ISLAMABAD: While Kulsoom Nawaz has succumbed to terminal illness, the unguarded commentary about her health is going to haunt the critics who were cruel enough not to spare her in the worst of times.
Aitzaz Ahsan and Faisal Vawda, who had joined the chorus of heartless detractors, have apologised after hearing of her death. Others are either unrelenting or have issued condolence messages without any expression of remorse for their inhumane behaviour.
From politicians to TV anchors, many big names mocked and cast their doubts on Begum Kulsoom’s ilness. Politicians like Prime Minister Imran Khan, Aitzaz Ahsan, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, Naeemul Haq and Qamar Zaman Kaira dubbed it a political stunt staged to gain the sympathies of people of Pakistan. Some anchors also propagated conspiracy theories about her sickness. Prime Minister Imran Khan, just before the general elections, alleged that Nawaz Sharif was mispresenting his wife’s illness so as to emotionally blackmail the general public.
The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chief gave this statement on July 5, while welcoming Zafar Ali Shah into the PTI: "All of our hearts are with Kulsoom Nawaz. My mother also had cancer and I had to take her abroad for treatment. But this does not mean that this should be used to emotionally blackmail the nation. You did not remember Kulsoom Nawaz when she was (undergoing treatment) in London and you (Nawaz) were doing rallies across the country. Nawaz Sharif, you will read this (Avenfield reference) verdict in newspapers; Adiala jail is waiting for you," Imran said.
Senior Pakistan People's Party (PPP) politician Aitzaz Ahsan was also prominent among those politicians who cast doubts on Begum Kulsoom Nawaz’s condition. Later, when the PPP nominated him for the presidency, he was given an opportunity to apologise to the Sharif family, but refused. Belatedly, he has relented.
On one occasion, Aitzaz said: “The Harley Street Clinic where Begum Kulsoom Nawaz is admitted for her cancer treatment is actually owned by the Sharif family. The Harley Street Clinic is not a hospital but a clinic where heart patients are treated”. He even termed Nawaz Sharif’s stay with his ailing wife at the hospital a delaying tactic to avoid imprisonment.
A week prior to Begum Kulsoom Nawaz’s death, the PPP stalwart was asked in a TV programme whether he would like to apologise to the Sharif family for his statements about her illness. Aitzaz refused, remarking, “The jury is still out, just wait and see.”
Before the general election, since-appointed Federal Minister for Railways Sheikh Rashid Ahmed termed Begum Kulsoom Nawaz’s ailment a political stunt.
“For the last two years, I have been hearing that Begum Kulsoom Nawaz is on a ventilator. We do not even have any information about which hospital Nawaz Sharif’s bypass surgery took place (in 2015). I urge Nawaz Sharif not to play politics over Begum Kulsoom’s illness. Poor people are suffering in this country, but the influential are playing the politics of ventilators. I am not sure whether she is really sick or not,” Sheikh Rashid said in a TV programme.
PTI spokesman Naeem ul Haq, prior to being appointed Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Political Affairs, described Begum Kulsoom’s illness as fiction. He said the PTI had sources in London and knew that Begum Kulsoom’s ailment was a "drama".
Another senior politician of the PPP, Qamar Zaman Kaira, while defending Aitzaz Ahsan for his statements, termed Begum Kulsoom Nawaz’s illness a "political statement". He said Aitzaz didn’t need to apologize to the Sharif family. “Did we ever ask the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz to apologise for what they did to Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto?” Kaira asked.
Other politicians of the PTI and PPP who ridiculed Begum Kulsoom Nawaz’s illness include Nafeesa Shah, Amir Liaqat, Shaukat Basra, Ali Zaidi and Yasmin Rashid. But it was not only politicians who mocked her fatal condition. Many famous media personalities also propagated conspiracy theories. Citing anonymous sources, they insisted that her illness was staged to gain public sympathies and avoid imprisonment in the Panama Papers case. The celebrities who cast such doubts included Dr. Shahid Masood, Mubashir Lucman, Hamza Ali Abbasi, Amir Liaqat Hussain, Moeed Pirzada, Haroon Rashid, Ayyaz Khan, Nadia Mirza, Chaudhry Ghulam Hussain, Sabir Shakir and Arif Hameed Bhatti.
Even the death of Begum Kulsoom Nawaz could not deter some people from making insensitive statements. Hamza Ali Abbasi tweeted, “It's a request to please not disrespect the deceased by politically manipulating her death and giving opinions like Nawaz and Maryam should be freed because Kulsoom Sahiba died. Please!”
Responding to subsequent criticism, Hamza tweeted again. "Absolutely disgusting how some people are using Kulsoom Bibi's death to gain sympathy for Nawaz and Maryam, and are trying to portray them as tragic heroes. Shameful... utterly shameful and disgusting."