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How the ‘pampered princess’ of Pakistan became the lion-hearted fighter the country needs

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No longer a dowdy princess, Maryam Nawaz Sharif is now a graceful politician with improved Urdu diction and sharper clothes. She is on the front line.

Imran Khan called her the “Mughal princess”, and his army of trolls called her the “corrupt daughter”. But now, Maryam Nawaz Sharif is the face of true change in Pakistan. She is ironically the ‘Naya Pakistan’, to borrow from Imran Khan’s slogan.

From a pampered princess who was mostly known for attending a prestigious convent school in Murree, marrying young and demurely smiling in the shadows, Maryam has become the symbol of resistance against the deep state in Pakistan.

She is abused by some Pakistanis as the ‘thief’ who ‘looted’ the nation’s wealth, who wore Gucci slippers to jail and bought shampoo from Abu Dhabi airport. Perhaps the trolls have a reason to be angry at a bourgeois family who they blame for all of the country’s ills. But despite the vitriol and the naked display of resentment against the Sharifs by some, Maryam has changed the narrative completely. Along with the thrice ousted PM Nawaz Sharif, his heir apparent presented herself for arrest in Lahore and is now in Adiala Jail, Rawalpindi.

Lahore, the seat of Sharifs’ power, and the city where Maryam grew up is where the father and daughter landed from England to “face the law” as she said in an emotional video circulated to supporters who swarmed the streets.

In recent years, Maryam went through a makeover from her previous image as a dowdy princess to a graceful politician. While she was always her father’s champion, her public debut as a leader coincided with her personal transformation. She improved her Urdu diction, shed her mummy-type look and accent, lost weight and dressed sharper. Now she is on the front line.

When she addressed the media in the UK, Maryam spoke confidently. In Pakistan, she presented herself for arrest wearing a smile and a dupatta on her head.

She has, over time, also changed her father’s party – gently nudging it away from its earlier right-wing politics toward a centrist and liberal direction. She did this quietly, as she stood by Nawaz’s side, addressing jalsas. From a PM who had introduced a law where a man could forgive his son if he killed his daughter (famously known as the Diyat laws), Nawaz had become a champion of democratic values. He called Pakistan’s persecuted minorities, the Ahmadis, his brothers and distanced himself from provocative and hate-filled comments of others. During his party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) tenure, they passed a bill where no family member could forgive honour killers. From being a Zia protégé, Nawaz became a rebel with a cause. And it was Maryam who held his hand and led him to a historic point in Pakistan.

Since 2013, she had been fully active in the PML-N’s politics. Her presence on Twitter grew as she responded with grace and warmth to both appreciation and criticism. She was appointed the head of a youth programme but had to resign after a court order deemed it illegal. The establishment was on to her – and did not want her anywhere near the seat of power.

As the Rangers surrounded her and her father on July 13, 2018, and refused to allow them a medical doctor, I could have laughed and called it karma and retweeted a photo of a celebratory cake that appeared on my Twitter timeline.

There was a time when the police had come looking for a family member of mine for his political affiliations in Karachi. This was when Nawaz Sharif was the Prime Minister. The state-sanctioned chaos and police brutality continued even when Benazir Bhutto became the PM.

But I couldn’t laugh as I watched the father and daughter. I clasped my jaw in horror and saw another cycle of political victimisation, this time at those who had been the most powerful, the most privileged.

Maryam receives multiple rape, abusive and venomous threats from her opponents. They even taunt her for marrying a man of her choice. Her detractors, mostly from Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party, attack her character and photoshop her photos over images of animals and other questionable forms.

Imran Khan’s own attitude towards feminism and the treatment of women is well-documented. His party, which positions itself as a party of change and betterment, decries Western feminism. Maryam is paying the price that women must pay for being in the public eye in this part of the world. They face the hate and naked misogyny just because they are women.

Yet she returned.

Political earthquakes can work in mysterious ways. Imran was all set to win a ‘moral’ victory and march to the PM house. His party had celebrated the decline of Nawaz Sharif and his corrupt family. Analysts had written off the Sharifs after the Panama Papers and Calibri Gate and the court giving ten years to Nawaz and seven to Maryam over what many commentators call a ‘judicial coup’. I expected her, a sheltered daughter who had lived a fairly comfortable exile in Saudi Arabia, to quietly fade away into the shadows.

Many outraged at the idea of comparing her to the dynamic Benazir Bhutto, insisting that Maryam was no leader and no inspiration to the millions and that she couldn’t stand a chance against the upcoming swell of public favour for Imran Khan.

But now as Maryam faces the seven years in jail, burnt at the altar of political victimisation, she is being lauded as ‘lion-hearted’. In a handwritten letter, she has refused any additional facilities at Adiala jail. As soon as she returns to the public sphere, she will be the hero: rising from the ashes of hate and targeted misogyny. She may well become the face of a new progressive Pakistan.

The author is a liberal, feminist journalist, YouTuber, Supermom & biryani connoisseur in Pakistan. Her Twitter handle is @mahwashajaz_

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  1. All i can say the authoress seems to be living in utopia.This ain’t stone age all comes in black and white.Fatber sons and daughter are big time thieves.The lord knows best.

  2. MARYAM may be no Saint but much of what this article states rings true….she is the new Heroine on the block….all of us seem to have underestmated her….

    In London the PTI goons who kept calling for her rape and recieved a punch from her son should have been taken to task by the PTI but i guess that was too much to ask for from that sort of party.

    Maryam it seems has the resolve to go all the way and this will scare the establishment no end….being a woman they will be doubly scared of her…..she is one to watch and maybe applaude

  3. Don’t know how much the aurthor of this article has been paid. At the moment we just know that the ‘ father & daughter ‘ have been charged on corruption.
    Ex PM has the right to make hue & cry. If the traitors in past would have punished then today nobody would have a courage to write in the favour of a declared corrupt.

  4. I can’t believ this article as if she has done something great. The article fails to highlight a single thing she has done for the country. Just because she offered her for arrest doesn’t make her Benazir Bhutto or someone like that great. For God sake give me a break. This is the problem with us Pakistanis we forget very quickly the crimes of ‘big ones’.

    • Don’t know how much the aurthor of this article has been paid. At the moment we just know that the ‘ father & daughter ‘ have been charged on corruption.
      Ex PM has the right to make hue & cry. If the traitors in past would have punished then today nobody would have a courage to write in the favour of a declared corrupt.

  5. Just 2 days in jail and you are making her out into some kind of super woman. How can you compare her to Benazir Bhutto. She is nobody compared to her

  6. Oh please! A chor, who is is a chor, is a chor (thief). Enough said. The grooming was not to better Pakistan, stop the loot but instead to save his father’s politics. What a profitable business it was right. Don’t paint the lies in white with color of feminism. The two concepts are organically independent. This is about to save Pakistan. When the West holds a leader accountable then stories of merit and justice are carved. When a developing muslim democracy exercises it then its a coup. More power to women but even more to the People of Pakistan!

  7. It is interesting to note that there are ‘bhakts’ and ‘slaves of dynasty’ on both sides of the border. This Maryam may just experience the same cycle of growth and downfall typical of a politician (Sonia being one example). But where are Bhutto scions with all their ill-gotten wealth? No hunger to fight anymore?

  8. Corruption and fraudulent princess being portrayed as loin heart Hummm. You need to read more before your next article.

  9. Corrupt daughter of corrupt ex prime minister who lied about property witholdings in UK. Sharif family stole $300 million dollars from people of Pakistan and move them to swiss bank account. She belongs where any thief should be which is in jail.

  10. For those of us who actually pay income tax in Pakistan this article doesnt capture the reason why detractors of Maryam hate her father or her. She claims her family and her father were the richest most successful businessmen in Pakistan. The tax Mian Nawaz Sharif paid at the height of his business was not more than 100 dollars in a year. Now for a person like me who pays a 1000 $ a month and still cant afford a new car this doesnt make sense. Maryam herself went on TV and said that she doesnt own any property in London or in Pakistan, 6 years later she along with her father herd the verdict sitting in that very property. You cant fool the people all the time. The feel good position on feminism is a farce too. Under her uncle’s 10 year uninterrupted rule in Punjab the realities are different. One example is Kasur child molestation scandal where the culprits to this day are protected by loyalists of Maryam’s party. So please she is no Benazir and will never be one.

  11. Also not to forget her husband is follower of mumtaz qadri the murderer of governor salman taseer lest the author confuses you of her being a beacon of liberalism

  12. She is no Che Guevara; the inventor of calibri font caught using forged documents in supreme court besides being complicit in his fathers wrongdoings which includes not having a single piece of document, money trail for 300 billion apartments in London. It is sheer luck that this was exposed by Panama papers and tak n to conclusion by an independent judiciary for the first time otherwise Nawaz like a mafia would buy out judges. Of one has to look at the biases of the writer just run through her twitter timeline to see that more than being loyal to her journalistic ethics she chooses to be loyal to sharif mafia. If one has to see an example of unbiased investigative journalism look no further than icij who exposed the Panama papers which led to many corrupts getting caught including sharifs. While they might revel in defending sharifs by reducing due process of law to civil military binary it should be realized that the corruption money deprives the most vulnerable population from their basic rights, more than 25 million children are out of school, 40% population does not have access to clean drinking water and health facilities are in shambles fit not even for animals in Pakistan..

    • Tan
      sharif’s riches since 1960, they asking money trail even paypal does’nt exist in Pakistan. and according to the report of the State bank of pakistan since they privatized there are no such a single transaction of asserts huge transferring from Pakistan to overseas.
      My question is Imran khan sister Alima khan has billion of dollars property in Dubai how they made if they running so-called hospital. malik riaz who had nothing not a single sqft in shape of land. before 1999 but since he working with bahria, DHA he is the Billionaire now. Nab has dare to investigate him.
      in short Pakistan is under military dictator since 1947 and they choose puppet GOVT other than puppet eliminate instantly.
      AND if Nawaz made any wrong or he is corrupt then why he came back even he can stay easily in UK. he has genuine excuse to stay in the UK.
      and i am sure you’re the agency scrape who doing his dirty duty here.

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