Imran Khan’s first public show in Karachi was in May, when the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) gathered at the Native Jetty bridge in Karachi to protest drone strikes. When I spoke to PTI supporters in the crowd of about 8,000-10,000 people that had gathered then, the popular sentiment was anger against America. Naysayers were quick to dismiss the event as a failure and upheld the view that Karachi would always be the MQM’s turf. But his rally on December 25 at Jinnah’s mausoleum silenced even his most vocal critics.
In a city like Karachi, where violence underscores the mix of ethnicities, Imran rallied for peace and unity quite successfully on December 25. Besides the fact that the crowd was massive — reportedly about 200,000 supporters — what was heart-warming was the sense of unity and brotherhood: Pakistanis from all walks of life represented — no hateful banners and no angry sloganeering. It was uplifting to see ‘mummy daddy’ supporters stand side-by-side with the awam, bridging the otherwise obvious divide between the rich and the not-so-rich. No one talked about drone attacks or civilian casualties. The mood was light, almost festive and people seemed to be having a really good time with all the music and the sprinkle of celebrities. For some, it was their first ever experience of a public rally. Why? Why did these Pakistanis, whose political activism is usually dormant, decide to be a part of Imran’s fleet?
The answers I got were varied and some very amusing: Imran is a hero; the PTI will change conventional politics in Pakistan; if not Imran then who; and (my personal favourite), I will vote for the MQM but I was curious to see what these PTI rallies are all about. No matter what the reason, like the Pied Piper, Imran called out to Karachi and Karachi, like Lahore, followed in hordes. So what does this mean for PTI rivals?
The PML-N must have watched with apprehension as former PML-N stalwart, Javed Hashmi, wowed Karachi with his charged speech and chants of “Baaghi! Baaghi” that left him crimson with emotion. Not only has the PTI proven to be a formidable force in Punjab, after Sunday’s showdown it has changed the landscape of politics in Sindh. Shahbaz Sharif’s swift statement that he will expose the “traitors cum politicians” who are switching from one party to another on the instructions of the establishment, is proof that all is not good in Raiwind. In this regard, the MQM’s decision to support the PTI rally in their city was a far cleverer move than opposing it. The MQM congratulated Imran for holding a “successful rally” in the metropolis and it’s no surprise that they did, since all speakers at the rally refrained from criticising them in any way. Could it be that the PTI is hoping to form some sort of alliance with the MQM come election results? Will past grievances and the fact that Imran was once banned from entering the city by the MQM be let go? I suppose all can be forgiven and forgotten when you are a relatively young party hoping to strengthen your ranks.
Critics who say that Imran’s approach of opening his arms to defectors contradicts his message of ‘change’, should know that it is his only option if he wants some sort of success in the coming election. Imran may be the PTI’s poster boy, but with additions like Qureshi and Hashmi who are seasoned politicians with a large following, he is being taken more seriously. But just like the Pied Piper has a dark side, I fear that Imran may be offering delusive enticements. In all his earnestness to come into power, it seems that he is falling victim to the very change he is fighting for: the love of the kursi.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 27th, 2011.