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LONDON: The Regent Park mosque’s main prayer hall was packed to capacity on Thursday as political wor­kers and members of the UK’s British-Pakistani community turned up in large numbers to offer funeral pra­y­ers for Begum Kulsoom Nawaz before many of them accompanied the ambulance carrying her coffin, wrapped in green, to Heathrow Air­port for onward journey to Lahore.

There were chants of “Madar-i-jamhooriat al­wi­­da alwida” (mother of demo­cracy farewell) as Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz wor­k­ers and members of the Sharif family, including Begum Kulsoom’s daughter Asma and grandchildren, left for the airport.

“There are three women who played an important role for democracy in Pakis­tan — Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah who faced General Ayub Khan, Begum Nusrat Bhutto who fought against the military might of dictator Ziaul Haq and Begum Kulsoom Nawaz, who came on the road against General Pervez Musharraf,” said Mushtaq Lashie, former deputy mayor of Kensington and Chelsea Council while explaining the emotional farewell given to Begum Kulsoom Nawaz by the political workers.

“It is a great loss for Pakistan and its democracy, her sacrifices will be written in golden words in the country’s history,” said Dr Nadeem Ahsan representing the Muttahida Qaumi Movement at the funeral.

British-Pakistanis from across the political spectrum had come to attend the funeral which was held before Zuhar prayers. There were leaders of PML-N including former federal ministers Mohammad Ishaq Dar, Birjees Tahir, former Balochistan governor Sanaullah Zehri, Islamabad mayor Ansar Sheikh and former Punjab minister Chaudhry Mohammad Riaz.

Due to his strained relationship with the PML-N, former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan’s participation came as a surprise.

At the funeral, the Pakistan Peoples Party was represented by Makhdoom Ahmad Mahmood, former Punjab Governor and president of party’s South Punjab chapter, former Azad Jammu and Kashmir premier Chaudhry Abdul Majeed and PPP’s UK president Mohsin Bari.

Earlier, emotional scenes were witnessed at Sharif family’s home at Avenfield House on Wednesday night when PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif arrived here and embraced his nephew Hussain Nawaz.

Family sources confirmed that 14 members of the Sharif family including the children and wives of Begum Kulsoom’s sons would accompany the coffin being flown to Lahore on a Pakistan International Airlines flight (PK758).

Special arrangements

As the PIA plane bringing Begum Kulsoom’s body from London is expected to land at the Lahore airport early Friday morning, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has issued special instruction to its staff and the officials of PIA, Airport Security Force and other agencies to facilitate the shifting of the body.

While usually the bodies brought by planes are handed over to their heirs through cargo section after the completion of formalities, in this case the body will be handed over to the Sharif family right at the apron of the airport. The ambulance in which her casket will be shifted to Jati Umra will be allowed along with some members of the Sharif family to reach close to the plane.

A PIA spokesman said all arrangements, both at Heathrow and Lahore airports, had been finalised to facilitate the airlifting of the body and later handing it over to the Sharif family without any trouble.

He said all other agencies, including ASF and CAA operating at the Lahore airport, had been advised for better coordination in this regard.

Mohammad Asghar from Rawalpindi also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, September 14th, 2018