. . . . . .  

It took a jailed Caesar’s wife – a spouse above suspicion – to bring Pakistan’s hyena-herd politicians to their senses. Ever since she was diagnosed with cancer and admitted to a London hospital, Begum Kulsoom Nawaz had been the victim of snide snarls and gratuitous growls by opponents of her husband Nawaz Sharif. She is safe now, protected by the cold hand of death.

Throughout her married life, Kulsoom Nawaz stayed behind the hoarding of her husband’s public image, emerging only when neither he nor her brother-in-law Shahbaz Sharif were in a position to lead their PML-N party. Unquestionably more educated than her husband, she could have been the power behind his throne. More recent First Spouses have succumbed to that temptation. Instead she chose to be a supportive wife, a caring mother, and a devoted grandmother rather than a political effigy.

Yet who can forget her courage when in 2000, on their behalf, she stood against General Pervez Musharraf, or rather sat in protest against him. In the heat of July 2000, for almost ten hours she defied the Punjab police who tried to extricate her from her locked car. Eventually her vehicle with her still in it had to be lifted by a crane. Guns were thwarted by a housewife’s rolling pin.

It is a measure of her Calpurnian reputation that so many persons from every political divide should have mourned her death and collected to attend her funeral on Friday. After her burial, the family she tended over with such solicitousness will again be scattered – some abroad, some in jail, just as the late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s widow and children were cloven apart until death reunited them in the family graveyard at Garhi Khuda Bakhsh.

Dictators are invariably narcissistic, in love with themselves. By contrast, political dynasties – whether the Nehru/Gandhis in India, the Bandaranaikes in Sri Lanka, the Aquinos in the Philippines, or the Kennedys in the United States – are doomed to be (in Keats’ words) ‘half in love with easeful Death’.

It might have been John F. Kennedy who said that one generation donates libraries, its second gives of itself. He meant there can be no greater measure of patriotism than serving your own country.

It is a fortunate national who can find room for his talents in his homeland. Years ago, M.K. Gandhi left South Africa and discovered himself in India. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan quit Oxford University for Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi. M.A. Jinnah left a comfortable home in North London for what ultimately became his Pakistan. Others like Leon Trotsky and Albert Einstein were not so lucky.

In Pakistan’s history, two brilliant intellectuals – Nobel Laureate Dr Abdus Salam and Nobel hopeful Dr Atif Mian - found themselves disavowed by their greener compatriots for trying to cross the muslim green/minority white divide on their national flag.

There was a time when one’s religion was never a bar to public service. Ahmedis such as Ch. Zafrulla Khan served as Pakistan’s Foreign Minister and M.M. Ahmed who headed the then all-important Planning Commission under presidents Ayub Khan and Yahya Khan. But Dr Abdus Salam’s appointment as Ayub Khan’s Scientific advisor raised the hackles of Pakistan’s bearded right. This month, Dr Atif Mian was invited by the new government, appointed to the Economic Advisory Board, and then disinvited. Both he and Dr Salam humiliated the slight by offering to serve their country – from wherever, Trieste or Princeton.  

One is tempted to recall the words one wrote for Dr Salam 25 years ago.  Dr Salam then (and equally Dr Atif Mian now) have shown their love for their Athens more than Socrates did, for Socrates drank the cup of poison only once.



[The Tribune Chandigarh, 16 September 2018]  

16 September 2018
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