Born in 1956, Fauzia Wahab was enjoying a fiery career as a passionate human rights worker and one of the most prominent voices of reason in the often chaotic, judgmental and fiercely patriarchal world of Pakistani politics and sociology, when her life was cut short on June 17, 2012.

Belonging to Pakistan’s largest political outfit, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Fauzia’s fame was nothing like that of former PPP Chairperson, late Benazir Bhutto, and nor was she known so well outside of Pakistan like the country’s other famous women activists and democrats like Benazir or Asma Jahangir.

Fauzia’s fame was largely local, rooted deep in whatever that is left of the tradition of progressive politics and liberalism in the country’s urban middle-classes – a tradition that was triggered by the rise of the PPP in the late 1960s and gave large sections of the Pakistani middle-classes a left-leaning and almost revolutionary dimension.

Although Fauzia was in school when leftist student organisations and trade, labour and journalist unions rose to successfully challenge the rule of Pakistan’s first military dictator, Ayub Khan, in the late 1960s, she was quick to join politics when she entered college in 1972 and then the Karachi University in 1975.

A glimpse into her career as a student politician can be an insightful exercise to understand the kind of a charisma she possessed that continued to make her stand out without requiring her to be a leading political figure or an ideologue.

A PPP colleague of hers once described Fauzia as a smiling rebel who had a natural knack of balancing her traditional side with her rebellious streak without looking or sounding contradictory or confused.

The same colleague (who was talking to me late last year in an informal chat), thought that Fauzia’s first act of rebellion was actually against her own ethnic background.

Coming from an educated Urdu-speaking family settled in Karachi, Fauzia did not automatically support the Jamat-e-Islami (JI) or the Jamiat Ulema Pakistan (JUP) like most Urdu-speakers of Sindh and its capital, Karachi, did till the late 1970s.

Instead, when she joined college, she at once jumped into the ranks of leftist and progressive student groups, but without waving Mao’s Red Book or Marx’s Das Kapital.

Another colleague of hers who was with her in a progressive student group at Karachi University and then later joined the Mutahidda Qaumi Movement (MQM), told me that Fauzia was always more interested in solving the problems of the students and challenging those who used faith to impose their politics than she was in leftist theory.

It was this attitude of hers that placed her in the leading ranks of the Progressive Students Alliance at the Karachi University - an alliance comprising of various left-wing, liberal and Sindhi, Baloch and Pashtun student groups.

But battling opposing student groups, especially those on the right, through student union elections and campaigning, was where it all started and ended for Fauzia - in 1978 she met and married another passionate progressive student politician, Wahab Siddiqui, who soon went on to become an accomplished journalist.

After marriage, Fauzia gladly became a housewife, raising her children and supporting her husband’s career as a journalist. But her love for politics, the liberal ideals that had driven her as a student and her romance for Karachi remained intact.

Some early recruits of the MQM claim that Fauzia almost joined the MQM when it suddenly rose to become Karachi’s leading party in the late 1980s. Though this was never mentioned by Fauzia herself, it is however true that she eventually became a kind of a pioneer of a little known but important strain in the workings of the PPP in Karachi.

I can vouch for this because I, as an active member of the PPP’s student-wing, the PSF (in the 1980s), too got involved in what Fauzia would ultimately represent within the PPP as a Karachiite.

When Benazir returned to Pakistan from exile in 1986 and then went on to become the country’s first woman prime minister in 1988, she at once recognised the importance of having the MQM as a ‘natural ideological partner’ and a party that could keep governments afloat with the seats that it was able to win in Karachi and Hyderabad.

I was at the Karachi University in 1989 when Benazir constituted a team of Sindhi and Urdu-speaking members of the PPP to negotiate a coalition deal with MQM chief Altaf Hussain. I remember how this policy created a kind of a rift within the ranks of the PSF in Karachi.

One faction was totally against Benazir’s move, while the other faction saw it as a way to unite secular forces so they could reclaim the political space they had lost to the ‘reactionaries’ and religionists during Ziaul Haq’s dictatorship.

Though a Punjabi from my father’s side, I was born and bred in Karachi. So I decided to side with the latter group and was ultimately ‘expelled’ from the university by the former faction.

Of course, the coalition collapsed and dozens of students lost their lives in the deadly clashes that followed between the PSF and MQM’s student-wing the APMSO.

However, even while an operation was underway against MQM militants under the second Benazir regime (1993-96), I am witness to the fact that Benazir’s idea of creating a bridge (made up of ideological similarities as well as pragmatism) between Karachi chapters of the PPP and MQM was very much alive.

And here is where Fauzia came in. After the tragic sudden death of her husband in 1993, Fauzia found herself returning to politics. Her husband had played an active role as a journalist against the Zia dictatorship and this drew the attention of Benazir who made Fauzia the Information Secretary of the PPP’s women’s wing in Sindh.

An articulate and educated person from a respected Urdu-speaking middle-class family, Fauzia was to become that bridge between the PPP and Urdu-speakers in Karachi. Later on, Fauzia, along with another prominent PPP Karachite, Faisal Raza Abidi, would play a prominent role in helping Asif Ali Zardari strike a coalition with the MQM after the 2008 elections.

Though a passionate Karachite and proud of her ethnic background, Fauzia was first and foremost a Pakistani who wanted to use the platform of a large political party to continue raising human rights issues, especially those related to women.

Fauzia became a close confidant of Benazir Bhutto. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, Fauzia was the person Benazir banked on to continue building links between the PPP and Urdu-speakers in Karachi as well as being one of the faces in the PPP the MQM was most comfortable with.

But it wasn’t until during the Musharraf dictatorship that Fauzia was thrown into the limelight of Pakistani politics. Being made an MNA during the 2002 elections, she played an active political role against the Musharraf regime.

This was also due to the eruption of privately owned TV news channels in the country. Fauzia became a prominent fixture in most political talk shows, passionately criticising the Musharraf regime and articulating her party’s understanding of the situation.

After Benazir’s shocking assassination in 2007, Fauzia managed to survive the PPP’s new chairperson Asif Ali Zardari’s changes within the party structure. In fact she became an even more prominent figure in the party.

Along with Faisal Raza Abidi and Qamar Zaman Kaira, Fauzia became one of the fiercest defenders of the PPP regime’s polices in the electronic media. But unlike many other politicians who also became regular fixtures on TV talk shows, Fauzia retained a cheerful witty attitude.

However, she wasn’t only about defending her party’s regime. Along with famous human rights activist and lawyer, Asma Jahangir, Fauzia was one of the few prominent Pakistani women who never held back while lambasting crimes of hate committed by religious nuts and terrorists.

She openly condemned the murder of Punjab Governor, Salman Taseer, by a crackpot who wrongly accused Taseer of committing blasphemy. She was threatened by a number of fanatical clerics and their supporters for this.

Fauzia continued highlighting the threat to Pakistanis, especially women and those belonging to minority religions, faced from radical religious groups. She continued to remain a target of the abuse and menacing threats that came her way from religious outfits.

But she marched on, still holding her balanced mantle that seamlessly mixed passionate oratory with reason and hearty wit.

Fauzia still had a lot of years of solid politics and activism in her. But, alas, if the reports that are coming in are to be believed, what was supposed to be a routine gallbladder operation, turned into complicated mess thanks to the doctors’ oversights and bungling.

After fighting for her life for three weeks in the hospital, she breathed her last on 17 June leaving behind a bereaved family and a gaping hole in the realms of activistic politics and the battle between the rational and the retarded raging in a troubled Pakistan.

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Comments are closed.

Comments (60)

nissar hussain
June 18, 2012 2:56 pm
Such courageous souls deserve revence who can fight odds against autocratic rule and dangers in siding with liberal groups.may allah grant her jennah
June 18, 2012 12:02 am
aisha azeem
June 18, 2012 4:00 am
I'm saddened by her Death,Truly Saddened..
Sohaib YAHIA
June 18, 2012 2:33 pm
Fauzia was one of the very few remaining sane voices in our otherwise fanatic society. Being a woman and standing up to nonsenses of our so called religious zealots, she was a symbol of moderation and progression that are so rapidly on decline. May Allah bless her soul.
June 18, 2012 1:51 pm
well Doctors in this country along with politicians have become Gods. I took my mother to an Emergency in PIMS (Islamabad) and I was begging doctors to see her while two doctors were talking about their wedding planning and I was told to wait while they finish their rubbish discussion. I have zero respect for young or senior doctors. I have lived all my life in Canada and have seen doctors their too. They are professional and honest . My brother is going to Med school in Pakistan I have told him to "be nice to the patients" its not only a noble profession but its a gr8 responsibility on you as well. Treat them with smile it will take away half of their pains.
Tariq K Sami
June 17, 2012 10:00 pm
I will remember her pretty look and sarcastic smile. Sure she kept some of these talk show TV anchors in control. But she lost control when she let a 70 years old Surgeon operate on her. I personally think this doctor should have had the decency to asked a younger surgeon to do the surgery and may be he could have offered to assist. What a shame. These so called Professors of Surgery are so rusty they have dim eyes and their hands are slow. This case calls for a Peer Review at the very least.
June 17, 2012 9:54 pm
An excellent human being and the backbone of her party. Will miss her. May her soul rest b in peace
Waqas Shaikh
June 17, 2012 9:43 pm
I don't too much about her but it is sad and tragic that we lost a young and caliber person. My heartfelt condolences to her family and pray to Allah (SWT) to rest her soul in Janaat.
June 17, 2012 9:20 pm
'Voices of reason'. Are you kidding me. Ofcourse her death is very unfortunate and it comes as a complete shock but lets not go overboard in our praise now that she is no longer with us.
June 17, 2012 9:11 pm
Though I always did not like her on-camera manners and non-stop defense of Zardari, she presented herself as a fearless and passionate Pakistani. She stood against religious bigtory often. May her soul be blessed and her mistakes forgiven by Allah.
June 17, 2012 8:51 pm
Nadeem now you should be the bridge. Young Sindhis look up to you because you also promote Sindhi Secularity and Urdu speakers also follow your liberal ideology.
June 17, 2012 8:19 pm
may her soul rest in peace. Amin
June 17, 2012 8:16 pm
Brilliant! Well said NFP. Fauzia was a tigeress. We will miss her dearly.
Murtaza N Rangwalla
June 18, 2012 3:53 pm
Fauzia Wahab as i knew her from last four decades was a tigeress till the very last movement always smiling & ready to face any difficult situations in life, PPP has lost one of its most honest person amongst its rank, no one can lay a fingure on this strong willed lady & accuse her of any corruption, even her children made a name for themselves through hard work without any Favourtism
June 18, 2012 12:27 pm
He (CJP) has little or no interest in such matters. Lets request Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan to take a petition in the SC...
Bakhtawer Bilal
June 18, 2012 12:45 pm
I can do the surgery with my eyes closed. I can do the surgery with my hand tied behind my back, as for me it is such a simple surgery. These are the arguments which we have heard before and will keep on hearing. I am not a physician, but I know that a surgeon is suppose to take each and every surgery very seriously and should not trivialize any procedure. Moreover, as long as we have no culture, rather a law, of analyzing and dissecting the unwanted results, professional negligence cannot be kept at abeyance. This particular one may or may not be result of an error, but we all know the pathetic attitude on display in our hospitals.
Akil Akhtar
June 18, 2012 11:51 pm
Private Hospitals in pakistan need to be regulated as they are resorting to criminal behaviour inorder to make money. Two of my relative went into theses hospitals with minor aliments and came out dead. One was even kept on a machine for days when he had actually passed away just to make thousands of rupees per day rent for the room. If not for his daughter who is a doctor to see the reports and stop it otherwise who knows how long they would have given false hope to the family and kept on making money.
Akil Akhtar
June 18, 2012 11:46 pm
Anyone convincing indian govt to allow Pakistani Dramas and channels, any sane voice there?
El Cid
June 19, 2012 12:18 pm
All persons are precious, All life is sacred. Those who suspect without knowledge, can condemn without evidence, and kill without remorse...with gross satisfaction and self-righteousness.
June 18, 2012 7:55 pm
Any voice of reason in the nation of fools and fanatics has to be killed by fools( who happen to doctors in this case) or fanatics. Sickening, just sickening. where is the rage? The polite remarks by the readers perhaps highly censored and sanitized by obedient employees, are equally disgusting. As long as Pakistanis do not learn to face and say truth, I see absolutely no future for this nation. This kind of cowardness clothed as civility will get the nation no where. It must learn the importance of free thinking and free speech/expression.
June 18, 2012 11:20 am
Hi Elcid - just being curious - with which hand tied behind his back? left or right? I do agree that there should be no blame game here. A memo style commission will help find the traitor though. NFP - you are great. when are you planning to write on memo commission?
Zubair Shah
June 18, 2012 11:03 am
Really a great lose of Pakistan Politics
Gerry D'Cunha
June 18, 2012 10:22 am
As a Christian community, I pay my condolences to her family; her party and all those who were associated with her. May her soul rest in peace.
June 18, 2012 10:29 am
I recall a TV programme where Fauzia defended her Government's policy to allow Indian films to be screened in Pakistan way back in the year 2008. She said that Pakistanis were culturally closer to Indians and such exchanges would lead to greater bonhomie between the two people and an exchange of talent pool in the film industry. Hers was a sane voice from Pakistan.
June 19, 2012 2:36 pm
To say that I am surprised to see my remark would a huge understatement. I take it as a good sign for Pakistan. And the latest decision by the supreme court - just wonderful. Bold and wise steps by individuals, media and public institutions will bring about the change eventually
Shah Deeldar
June 18, 2012 12:56 pm
Well, another good Pakistani liberal has left the scene with no good replacement. She was too young to depart and will be missed deeply in the subcontinental politics.
June 18, 2012 12:47 pm
Leaving aside everything else, I must give her credit for resisting pressure from an exclusionary,ethanic urdu speaking party,MQM. Sadly, she still went on to defend AAZ who is guilty of worst governance in the history of the nation.
June 18, 2012 1:20 am
She will be missed. May her soul rest in peace.
June 18, 2012 4:04 am
Thank you NFP for writing in memory on Fauzia Wahab. She was the most brave lady and an educated asset of PPP indeed.
June 18, 2012 4:06 am
Excellent article as always by NFP,he has revealed some hidden facts of fabulous Fauzia Wahab's life that enshrine her,particularly her entry into politics and hw Benazir shaheed handpicked Fauzia.
June 18, 2012 2:36 am
RIP Ms. Wahab. All values you stood for will be carried forward by next generation.
J. Siddiqui
June 18, 2012 2:46 am
With the passing of Fauzia Wahab, PPP has lost an educated leader. She departed this world on a very special night, indeed she was great soul! But the million dollar question is: Why the PPP Waderas did not make arrangement to send her abroad to save her life? For a minor ailment the PPP waderas dash to overseas destinations for medical treatment. For Karachiites, the waderas have always exhibited double standards.
June 18, 2012 3:10 am
So Sad. May Allah rest her soul in peace. But the death must be investigated.
June 18, 2012 4:13 am
Although her untimely death is sad and tragic but wish she had utilized her education, bravery and courage towards positive elements in Pakistan rather than supporting and covering up the negative.
June 18, 2012 4:15 am
Nice article, but too much emphasis on her ethnicity! The author unnecessarily tried to box her with repeated references to her "respected Urdu-speaking" background. Plus, majority of the NSF or PSF members in Karachi came from Urdu speaking background, not everybody automatically joined JI or JUP. I hope it's not a deliberate mischaractrization by otherwise a good author.
June 18, 2012 4:27 am
Inna Nillahe Wa Inna Alehe Rajeoon
El Cid
June 18, 2012 4:33 am
You have made serious libelous charges against the “so called Professor of Surgery”. What are your facts of the case, qualifications that allow you to make such a charge? Can you even comprehend the abilities and experience that go to make a Professor of Surgery? A Cholecystectomy is a routine and simple operation, a Professor of Surgery could do it with a hand tied behind his back...or just allow a fresh intern practice it. But out of respect of the patient's societal position honored her with his personal attention. Surgical options included the standard procedure, called laparoscopic cholecystectomy, and an older far more risker and invasive procedure, called open abdominal cholecystectomy required in certains cases...needs extreme post-surgerical care to avoid infection. Caution: You are out of your depth and in dangerous legal waters here. This is NOT a game of blame politics. Beware.
June 18, 2012 4:46 am
wow and all of a sudden she's a hero. It's unfortunate that she passed away but c'mon!
June 18, 2012 4:51 am
Loyalty is a rare commodity. She was loyal to her party and her ideology. Hats off for her efforts. May Allah rest her soul in peace. Ameen!
June 18, 2012 5:03 am
May Allah blessed her soul in peace
June 18, 2012 5:04 am
May Allah rest her soul in peace
June 18, 2012 5:08 am
PPP lost an educated , liberal and progressive leader, unfortunately not many left in the party. RIP Fauzia
Zainab Sarfraz
June 18, 2012 5:23 am
Although it is shocking news for all of us,but we are all the passangers of the same destination,no can live for ever ,I think its better to learn some from the departure soul,that this world is just like rail way station & we should prepare for our final destination, May her soul be blessed and her mistakes forgiven by Allah. (AMEEN)
June 18, 2012 5:36 am
I did not know her personally, however i did get a chance to work a bit with her late husband Wahab Siddiqui. It was early 1970 and i was a freshman in Premier College. Wahab was 2 years senior to me. Later on when i entered into the field of free lance journalism, i again found the helping hand of Late Wahab Siddiqui, as the editor of MAG. May Allah rest their souls in peace.
June 18, 2012 6:25 am
May Allah blessed her soul in peace
Syed Khan
June 18, 2012 5:09 pm
May she rest in peace. However, I never considered her a good politician.
Rana Asghar
June 18, 2012 6:43 am
May Allah bless her. She was a real jialee of which I'm proud of. She is one of the few PPP leaders (Chandio sb, Qamar Kaira, Afzal Nadeem Chun, Faisal Abidi) who defended the party on social front (Talk shows) with logic which is really a difficult task. Defending when one is in govt is really a difficult task.. Those who are not leftist cannot appreciate the efforts and bravery of such a woman. Thinking different than the norms of the society and exhibiting ones thoughts in a man dominant society and from a middle class family is not easy. Lived the life with her own ideals. Hats off to Fauzia Wahab.
Uza Syed
June 18, 2012 8:19 am
Fauzia Wahab was one of those people who I just couldn't hate for all the follies and failures of her PPP which I tend to more than often. She was firece but always a gentlewoman and NFP is right she was the only woman with enough courage to condemn the murder of Governor Salman Taseer and the screwed up thoughts behind that murder and its aftermath in shape of lawyers of Rawalpindi showering petals on that horrible man Qadri. I greatly admired Fauzia Wahab's courageous stand then and always, my respects and prayers for Fauzia Wahab.
June 18, 2012 8:20 am
RIP Fauzia Wahab...
Uza Syed
June 18, 2012 8:26 am
"A Cholecystectomy is a routine and simple operation, a Professor of Surgery could do it with a hand tied behind his back..." ------El Cid. May be that is exactly what this 70 years old senile professor attempted, I suspect. Whatever the man did, the fact is he failed to perform a "routine and simple operation" and we lost a precious person here.
Navaid M. Khan
June 18, 2012 3:05 pm
Having lived mostly out of the country I was least interested in the politics but lately I had been watching Talk Shows and the News. I liked the way Fauzia Wahab spoke to the people, to the media and defending her party's policies and actions. I got the news about her death while in USA and was greatly shocked as someone close to me died. May Allah rest her sole in peace and give patience to her children - Amen.
June 18, 2012 9:07 am
indeed something went wrong that resulted this tragic death. there is no blame on anybody but from my personal experience, sometime minor staff in operation room or after surgery make little mistake due to their carelessness could lead to disaster . it is so common in our country.
June 18, 2012 9:45 am
Every thing happens for a reason!!!!! I think this is an example for all of us. There is a GOD and no matter what we do, we all will die. Blaming doctors for that!!! Well you can argue but we should not forget that as a human, how helpless we are. I dont know how many poor people die every day by not getting treatment. No one listen to them.
Khalq e Khuda
June 18, 2012 9:48 am
She had a minor surgery which went wrong due to doctors negligence. Her case was long lost and she was put on respirator within 48 hours so please spare us your crap about PPP waderas which may be true but does not hold any substance with Fauzia Wahab's case.
Khalq e Khuda
June 18, 2012 9:56 am
The private hospitals of Karachi particularly a red brick building near national stadium and this one in Saddar are having a field slaughtering patients! The routine negligence and the increasing fatalities and more than that last minute discharges to avoid in house deaths is alarming. Another increasing practice rampant in both of these buildings is unnecessary C-sections of women who are perfectly healthy and are operated before due date in order to avoid labor. Can someone now take a suo-moto please?!
Akil Akhtar
June 19, 2012 5:09 am
It is not CJPs job or capacity to run this country or take interest in everyting that is wrong. Why don't you ask the local govt or the powerful MQM to do somethign for good of the people for once in karachi
June 19, 2012 6:47 am
My heartfelt condolences to her family. May Almighty Allah rest her soul in peace.
June 19, 2012 2:47 pm
Religious zealots of every shade must be confronted with reason/'rational thinking' everywhere so that they could not justify their ignorance and vile agenda in the name of old fairy tails.
June 19, 2012 6:45 pm
My father in law Alfred Stanley Joseph and Mr.Wahab Siddiqui worked together at the Mag weekly and were very good friends. Mr and Mrs.Wahab attended many partiesat my In law's house & Infact they attended our wedding and I cannot forget the smiling pretty face of Fouzia Wahab. Her death is a shock to us.Our prayers and heart felt condolences are with the family. May the Peace of Almighty God that surpases all understanding be with the family. Mrs. Z.I.Joseph UK .
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June 28, 2012 3:41 am
Have you ever thought about publishing an ebook or guest authoring on other sites? I have a blog based upon on the same topics you discuss and would love to have you share some stories/information. I know my readers would enjoy your work. If you're even remotely interested, feel free to shoot me an e mail.
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