World News

Kulsoom Nawaz, Wife of Jailed Former Pakistan Leader, Is Dead

Posted September 11, 2018 5:36 p.m. EDT

ISLAMABAD — Kulsoom Nawaz, wife of the jailed former Pakistani leader Nawaz Sharif, died on Tuesday after a protracted battle with cancer in London, family members said.

Nawaz, 68, had been under treatment for throat cancer at the Harley Street Clinic since last year. In June, she had a heart attack and was put on a ventilator. Family members and the family physician, Dr. Adnan Khan, confirmed her death.

Nawaz’s death comes at a precarious time for the Sharif family, once one of the most influential and affluent families of Pakistan. It saw a sharp decline in its political fortunes after a corruption investigation began into Sharif in 2016.

Sharif is in prison in Rawalpindi along with his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law Muhammad Safdar. They were convicted on corruption charges in the wake of the Panama Papers leak, which disclosed expensive and undeclared property owned by the Sharif family in London. Sharif’s other two sons and other daughter are in London; the sons face arrest if they return to Pakistan.

Sharif family members said arrangements were being made to bring Nawaz’s body to Lahore, the family hometown, for burial. The funeral will be held Friday, according to members of Sharif’s political party. They said Sharif and his daughter would be allowed to attend.

Kulsoom Nawaz was born on July 1, 1950, in Lahore. She came from a family of wrestlers and was the granddaughter of Ghulam Mohammed Baksh, known as the Great Gama, a renowned wrestler.

Nawaz was a steadfast companion of her husband, who was prime minister three times but never completed a full term. She was known for her poised, dignified manner. Her interest was in literature, and she took part in politics only when her husband was unable to.

After a 1999 military coup in which Sharif was ousted and sent to prison, Nawaz led a powerful campaign for his release. In one of the most remarkable moments of her struggle, she broke through a police cordon in Lahore while trying to read at an event at the Lahore Press Club.

The police chased her car and blocked its way. When she refused to come out of the car, it was lifted by a crane and taken away. Photographs of that standoff became a rallying point for the workers and supporters of Sharif’s political party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz.

Nawaz won election in 2017 after Sharif’s seat in parliament fell vacant when the Supreme Court disqualified him from office. As she lay in her London hospital bed, her daughter Maryam led the political campaign on the ground.

Nawaz’s long illness became a political issue in the period leading up to the July 25 general elections. Political opponents of Sharif accused the family of faking her illness to gain public sympathy. On Tuesday, some political opponents expressed regrets for doubting her illness.

Prime Minister Imran Khan, in a condolence message, said he was sad to learn of Nawaz’s death. “She was a courageous woman of great dignity and confronted her disease with fortitude,” Khan said.