News Analysis |
Nawaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz and Capt. (R) Safdar have been convicted in Avon-field Apts case and sentenced to prison terms. None of them appeared in front of the court to hear the final decision, in fact Nawaz appealed to the judge of Accountability court that decision be delayed by one week so that he can be with this wife, and that he cannot return back unless his wife is off the ventilator. So will they return to Pakistan – and when – to appeal against the decision was the first question on everyone’s mind. Now since the ex-Prime Minister has decided to land in Lahore airport on July 13, all kinds of questions are circulating on social media. But above all the question on most minds is:Where is Begum Kulsoom now?
Why Kulsoom Nawaz’s health became a political issue? After all it was Kulsum’s health status that became the pretext of Nawaz and Maryam’s repeated trips to London, it was her “health issue” that led to serious delays in the court proceedings, and it was her health that justified Nawaz and Maryam’s presence in London instead of being in court to hear the July 6 verdict on Avonfield Apartments Case. On 4th July, when Nawaz appealed to Mohd. Bashir, Judge Accountability Court to delay the decision for one week he cited his wife’s health condition, asserted that he cannot return to Pakistan leaving her in this condition and he will wait till she is off the ventilator. So what has changed? Is she not seriously ill any more? Has she recovered? Why her situation is suddenly not important? or was she never important in the first place and was merely being used by Nawaz and Maryam to further their politics?
Some cynics have been pointing from the past several weeks that Kulsum may have been clinically dead after a cardiac arrest and it may have been family’s decision to keep her on artificial ventilation. There were robust pieces of analyses and even fake news to that effect circulating on social media – in one case a Pakistani origin doctor, in the UK, had to clarify through a video blog that the story circulating on WhatsApp in his name is fake and has nothing to do with him. But the cynic’s point of view kept on getting support from the news that no one was allowed to see Kulsum Nawaz, private security was present to prevent all access, visiting politicians and media were never allowed inside, no video footage or photos were issued, no medical board or doctors ever briefed media, and all news about her health deterioration, cardiac arrest, her improvements in between were provided by the family through twitter and press talks.
Cynical minds on social media thus argue that Begum Kulsoom Nawaz’s health is being continuously used as an excuse to affect court proceedings and politics and its high point has yet to come just before the elections – and thus 12 days between July 13 and July 15 are crucial. PMLN supporters react very badly to these arguments and consider them very insensitive. But cynics point out that the mystery around Kulsum’s health has been created by Maryam and Nawaz and is affecting Pakistani politics and elections and thus an open debate on this issue is Kosher and important. But let’s put that debate aside for a moment. One can’t understand this issue by looking at this verdict alone and the reaction by the former Prime Minister to it in isolation as it is necessary to trace the series of events that led to this decision and this debate.
When Kulsoom Nawaz’s illness became public knowledge? In June 2016, almost two months after the Panama Papers disclosure by ICIJ, petitions were filed by the PTI and PPP seeking the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification. In January 2017, the BBC reported that the Sharifs bought the flats in London in the 1990’s. In February, the hearings of the Panama-gate in Supreme Court of Pakistan, being heard by a five member bench, were concluded. On 20th April 2017, the Supreme Court judges wrote damning details about Sharif family’s obfuscation, and inability to explain their financial matters but stopped short of removing Prime Minister; in landmark split decision, by 3-2, they ordered the formation of a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) comprising officials from MI, ISI, FIA, NAB and SECP and SBP. This team submitted its 275-page report, of 10 volumes, on 10th July, to the same five member bench of Supreme Court. On July 28th, in a unanimous decision, Supreme Court disqualified Nawaz Sharif disqualified as Prime Minister of Pakistan.
Nowhere up to this point was the issue of Begum Kulsum Nawaz’s deteriorating health in public knowledge. The first time the public was made aware of it was in August 2017 when she had to stand in Nawaz Sharif’s stead for by-election held to fill Nawaz Sharif’s former seat in the national assembly. A month before the by-election, Maryam Nawaz tweeted that her mother had been diagnosed with lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system. Though Kulsoom never appeared in her chosen constituency and never campaigned, she nevertheless won the election from this PMLN stronghold vacated due to her husband’s disqualification.
Soon after the by-election, Ms. Nawaz went under a third comprehensive surgery in the UK. Maryam Nawaz even tweeted a short video clip of Nawaz Sharif holding his wife’s hand and helping her walk. At this time, there was some noise in social media that Sharif might not come to Pakistan to face accountability courts. Maryam Nawaz, however, rejected these claims and said that Nawaz Sharif was extending his stay in London to be with his ailing wife. Both Nawaz and Maryam have been attending the court proceedings, however they kept on traveling to London citing health grounds; their critics noted that her health grounds never stopped the father/daughter duo from running massive weeks long political campaigns across the country.
Can Kulsoom Nawaz’s health now affect Elections 2018?
What is her condition now is thus subject of intense speculation. Has she suddenly recovered or something dramatic will unfold about her as Nawaz and Maryam descend into Pakistan on Friday, 13 July. Maryam and Nawaz are arriving as white collar criminals convicted by a court after a two year long open,visible and transparent due process; facts of this case were discussed on tv, reported in papers and were discussed threadbare on social media. There is no ambiguity about the nature of charges. National Accountability Bureau (NAB) is all set to arrest the father and daughter duo from Lahore and bring them to Islamabad to put them in prison before they face an appeals court. Any sudden dramatic news about Kulsoom Nawaz’s health status can change all that. Supporters, opponents, legal minds and political analysts all are waiting with bated breaths.