The fighting spirit of Kulsoom Nawaz

Kulsoom Nawaz proved herself to be a formidable force, the most trusted advisor to a three-time prime minister, the spouse who shone through when needed, the silent pillar on which a political dynasty was built

Decades ago, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his younger brother Shehbaz, were busy establishing their political credentials. Their wives were kept far away from the spotlight. Despite their main political rival being a woman, it was decided in the Sharif camp that the political field was not the right place for the women in their own family. But fate, as always, had other plans. Nobody knew back then, that one day, in their time of trouble, an unassuming woman from their household, Kulsoom Nawaz, will bravely fight their nemesis, the most powerful man in the country, all alone and without fear.

Perhaps putting up a brave fight came naturally to Kulsoom Nawaz. After all, she was the granddaughter of Rustum-e-Zaman Gama Pehalwan, the most successful wrestler the subcontinent had produced till then. The soft-spoken girl who was fond of reading finished her Master's degree in Urdu from Punjab University, and soon after, married Nawaz Sharif at the age of 21. A few years later she was a mother to four children.

Undated photo shows Nawaz Sharif, Kulsoom Nawaz, and Hussain Nawaz, their first child.─Photo courtesy Twitter/@MaryamNSharif 

Around her was a tempest, the core of a politically charged decade in which her husband became the prime minister, not once but twice. All the intrigue that is to be expected with a bitterly fought political rivalry was playing out. Surrounded by seismic changes, Kulsoom Nawaz steadfastly remained the same. Humble, helpful, polite and again, unassuming. She took the back seat and happily played the role of the supportive wife and loving mother. Gama Pehalwan’s granddaughter did not seek out the spotlight. She shunned it, in fact. The fighting spirit she had inherited was to lie dormant for a while more.

Photo shows Kulsoom Nawaz, wife of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, speaking to newsmen outside the court in Attock on 22 July, 2000—AFP PHOTO/Saeed KHAN

Eighteen years ago, her mettle was tested. Nawaz Sharif’s government had been usurped. Martial law had been imposed. General Pervez Musharaf had declared himself the president of the country. The former prime minister and his brother were incarcerated. Party workers needed a leader to rally behind. Few expected that their rallying figure would be Kulsoom Nawaz.

But the fighting spirit finally came through. In July of 2000, she faced off with the dictator, alone at the one end, the full might of the state on the other. They tried to stop her at her home. She slipped through the cordons. They tried to stop her car. She didn’t disembark. A picture of the white sedan, with the former first lady still inside, being towed away after a ten-hour standoff, became an instant icon in the struggle for democracy. 

She kept the party workers united and gave them hope. She motivated her husband’s followers to keep fighting. She brought Pakistan People’s Party on board and formed the Alliance for Restoration of Democracy or ARD.

Her protests made General Pervez Musharaf revise his decision about the fate of the Sharif family. It would not be wrong to say, that had it not been for Kulsoom’s efforts, Nawaz Sharif would never have been allowed to leave Pakistan.

It may come across as glamorous, but politics is not a bed of roses. It is a crown of thorns that can only be worn after many sacrifices. It does not test just the one who has jumped into the political arena, but also his family. Every day brings a new trial. There is little time to contemplate life and prepare for death. Today, this is the tribulation the Sharifs are going through.

It is never easy to be jailed, but when the incarceration is spent in anxiety, wondering if the adieu bid to an ailing loved one will be the last one, prison becomes unbearable. How painful was that last goodbye between mother and daughter, husband and wife? We can only imagine.

Begum Kulsoom Nawaz 

In the aftermath of the Panama verdict, which saw her husband deposed as the prime minister, Kulsoom Nawaz’s family was once again in urgent need of her counsel and inspiration. Unbeknownst to anyone, time was running out for the former first lady. She was diagnosed with cancer and left Pakistan for the last time to seek treatment abroad. The fighting spirit once again came forth, facing off with a much more sinister foe than she had faced previously. In a tragic repeat of history, her husband was not allowed to be by her side during the battle. After a year-long struggle, Kulsoom Nawaz passed away at the age of 68.

In life, she proved herself to be a formidable force, the most trusted advisor to a three-time prime minister, the spouse who shone through when needed, the silent pillar on which a political dynasty was built.

She also proved herself no less powerful than her illustrious grandfather. His strength was physical; hers was in her perseverance, courage and patience. May she rest in peace.

The writer is a television host, journalist and analyst.

Note: The views expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Geo News or the Jang Group.