LAHORE - Though a housewife, Begum Kulsoom Nawaz was the one who turned an industrialist Nawaz Sharif into a politician - who then set a new record in the country’s history by donning the mantle of prime minister three times. However, she was not fated to reach the Parliament House despite being elected on a National Assembly seat (NA 120- Lahore) after her husband’s disqualification by a five-judge Supreme Court bench for not being “sadiq and ameen”.
Instead of taking oath as a member of the lower house, she had to reach a London hospital for the treatment of throat cancer. Hence, the seat that had fallen vacant by virtue of the July 28, 2017 judgment of the apex court went unrepresented till the dissolution of the assembly on May 31, 2018.
She remained the driving force behind her spouse and, without exaggeration, was much more capable than him (although their daughter Maryam is far ahead of both her mother and father). The credit for encouraging Maryam to join politics also goes to Kulsoom.
Kulsoom Nawaz belonged to the family of wrestlers of Lahore. Born on July 1, 1950, she was the granddaughter of Gama Pehlwan. Her father Dr Abdul Hafeez was a medical practitioner.
She did her master’s in Urdu from the Punjab University. Before that she also studied at FC College, Islamia College and Madrassatul Banaat. She was an extremely well-read lady, and was a fan of Urdu and English classics. She became the life partner of Mian Nawaz Sharif on April 2, 1971.
People close to the Sharif family say that Begum Kulsoom always tried to keep herself abreast of the political situation in the country – even while under treatment at a London hospital. Her sons, however, did not want to inform her of the depressing developments back home.
Adhering to the Sharif family traditions, Kulsoom Nawaz always confined her activities to the four walls of their spacious house. However, the overthrow of the Nawaz Sharif government in October 1999 forced her to come out and play a direct political role to rescue her husband.
While Mian Nawaz Sharif was facing trial for “hijacking” the plane that brought Gen Pervez Musharraf back from Colombo to Karachi, she chalked out a strategy in Lahore to start protests against military intervention. She was convinced that her husband faced a serious life threat at the hands of a vindictive Musharraf.
Immediately after the military takeover, people close to Nawaz Sharif started changing loyalty. Chaudhry Shujaat Husain and Pervaiz Elahi launched a parallel faction of the PML, which was joined by many who wanted to brighten their future in the changed scenario. Initially, even Raja Zafarul Haq was seen with the Chaudhrys. However, as a result of some behind-the-scene moves, the man who was once known as the opening batsman of Gen Ziaul Haq returned to the Sharifs camp, although the party stood divided.
As part of her anti-Musharraf campaign, Begum Kulsoom started a weekly “Bazm-i-Pakistan” at her 180-H Model Town residence, an initiative which also provided her with an opportunity to have direct interaction with party leaders and workers. It was a difficult time for her as Muslim Leaguers could not be blindly trusted because of their tradition of switching loyalties with the change in situation, and other political parties were hesitant to speak against military intervention as Gen Musharraf had rid them of a powerful rival.
It is pertinent o point out here that a number of political parties were working against the PML-N government even before its overthrow and slogans against Nawaz Sharif could be seen on the walls of Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan’s Lahore residence even after the military takeover.
Kulsoom Nawaz always called Musharraf a retired general, as he had been “removed” as the army chief by an elected prime minister (although the army never accepted Gen Ziauddin Butt as the new chief).
One day the military authorities made it impossible for her to interact with the media at her residence. She devised a unique technique to convey her message to the journalists. She reached the rooftop of her residence with an amplifier in her hands. Newsmen were told to wait in the facing park for her address late in the evening. There was considerable gap between the two sides.
She delivered a hard-hitting speech against the military ruler, which was published the next morning.
In the second week of July 2000, Kulsoom tried to reach the Lahore Press Club from her Model Town residence to join a protest there. She took a car, driven by Chaudhry Safdarur Rehman of Faisalabad, and announced that she would join the protest, come what may.
A heavy police force was deployed outside her residence. Under Kulsoom’s instructions, Safdrur Rehman drove through the police cordon, which caused tremendous embarrassment to the law enforcers as they had failed to restrict her movement. They chased her vehicle to the Canal Bank where its further movement was blocked. She was asked to come out of the car, which she flatly refused to do. She locked the doors of her car, daring the police to kill her if they wanted her to come out.
Eventually, the police brought a crane and lifted the car with Kulsoom Nawaz inside. The vehicle was towed to the GOR-1.
The drama continued for many hours and was covered by the electronic media at length. It was after a long time that the wife of the deposed prime minister agreed to go back home.
The impact of Begum Kulsoom’s protests was acknowledged even by Gen Musharraf in an interview after the banishment of the Sharifs to Jeddah in December 2000.
The military ruler was asked why the Sharifs were allowed to leave the country, and in response he said he was under pressure from Saudi Arabia and that the protest campaign launched by Kulsoom Nawaz was also giving an impression of instability in the country.
To bring the military ruler under more political pressure – and to get relief for her husband - Kulsoom Nawaz also started efforts to bring the opposition parties, especially the PML-N and the PPP closer. These parties were literally “enemies” and Mr Sharif had said at a seminar at Alhamra, that he would throw the PPP into the Arabian Sea. The PPP was also equally ferocious and it was celebrating the difficulties the Sharifs were put through.
In such a situation bringing the two parties closer or forming an alliance (ARD) with the inclusion of other parties was not an easy task.
Tehmina Daulatana, a fearless leader from Vehari, had also played a role to bring the anti-Musharraf coalition into being.
She was very close to Begum Kulsoom and at the same time she had family ties with Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan, the architect of most of the opposition alliances. Islamabad’s senior lawyer Syed Zafar Ali Shah also played a role as a result of which the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy was cobbled. Both these parties joined hands at this platform, although before the new coalition could start functioning Saudi efforts to take the Sharifs out of Pakistan had borne fruit.
Even those who claim to be very close to the Sharifs did not know that the former prime minister was going out of Pakistan. Sindh’s Syed Ghous Ali Shah, detained in a cell adjacent to that of the former prime minister’s, was as ignorant of the development as anybody else. And since he was kept in the dark to the last moment, he parted ways with the Sharifs.
Not long before leaving for Jeddah’s Saroor Palace, Begum Kulsoom visited the Nicholson Road residence of Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan to discuss the then political situation. Recalling the role the veteran leader had played to launch opposition movements in the past, she said the new movement against the Musharraf rule would also start from the same place. (The Nawabzada’s residence, which was in fact portion of a hotel, is no more there and has been merged into a shoe market)
Kulsoom’s role as a human being has also been very impressive. It is said that when the time came for the division of inherited assets among the three sons of Mian Sharif, Nawaz Sharif asked his younger brothers – Shehbaz and Abbas- to take whatever they wanted to and leave the rest for him. It is said that Begum Kulsoom was behind the unthinkable generosity shown by her hubby.
She has been paying from her own pocket expenses of many deserving patients at the Sharif Medical City, a facility set up by the Sharifs near their Jati Umra residences.
She has bidden farewell at a time when the family is passing through testing times. Her husband, daughter and son-in-law have been put in Adiala Jail after being convicted and they cannot leave the country. On the other hand, sons Hussain and Hasan and even Samdhi Ishaq Dar have been in London since long and can’t come to Pakistan without taking the risk of being arrested. Begum Kulsoom would be remembered as a good wife, a caring mother, an enviable daughter-in-law and a sympathetic mother-in-law.
The woman who made Nawaz a leader