The tragic death of Begum Kulsoom Nawaz after a long illness should be an occasion for national mourning. All politics needs to be put aside as we remember this brave yet unassuming woman who was forced into politics by circumstance rather than choice. Until her husband Nawaz Sharif’s ouster as prime minister in a coup d’état in 1999, Begum Kulsoom was a relatively apolitical figure. She put her degree in Urdu literature to good use by occasionally writing speeches for Nawaz but never sought the limelight. Nevertheless, she rose to the occasion when our democracy was in peril. It was Begum Kulsoom who was at the centre of the first major protest after Nawaz’s removal. She organised a procession from Lahore to Peshawar and stood firm as the police refused to let her vehicle move. Even as her car was being lifted by a crane, Begum Kulsoom did not give up. This indelible image of resistance is how one should remember this brave fighter who led the struggle for the democratic cause. Like Begum Nusrat Bhutto before her, Begum Kulsoom was thrust into a position of challenging authoritarian rule, and ably led the PML-N as president while her husband was incarcerated.
Begum Kulsoom Nawaz represented more than a woman who acted as first lady three times in our political history and stood by her husband through their marriage of well over four decades. She was also more than the mother who Maryam Nawaz says inspired and built within her a determination to act for the right cause. Begum Kulsoom lived up through her life to her legacy as the granddaughter of the great Gamma Pehlwaan who dominated subcontinental wrestling in the years before Partition.
Even in her fight against the throat cancer which eventually took her life in London on Tuesday, Begum Kulsoom Nawaz never gave up the struggle to persevere with life. As her health deteriorated, her beloved husband and daughter were not by her side, serving prison sentences in Pakistan. Both will be allowed to apply for parole to attend her funeral but a question mark still hangs over whether her sons Hussain and Hassan will be able to come to the country as both have outstanding arrest warrants against them. The Sharifs have been through a lot during their time in power over the years. From military coups to judicial verdicts, the entire family has been impacted by the politics of the country they served. Condolences have already poured in from all political and non-political institutions and individuals. What is most important is that at this time of grief, the Sharif family must be allowed to mourn its loss without Begum Kulsoom’s death. It was appalling to see the sort of statements some elements had given during her illness. We hope such base partisanship is put to the side – and the family is allowed to grieve with dignity. Regardless of which political party one belongs to, everyone must remember Begum Kulsoom Nawaz as a fighter for democracy who perhaps somewhat unexpectedly for some political observers showed enormous courage in adverse situations and stood up for what she believed in.