Team Horizon had the honor to interview one of the most senior legislators of Pakistan, Madam Zakia Shahnawaz at her residence. She cordially welcomed the team and had arranged a delicious Aftaar for team Horizon.
Horizon:Asalam o Alaikum! It is an honor to be your guests and to interview a legislator of your stature.
ZS: Wa Alaikum Salam! It is a pleasure to host Team Horizon; I have gone through previous editions of the newsletter and I must say the team is doing a great job. I would like to congratulate you all, as Horizon has been declared the official publication of PMLN by the Election Commission of Pakistan.
Horizon: Thank you for your kind words. Let’s start the conversation by telling our readers a bit about your early life. Please shed some light on it.
ZS: I was born in 1946 in Esa-Khel village of Mianwali, Punjab. Our family was one of the influential families of the area, and I am one of the seven children of my parents. Life in Esa-Khel was quite difficult in those times, not that it has progressed much in comparison to other areas of Pakistan. People, especially women, used to bring drinking water from the nearby river in pitchers, and drink the same slushy water as no other water resource was available. Otherwise, the women were usually confined to their houses and had nothing much to do. Men oversaw outside affairs.
Horizon: We have learnt that your education is from Convent School. Given the backward nature of your area, how did you get there?
ZS: I was always quite ambitious. I remember that as a child I would ask my grandmother what our purpose in this world was: we didn’t do anything significant at home, as we had domestic assistants for all the household chores. My grandmother used to say that this is how our life is supposed to be. We are born, we grow up, get married, give birth, and die at our homes. Somehow, this did not sit right with me.
When my mother got married, she felt that the home environment is very restricted. As such, she imposed a condition on my father: if she had a daughter, he had to educate her. He was hesitant to let a girl get properly educated or step out of the house, this felt impossible to him. But my mother was stubborn and persistent in her demand.
Then, my mother decided to send me to the village school so that I could become accustomed to school norms before being sent to boarding school. However, the school’s condition was worth seeing. The physical infrastructure was lacking, there was no boundary wall, and toilets and basic human facilities were not available there, neither for health nor hygiene.
When I went there, I came back crying. I told my mother that if that was called a school, I did not want to go anymore. Of course, a school should have a proper environment and health and hygiene facilities.
Then my mother sent me to boarding school, where there were restrictions like I had been familiar with at home. But there were facilities like education, music, playgrounds, and other activities from which we learned much. We were ultimately raised as more aware and educated individuals.
I would only complete my matriculation before I got married at the age of sixteen.
Horizon: Why didn’t you pursue higher education?
ZS: I tried, but circumstances did not allow me. As I previously mentioned, I got married after my matriculation. Though I got an admission for higher education in Switzerland, I became pregnant in the same period, and could not attend college. After the birth of my two daughters, life changed altogether, and while I myself couldn’t complete my education I made sure that both my daughters became highly educated. One of them works for the United Nations and the other, after completing her education, has decided not to pursue a professional career.
Horizon: You started your career in 1977, how did that happen?
ZS: After the 1977 General Elections, I was offered a reserved seat for women in the Punjab Assembly. I accepted the offer and became a parliamentarian for the first time. But unfortunately, martial law was imposed and the nation had to go through the same old cycle again.
Horizon: Before going forward, you have witnessed the fall of Dhaka. Would you please describe public reaction to the event?
ZS: I can remember each and every detail, it still haunts me. When the announcement was made that East Pakistan was no longer a part of Pakistan and had instead become Bangladesh, there was mourning in every household. People used to avoid each other so as to not discuss the event. Everyone felt as if they had lost a part of their body, their own siblings, and their own family. The thoughts and scenes from that time period still scare me and I pray to Allah Almighty that nobody ever has to go through the same feelings our generation went through.
Horizon: Coming back to your political career, how did it restart after martial law?
ZS: After non-party elections were announced, I was contacted once more to be a legislator on a reserved seat. After consultation and deliberation with my family, friends, and intellectuals, I accepted the offer and became part of the system. My intention was to strive for true democracy from within the system, rather than through rebellion. I am a firm believer in the evolution of political acumen and am optimistic that despite all hurdles, we will achieve our dream of true democracy in Pakistan. I might not see it, but our children will witness it.
Horizon: How did you join PMLN?
ZS: I met Mian Nawaz Sharif during my second term as legislator. I can still remember my first meeting with him, he stood out amongst all colleagues with his bright face and his habit to speak less but to employ calculated words. His approach towards public issues and concern for their resolution convinced me to have faith in this man, and when PMLN was formed under the leadership of Mian Sb, I joined immediately. I think it was one of the best decisions of my life.
Horizon: How has your journey been with PMLN?
ZS: I consider myself blessed to be a part of the best and most progressive political party of Pakistan. The party and its leadership have honored me and I am thankful to them for that. I was offered membership to the National Assembly, but I refused citing my age and health. I am a cancer survivor. I thought I could work better in a limited domain, and I believe I was right about that. The party gave me ministries. I have remained education minister too, though for a brief period until the actual finalised minister could take oath.
I have remained minister of population welfare and been advisor to Chief Minister Punjab. I was honored by my party when I was selected to address the United Nations debate of the 47th Session of Commission on Population and Development in New York in April 2014. This was the peak of my political career. After all, who would have thought that a girl from a backwards village in Punjab would one day address the United Nations? I am thankful to Allah and my party leadership for this.
Horizon: Do you compare the PMLN government to the current regime?
ZS: A very little known fact about me is that both mine and my husband’s families are political. I have remained MPA alongside my father-in-law and my brother. Even now, my brother is an MPA from the current government. In the simplest of words, there is no comparison between PMLN and the current administration. Mian Shehbaz Sharif was an untiring CM with all his focus on public welfare, the betterment of Punjab, infrastructure development, educational improvements, scholarships, etc. Name any sector and you would see how significantly Punjab improved under the leadership of Shehbaz Sharif, so much that it was praised by other countries as well. The current government has only focused on self-projection. It seems they have no intention to work for people, and they have assumed their positions only to enjoy them. All I can say is that we, the people of Punjab, deserve better.
Horizon: How do you seee the future of PMLN?
ZS: Mark my words, PMLN has the brightest future of all political parties in Pakistan. With its track record of development, a progressive approach, and focus on legislation in accordance with timely needs, PMLN is the only party that can take Pakistan forward. PMLN also has an amazing blend of young and experienced leaders, and when I see my young female colleagues in the party, I feel relieved that the party has a secured future in able hands.
Horizon: Coming to the non-political side, how do you pass your time?
ZS: I often visit my relatives who live nearby. In free time, I listen to music, mostly from the 70s, and sometimes watch old movies again. I also watch videos on YouTube.
Horizon: Are you a foodie?
ZS: Who isn’t in Pakistan? I love home cooked desi meals and take pride in cooking at our place.
Horizon: Thank you very much for your time. What message would you give to our readers?
ZS: My message to the readers is to please educate your children. If I was born again, I would complete my education first and then engage in other affairs of life. I wish to be a doctor, engineer, or professor. Please invest in educating the youth, as there is no substitute to education. It is for the future of our children, our state, and our people.
I thank you all for coming and honouring me. It is almost Iftaar time, let us say our prayers.