far as Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam are concerned, the day after will be particularly disconcerting. There is nothing much to look forward to except a long prison sentence awaiting both of them.

Perhaps the only light at the end of the tunnel for the time being could be their bail application being accepted by the Islamabad high court. Prime facie, inferring from some of the remarks of the judges implicitly expressing skepticism at the prosecution’s case is a ray of hope for the father daughter duo.

However this could only prove to be a pyrrhic victory. A decision on two more references in the NAB (National Accountability Bureau) court is still pending. The Al-Azizia Steel Mills Jeddah and Flagship Investment references are being heard by the court on a day-to-day basis to give the judgment within the apex court’s stipulated time limit of six weeks.

Probably Sharif will be accorded a harsh sentence in these references as well. Hence his legal travails are not expected to end soon.

However Maryam Nawaz not indicted in the rest of the references possibly out on bail could play a pivotal role in rejuvenating a largely demoralized PML-N. But for that to happen both she and her uncle Shahbaz Sharif must be on the same page.

By some accounts the late Kulsoom was not happy with her husband and daughter’s hard line against the military establishment. But on the other, she was also keen to install her daughter as the political heir apparent.

This became a point of friction between the Nawaz and Shahbaz branches of the family. There is some merit in Shahbaz Sharif’s relatively dovish line. Keeping in mind Pakistan’s power structure, perhaps resistance as well as co-operation are both needed.

Notwithstanding the military’s unstinted covert and overt support for the PTI before the general elections, the PML-N should mend its fences with the institution. The younger Sharif already has a strong line of communication with the army leadership.

Only recently Shahbaz Sharif was present at the defence Day celebrations held at the GHQ on September 6 where the prime minister and the COAS were present amongst rest of the top brass. The younger Sharif sought permission from his elder brother to attend when he met him earlier the same day at Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi. Reportedly the incarcerated Sharif told him, “by all means go.”

In any case differences within the Sharif family are somewhat exaggerated. True, Shahbaz is the acceptable (in fact likeable) face of the Sharifs for the military leadership. Nawaz Sharif is simply no go.

Nonetheless there are many skeptics within the establishment who are loath to make any distinction between the two Sharifs. The litmus test came when Shahbaz was asked to make a clean break from his brother. He pointedly refused to oblige.

In Kulsoom’s demise perhaps there is a lesson for the Sharif family as well. They will have to sink or swim together.


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