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September 13, 2018

Tribute to Begum Kulsoom Nawaz Sharif — An amazing lady


September 13, 2018

Pakistan being what it is, there are few opportunities for women to participate to their full potential, in national politics. But when nature or the state's repressive organs intervene to remove or restrict their male relatives, they bloom to become beacons of amazing courage and unyielding commitment, while retaining their grace and elegance.

Admittedly, there are not many such stars in this firmament, but these few shine bright as lode stars that not merely guide us, but renew our faith in the inherent richness of this land's teeming millions. Which nation would not be proud to look back at Ms. Fatima Jinnah, who had the moral and physical courage to stand up to Gen. Ayub Khan’s repressive regime when she recognised that unless the country regained its democratic institutions, it was doomed? Or Ms. Benazir Bhutto, who braved the trauma of her father's judicial murder and the brutal imprisonment imposed on her by Gen. Zia's ruthless regime, rejected all offers and inducements to seek the easy way out?

We have just lost another brave soul, one who abandoned the cloister and comfort of her home, after Gen. Musharraf's military regime sought to not merely destroy the country's democratic institutions, but to cajole and co-opt the meek and the rapacious among the national politicians, so as to camouflage his regime in the false colours of representative government. While many of the political stalwarts chose to enter into a Faustian bargain with the military ruler, she stood tall, as a force of amazing conviction and courage, refusing to be cowed down, or accept the path of compromise. In deciding to step out on to the streets, she sought not her husband's release from prison, but to give heart to the dispirited people and despairing politicians, so as to galvanise them to stand up to the dictator. It was her uncompromising stand and her indomitable will that not merely electrified the hitherto terrified people, but convinced even the better known politicians to recognise the danger that the repressive regime posed to the country and therefore, the urgency to join hands in defence of freedom and democracy. Though the state had full control over the single TV network in the country, her acts of defiance and audacity became folk tales of valour that exposed the military regime’s feet of clay.

It was my good fortune to know her personally for the past twenty plus years and I can affirm that this lady of iron will was also the gentlest of souls. Never one to raise her voice or to over awe those around her with her rank or status, she would always be kind and gracious, even to strangers that she would come across during the course of her travels. Many foreign leaders and visiting delegations would see this shy and graceful lady, whose head was always covered with her dupatta, as a house wife only to later express their surprise at the depth and range of her knowledge. She was not only aware of developments the world over, but would amaze us with her measured remarks and cryptic comments. And, of course, her command over Urdu was amazing, for she could recite entire chapters from Ghalib and Iqbal!

Many may see her as only a devoted spouse, who shared in all her husband's trials and tribulations, and as a loving mother, but I am sure she would want us all to also remember her as a brave and uncompromising democrat, who not merely supported her husband’s political goals, but was his soul mate, critical in steeling his nerves and in shoring up his commitments, in a manner that few were aware of and even fewer, would appreciate. May Allah Almighty bless the soul of Begum Kulsoom Nawaz Sharif ---a truly amazing lady!


The writer is former Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs

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