THIS is the season of stories that are not written, which are killed or are written but do not make it to the newspapers, some of them landing on Facebook pages instead. You can add to the list of the unpublished an account of a woman belonging by marriage to the most famous ruling family of Punjab this side of Partition. The story in which Kulsoom Nawaz Sharif, a personal favourite from the Sharif household, was to execute her second rescue act will not be written now.
So many versions unfolding on the national stage in Pakistan in recent times have dragged on for so very long. There has to be some relief somewhere. Some cases must be quickly wrapped up to dispel some of the uncertainty that hangs in the air, even if those in key positions keep telling us that the country is on course to attaining stability under the new government.
There are some cases that need to be resolved as soon as possible. For instance, all kinds of scenarios are eagerly being discussed in the wake of the incarceration of Mian Nawaz Sharif and his daughter, Maryam Nawaz. For a large number of people, the imprisonment of the duo is reflective of a new era where justice and rule of law without discrimination act as the pillars upon which a new country is going to be built. Yet options and possible scenarios based on past experience continue to be discussed.
Could a Kulsoom excursion to rescue her husband and others from a tight spot have been possible now as it was some two decades ago?
There have been many occasions in the recent past when one has wished for a Kulsoom-like rescue attempt to summarily find the resolution to at least one ongoing saga that could otherwise take excruciatingly long to unravel.
Could a Kulsoom excursion to rescue her husband and others from a tight spot have been possible now as it was some two decades ago? Or have the prevailing conditions signalled an end to close relatives plotting all kinds of schemes to extract inmates from impossible situations inside prisons?
A former prime minister and his talented daughter in jail on grounds that are hotly contested — this is by no means a comfortable situation for a first-time reformist ruler. It is a sword hanging over the incumbent, with some experts insisting that the people here were prone to having bouts of sympathy for the other aspirants to power. This is an issue that has to be resolved without too much visible action for fear of it generating any unwanted publicity for the currently undesired lot. There are always your run-of-the-mill political solutions to this problem. But there is never a simple script and whatever exists in terms of theories is, by and large, dependent on how the PML-N goes about it. The PML-N under Shahbaz Sharif is most eerily quiet and appears rather confused about its options.
Resultantly, the ending most favoured by the more assertive inhabitants of the new Pakistan in this case is where the people are projected to slowly lose interest in the father-daughter duo ‘languishing’ behind bars, desirous and deserving of sympathy. The scenario, a bit too ambitious, a little too abrupt if you like, predicts the Sharif family — Nawaz, Shahbaz, Maryam , Hamza et al — bowing out en masse to the growing might of Imran Khan and his PTI.
Even this scheme had — or still has — space for the tried and tested Kulsoom Nawaz option. As old impressions die hard, there is no dearth of people who insist that Nawaz Sharif’s resistance will ultimately weaken, and there will finally be a discussion about how fast he and Maryam and other PML-N prisoners can be bailed out. There are observers looking at it from key positions who had been advising that the sooner the Sharifs tried exploring these solutions the better.
It is not quite the PML-N that Begum Kulsoom Nawaz once led, the saying goes. There is a hard-line ‘kyun nikala’ group inside the party today which is responsible for taking crucial policy decisions. It publicly shuns a compromise on the pattern of what Mian Nawaz Sharif’s wife was able to conjure up back then. In a way, the group which subscribed to this thinking appears to be criticising an anti-exile deal that got the Sharifs out of jail after the Musharraf coup. In essence, what this group is saying is that it is fighting a battle that Mian Sahib should have fought post-1999 when he was younger. He should not have allowed his better half to intervene on his behalf.
This leaves the small matter of how Begum Kulsoom would have responded to calls for giving up her type of resistance had she been in better physical condition at the time leading to Mian Sahib’s ‘turning himself in’. Her deteriorating health to many symbolised the fading out of any compromise option for the Sharifs, and we might never have found out what she wanted except for what has been revealed following her death by some knowledgeable souls.
There is a Lahore-based journalist, a Sharif expert no doubt, who has chosen to shed light on some of the thoughts which he says occupied the mind of Begum Kulsoom Nawaz during the last years of her life — before she fell ill. The journalist speaks of a woman who didn’t quite approve of the confrontational ways her leader had chosen to take this time round. She favoured moderation but had obviously been vetoed by the more adventurous, if justifiable and ultimately unavoidable, approach manifest in the ‘uncompromising’ tone adopted by her husband and daughter.
This is not the type of politics that she wanted her people and party to pursue. In that sense, it may be said that Begum Kulsoom Nawaz was no more relevant to the legacy she had been asked to protect with pride when she was chosen as the life partner of Mian Nawaz Sharif almost five decades ago.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.
Published in Dawn, September 14th, 2018