By Rafia Zakaria
July 11, 2018
FEW Pakistanis noticed the death anniversary of Fatima Jinnah this Monday past. Even in her lifetime, she had apparently been largely a recluse. The political world had been too much for her, her run for the head of state was a trying if not debilitating expedition that ended in defeat. For that woman, whose brother had been the ailing founder of a nation, being a sister was not enough. She was rejected; the machinations of men, their clever and cruel manipulations of government systems and her own reserved nature all colluded to play a role in her electoral loss. She shut herself up in Mohatta Palace, with a few servants and a dog for company. It was enough for this famous sister from cosmopolitan Bombay. After they came to her funeral, Pakistan’s powers that be largely forgot her and the people did so too.
Fatima Jinnah’s running for elections led to a tradition; all women who tried to capture the reins of power in the country would have to have some sort of blood relationship with a man who had already held power. A cavalcade of such women has followed since; various relations installed in various roles, women in the families of powerful men installed in political office to ensure a wide ‘family’ expanse of power.
Another episode of just this sort of saga is about to play out on Friday. There is a global playbook for the return of famous daughters coming home to avenge their dead or beleaguered fathers. In Pakistan, the last such occasion was in October 2007, when Benazir Bhutto boarded a plane in Dubai to return to her country for elections.
Bhutto too was a mother, a wife and a sister. And she too had been assailed by accusations of corruption. Tales of graft and embezzlement were tagged to her and her husband Asif Ali Zardari; a number of dubious expenditures were said to have been made in London. And just as Maryam Nawaz’s husband Capt Safdar has now been detained and sent to Adiala Jail, Zardari too had been in prison on corruption charges.
The “cases are politically motivated and nothing more than blatant political victimisation and pressure tactics,” Maryam is reported to have said, regarding her own situation. “I am undeterred, unperturbed, fighting,” she also said, drawing attention to the fact that disqualifications, exile and jail terms are not new to the Sharif clan. All of it, the bravado, the denials and the dismissive ‘who cares’ air, and even the entourage of obsequious followers, seems familiar, like we have seen it somewhere, sometime not too long ago. Everything changes, it seems, and everything stays the same.
In the court’s judgement in the Avenfield reference case, Nawaz Sharif has been found guilty of owning assets beyond his known sources of income. Maryam, the dutiful daughter, has been found instrumental in abetting her father’s corrupt procurements. She faces a sentence of 10 years. The whole family, the ever-glowing, well-turned-out Maryam included, is in London. A crowd is supposedly gathered outside the Avenfield Apartments on London’s Park Lane. They have in recent days taken to shouting “thief” at those inside. When Nawaz Sharif tried to leave, a bystander accosted him; when his son tried to defend him, the man, who was Pakistani, threw a shopping cart at him.
Nothing is over till it’s over in Pakistan. Despite the fact that information and law minister Ali Zafar has said that the two will be arrested on arrival, some have pointed out that it is entirely possible that the dramatic return scheduled for Friday either does not happen or is a doozy rather than a spectacle.
For her part, Maryam Nawaz has tweeted the flight details and told reporters that her father, Nawaz Sharif, “has set a new benchmark by offering his arrest”. No matter how repetitive the actions of Pakistani politicians, of daughters defending fathers, everyone imagines themselves as pioneers. So it is with Maryam.
There are also those who believe that Maryam Nawaz and her father may never be arrested at all and may be granted protective bail instead, enabling both to remain out of prison and even to campaign for the party in the frenzied run-up to elections on July 25. If such a prediction were to come to pass, the daughter who has become the right-hand woman to her father will likely be able to defy the situation that she currently confronts. Time could intervene, endless appeals filed, all the while the Sharifs busy doing what they do.
There are talented, brilliant and resilient women in Pakistan who do not happen to be related to powerful men, whose power is not a second act poised on the patronage of a husband or father. These women, the makers of their own destinies, head companies and banks, run schools and hospitals.
In the midst of yet another episode in the continuing saga of a daughter of privilege defending a father, it becomes crucial to mention these women who have empowered themselves in nearly every field but Pakistani politics. That last realm is one that a self-made woman finds difficult to enter; lineage and privilege matter more here than character or commitment. If you are not, like Maryam Nawaz is, talking about the superhuman worth of a venerated father, you simply do not have a chance.
One wonders how many elections, how many dramatic arrests (or non-arrests), how many rallies and verdicts will have to come to pass before Pakistani politics is not the realm of someone’s daughter, someone’s wife or someone’s sister. This election, creeping up on us, will not be the one to blaze that trail and make that crucial difference.
Rafia Zakaria is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.