Rawalpindi – Resilience. Resilience was one word that depicted the environment in a hot and humid room where people had gathered this Thursday to meet jailed former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law Captain Safdar.
At exact 11 am, when mulaqaat with prisoners starts, Nawaz Sharif entered the room wearing a creme coloured shalwar kameez. Partially crumpled clothes confirmed the three-time ex-Prime Minister had no hanger in his cell to hang the clothes on and must be keeping his jail dresses folded under the pillow.
With pensive facial expressions, Sharif started shaking hands and embracing his party leaders and friends, as many of them struggled to hold back their tears. The air inside became heavier with emotions. All were silent.
This hushed silence was cracked by a booming voice of Abdul Razzaq Jami, the famous Naat reciter, who started reciting Mian Muhammad Bakhsh sb.
Ki hoya jay qaidi baniya
Sadaa nai qaidi rehna
Ek din aasi fher Muhammad
Aa sang e rall behna
Sharif held Jami’s hand and paused for few moments. This was the same room where former Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and politicians such as Javed Hashmi used to meet their visitors during their jail terms during the Musharraf dictatorship. Both were free now and Hashmi was present in the audience. The message in Mian Muhammad Bakhsh Kalaam was symbolic and relevant to the somber occasion. Jami continued:
Aslaan naal jay naiki kariye
Naslaan tak nai bhul dey
Buriyan naal jay naiki kariye
Ultiyan chaalaan chal dey
Listening to these lines, a number of faces of close friends and aspirants of high offices must have crossed Sharif’s mind, as those did on the minds of people present in the room, as Jami’s recital attracted attention baring the realities of human psyche.
Shaking hands and embracing people Sharif inched towards the end of rows of people and sat in the head chair. One chair beside Hina Butt stayed unoccupied as he initiated the conversation with people showing them the day’s newspaper which had carried an expose of Election Commission’s orders to its officers on polls day to stop using Result Transmission System (RTS) which had made the entire election process controversial.
Within minutes, Sharif’s pensive expressions had evaporated and his trademark relaxed and pleasant style took over his demeanour.
Quoting a doctor in PIMS, who broke into tears when Sharif was taken there last week, he smilingly said I consoled the doctor and said “Doctor sb don’t be sad over my ordeal as I am not sad at all.”
People’s expectations of him, future course and politics were on the mind of Nawaz Sharif during the entire conversation that followed.
He did not complain about his personal or family sufferings except that he said he was forcefully taken to the hospital and he didn’t want to go. “Mein bhi phir zabardasti wapis aya,” Sharif said laughingly.
Unlike his seething-with-anger-visitors, Sharif was calm as ocean. In an almost three hours rendezvous, he wouldn’t speak a single word or show a single gesture, which would say if he was unhappy over what was going on. His body language was as if he knew exactly in advance what would happen to him, his family, and his party.
He seemed to have developed a direct connection with general public and knew their sentiments very well in spite of being confined inside high walls of Adiala. To him the opportunism by few second tier politicians wasn’t even worth a shrug when few former cabinet members or losing candidates tried to draw his attention towards the role of disloyal elements within the party.
Sitting in a prison chair, inside a hot, humid mulaqati kamra of a jail that has the unenvious distinction of tormenting at least three prime ministers, Nawaz looked in his trademark relaxed element contradicting all rumours about a deal and that he can’t face the humiliations by the regime and hardships of life.
Unfazed by the vicious propaganda by his opponents in media, politics and elsewhere, Nawaz oozed defiance and looked in complete control of his party and the direction that it would take in future.
“All moments are peaceful, Absar sb,” when I asked him later during a conversation which time he finds the most peaceful during his 24-hour solitary confinement. “This time shall pass and Pakistan would be back on track of progress. I won’t let my people or the country down.”
In a lighter tone he explained in Punjabi that he was made to sleep on the floor on the very first night. “I had been travelling for many hours and had come from London to Lahore then to Islamabad and then Adiala. I was very tired and exhausted and they further wanted to disturb me. But that time passed as well.”
“Now I have been given an iron bed with a mattress and bedsheet,” he said. Asked if he had any bad feelings about the disloyalty of people, Sharif said he had no complaints with anyone. But added that he was reading Mughal history along with the history of subcontinent and Islam. “I know tough times pass.”
Answering all questions Sharif did not sound or look if he was unhappy or irritated with the political situation, turn of his fate or his health issues.
He looked and sounded a calm and confident leader who had unflinching faith in Allah and His people. No other barrier, he believed, can deter his or people’s path ahead.
Amongst a sudden thunder of applause, Maryam Nawaz entered the room. Everyone, including Sharif stood up and received her with warmth and respect.
Wearing a smile on her face, Maryam didn’t look even a bit disturbed over the situation.
Contradictory to the general perception propagated about this “princess” she was undeterred by the tough jail life that she had been experiencing for some time.
An unavoidable change was noticeable, however. After her appearance before the JIT, during public meetings after Sharif’s disqualification and after appearing before the NAB court whenever she spoke, she would sound upset. Surprisingly, inside the jail, she was very calm and calculated. Not a single word or gesture revealed if she was feeling uncomfortable in jail as rumoured by self-styled analysts on TV channels day and night.
The anger, which would be visible on her face since Nawaz was disqualified by the SC in July 2017, seems to have been channelised into a more measured and mature response to each question.
In simple three-piece shalwar kameez, she didn’t look even a bit bewildered as many an analysts and anchors, who labelled her a Mughal shehzadi, wished to paint her through concocted stories. She was continuously reciting some wazeefa.
Asked how does she spend her 24/7 time, Maryam said: “I wake up early when they unlock the iron bars of my cell at 5 in the morning. Namaz, talawat e Quran, wazeefa, nashta, and the book reading.” Don’t you feel bored or upset with the circumstances you are going through? “Waqt guzarnay ka pata hi nahi chalta. Yeh bhi guzar jai ga. Time flies, Absar.”
When inquired about what she reflected on during this prison time, she said once a female guard told me that people have lot of time in jail to reflect. So do you regret doing anything when you reflect about your past?”
“Absar, if I get one hundred lives, in each one of those one hundred lives, I would do one hundred times the same things I did in this life so far,” she said.
To another question she said these days she was reading Italian author and journalist, Oriana Fallacci, “Interview with History” and the role of Henry Kissinger, Golda Meir, Yasir Arafat, Indira Gandhi, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Willy Brandt, the Shah of Iran.
Referring to an earlier read The Great Terror by Robert Conquest, Maryam said there are so many similarities of incidents which took place in Stalinist Russia and Pakistan. “Today and in the past, our people have faced a similar kind of repression and The Purge which Stalin’s opponents faced. “Neither that repression survived nor would this one.”
Maryam believed that the only reason of injustice to her and all the sufferings stem from the fact that she stood by her father fearlessly. “I am proud of being by his side at a testing time.” When asked if she felt betrayed by anyone, she said “None”. She perhaps knew what I wanted to know but didn’t say a single word, looked around at party leaders gathered in that room and said “See, they all are standing by him” pointing her finger towards Nawaz Sharif.
She hesitated to talk about personal sufferings as a mother and daughter and who she misses the most amongst her kids. When insisted she said she missed her chhoti, the granddaughter Serena, the most.
Captain Safdar was in his usual upbeat mood and looked fresh and well rested. He said he would offer his salaam at the mazar of Bari Imam when he gets out of jail.
Thursday visitation at Adiala