Jennifer Musa
The Irish Queen of Balochistan

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Jennifer Musa was born Bridget Wren at Tarmons, County Kerry in Ireland, November 11, 1917, the daughter of a smallholding farmer. She had four sisters and two brothers and received a Roman Catholic education.

Known as Bridie, she later changed her name to Jennifer and left for England to train as a nurse. Like many thousands of young Irish men and women Ireland was a poor and desolate place to carve out your future.

Jennifer decided to move to Oxford, where she trained to be a nurse. This is where things take an interesting turn.

In 1939 while living in Oxford, she went to Exeter College's May Ball and there Jennifer met and fell in love with a Philosophy student named Qasi Mohammed Musi.

Qasi was a prominent Baloch politician and nationalist, tribal leader, brother of Qasi Isa, a prominent activist in the Pakistan Movement. Qasi Musa was the eldest son of the Prime Minister to the Khan of Kalat.

Jennifer Musa took the name Jehan Zeba and married Qasi the following year. She had five children: four sons and one daughter. Her son Ashraf Jehangir Qazi is a senior Pakistani diplomat.

In 1948 (just a few months after Pakistan earned its independence from Britain), they moved to the town of Pishin in Balochistan.

Jennifer Musa’s arrival in Pishin was dramatic to the local population. Here was this ancient tribal culture that believed pretty strongly in Purdah, the religious belief that women were not allowed to be seen by men in public, and then their entire system was turned upside down by the arrival of this hot-tempered, tough-minded, young women from County Kerry Ireland.

Jennifer refused to wear the burka, and loved Bailey's Irish Cream, and didn't take being told what to do from anyone. There was a rumour that spread that Jennifer was a British Princess who had been given to Qasi as a gift by the British Royal Family as a reward for the Balochistanian prince killing a wild tiger with his bare hands.

In a land of camels, her family owned the only car; despite the austere surroundings, they lived in relative security within the thick, mud-walled, colonial-era home that was festooned with daggers, tigers' heads and photographs of her extravagantly whiskered in-laws.

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Pakistan's founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, stayed for several nights at the house, from where they often forayed across the border to the fashionable, Francophone court of the Afghan king at Kabul.

In 1956 tragedy struck. The idyll life ended when her husband died in a motor accident. Despite her wish to return to Ireland, her husband's family persuaded her to stay in Pishin with their 14-year-old son, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi.

Her independence of mind, often attributed to her "Irishness", and often making references to Irish republicanism led her to enter politics. She joined the now-defunct National Awami (Freedom) Party (NAP) of the Pathan nationalist Wali Khan. At what are often called Pakistan's "first and last free and fair elections", in 1970, she won a seat in the national assembly. Her flaxen hair, grey-blue eyes and fair skin caused unease among its more bearded members.

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Jennifer served as a parliamentarian for seven years, during which time she demonstrated her empathy for the underdog. She founded the area's first women's association and its first family planning clinic.

"You can't liberate women until you liberate men," she said.

More famously, she resisted strong pressure from the overbearing Prime Minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, to water down autonomous rights for Baluchistan. Perhaps apocryphally, Bhutto was reputed to have mused whether she thought she was "the Queen of Baluchistan". Then he added: "Fix that woman."

"Bhutto told my brother-in-law to work on me. He said, 'get her vote.' He thought the weakest link was a woman. He'd never been to Ireland. In the end, Bhutto gave in. He never forgave me."

Pakistani politicians of all shades and hues paid lip service to provincial autonomy. In the end, however, the only one who stood up for it was a lady MNA from Ireland. Exasperated with her intransigence, Zulifikar Ali Bhutto was said to have once remarked, "She just wants to be Queen of Balochistan."

During the Baloch revolt in the late 1970s, when local freedom fighters were battling the Pakistani government, she worked with both sides to restore peace in the region.

Jennifer remained in Belochistan for six decades, refusing to leave even when the neighboring Afghan province of Khandahar was overrun by Taliban insurgents. She raised her son to become a diplomat (he was served a Pakistan's Ambassador to both the United States and Russia) and fight for what he believed in.

Her political involvement waned however after Bhutto was executed by military dictator Zia-ul-Haq in 1979 and Pakistan got caught up in the Afghan war against the occupying Soviet Union.

However when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in the 1980s, she not only took in refugees fleeing the destruction, but used her own money to build an ice factory so that she could produce cold water for the refugees and reliable refrigeration for a region that didn't have much in the way of electricity.

"Quite frankly I don't take much interest (in politics or) many of these things these days," she said.

Spurred by the plight of young girls in this desperately poor region she took up social work. "I worked with all the people, even with my bad Urdu. They are clever people. I founded a kind of girl guides and the Pishin women's association, I founded that for the education of the girls," she said.

She gestures with a smile to a green-spined book of photographs of Ireland, but says she has no intention of leaving the place she has called home for more than half her lifetime.

Candle sticks made of empty Bailey's Irish Cream and Courvoisier bottles stand on the sideboard in the long trophy room, a rare sight in this conservative corner of an Islamic republic where alcohol is banned.

"I don't think I will ever go back to County Kerry, she said in a faint Kerry brogue. I haven't anyone living there any more. If I were to go home I would feel absolutely strange," she said.

"Even now as I sit here in Pishin I feel I am home. They don't put me on a pedestal, that would be terrible," she says.

Servants now turn away many of the callers who once came seeking the "Queen's" signature on a chit to win them preferment or quick treatment at the hospital.

But she says her old nickname was "just a joke" and that these days the locals all call her "Mummy Jennifer".

"They all call me mummy. Even the mummies call me mummy," she says.

"But mummy has had her innings."

Jennifer died on January 12 2008. Her funeral procession was attended by thousands of burly, turbaned Pathans (many of them allied to the Taliban) who raised cheers of "Mummy Jennifer!" in her honour as the cortège passed through a shuttered Pishin.

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