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Opinion

September 15, 2018

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Death and politics

It wasn’t an excuse or a farce. Begum Kulsoom Nawaz, Pakistan’s former first lady and one-time head of the PML-N, really was sick. For more than a year, she battled throat cancer and for months on our television screens, anchors and politicians argued about how she really wasn’t sick.

It was a disturbing time. The disqualified prime minister and his daughter asked for exemption from appearing in court more than five times and were refused. These request and refusals would have never become an issue if politicians and anchors had not started presuming that she wasn’t really sick.

It all started off, as all things seem to these days, with anonymous social media comments – messages circulated by unknown doctors saying they were witness to how she was in perfect health. As days wore on, and anchors joined the bandwagon, she went from being sick to having already passed away, with insensitive anchors demanding that the Sharifs declare that she was no longer alive.

As politicians joined the chorus, the sickness of our society truly set in. Comments about her illness coming from already motor-mouth politicians wasn’t a surprise, but many the theory gained credibility when the respected Senator Aitezaz Ahsan declared that Kulsoom was not unwell and that the hospital she was in was actually a clinic unable to treat her alleged ailment. He has, since her death, apologised for his remarks.

Some say that such crassness is on display also because the excuse of ill health is so often misused in our country, and that, when videos of Pervez Musharraf dancing at parties, Ishaq Dar walking the streets of London and honey bottles in hospital rooms come forward, there is no doubt that there will be doubt. Anchors, seasoned ones, have after Kulsoom’s death, tried to explain why they posed questions about her illness.

Initially, Begum Kulsoom Nawaz’s illness was brought to the forefront by the Sharifs themselves by running a campaign ad about Nawaz Sharif’s return, centred around how he was returning to Pakistan, leaving an ailing wife behind.

The point of all this, however, is not the conflicting narratives. Rather, the point is explained by PTI supporter, and most-of-the-time-unofficial representative, Hamza Ali Abbasi’s offensive tweet – that people are trying to portray the Sharifs as “tragic heroes” and that he found this to be “absolutely disgusting”.

The fact is that the Sharifs did not make up the illness of their matriarch and did not lie about her battle with cancer. This is a difficult fact to stomach for the anchors, analysts and politicians who had very decidedly claimed otherwise. What happened to the Sharifs, in this particular case, is tragic. One cannot imagine the pain and suffering of Begum Kulsoom Nawaz and her family when they were heckled over something so personal.

And this is the PTI’s fear, apparent in Abbasi’s tweet. That this tragedy, which was so barbarically used by members of the PTI, PPP and the media to further their own agenda against Nawaz Sharif, can create such a wave of sympathy for the Sharifs that they will be seen as heroes. They fear that the Sharifs will be seen as having been right. And, according to them, the Sharifs could never be right.

Only time – and the appeal filed by the Sharifs in the Islamabad High Court – will tell how right or wrong the Sharifs are when it comes to the charges against them. But their opponents seem to be looking a bit uneasy. Justice Athar Minallah’s remarks that the court has not come across any evidence that shows that Nawaz Sharif was the owner of Avenfield, and until that is established, Maryam could also not be held liable, are disconcerting for many.

One can only hope that something will be learnt through this tragedy. Hopefully, politicians will think twice before they make someone’s illness a point of contention, and TV anchors will actually confirm news and refrain from commenting on such personal matters.

To Hamza Abbasi’s words, “…may Allah give us some decency”, one can add: ‘also the ability to separate politics from illness’. Unfortunately, in our society all is fair in death and politics – and, instead of genuinely sympathising, even with our opponents, during a time that we all have to eventually face, we cannot and will not allow death to outshine our moment to do politics.

The writer is a senior executive producer at Geo News.

Twitter: @mariumch

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