The time for Pervez Musharraf’s rally was 1pm. But even after four hours, the All Pakistan Muslim League’s claim that a sea of people would sweep to Mazaar-e-Quaid fell just as flat as the dusty ground where it was organised.
About 10,000 chairs were set up by the decorators and journalists estimated that between 7,000 and 8,000 people turned up, drawing immediate comparisons with the mammoth crowd summoned by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf just weeks earlier at the same spot.
If members of the APML noted this, they certainly didn’t let on and in fact kept mentioning the word millions in their speeches. Shama Roomi, the general secretary of the women’s wing in Sindh, confidently chirped, “This rally will be bigger than Imran Khan’s.”
What stood out more than the numbers, however, was the fact that people from the villages and cities of Sindh turned up rather than people actually from Karachi. Most of them roamed around, clutching the party’s green flags with an image of Pervez Musharraf, Mohammad Ali Jinnah and an eagle. The fact that more people came from the countryside seemed to ruffle the APML’s Karachi division that accused them of “taking over the event”. For a while they decided to boycott their own party and stand at the reception. “We have been working so hard for the rally. But the event has been hijacked by Punjab sardars and Sindh’s waderas,” cribbed the party’s Karachi general secretary Ali Asghar Swati, after getting up on a chair to address workers. “They are not letting us go on stage.” This prompted some men to shout, ‘Give Karachi people their rights’, before a scuffle broke out.
“Haris Nawaz, the secretary general, has posted people from Sindh as security volunteers,” said one worker. “They have guns and are threatening to kill us. The Karachi division was in charge before the men hijacked it.”
But their cries fell on deaf ears, and more and more buses from the countryside kept rolling up. Ajrak-clad passengers streamed out to make it to the dummy walk-through security gates in the single-digit temperatures.
Out on the road since 4am was Muhammad Umer from Thatta, who said he came to the rally because his leader Ghulam Mustafa Khaskheli, the APML’s coordinator in Sindh, had invited them. After a little coaxing to open up, he blurted out why he was actually there: “They have given us a lot,” he said, “one thousand rupees per person.” But as soon as these words were out, men from his group pounced on him. “No one has forced us or given us anything,” clarified one man hastily. “We only got biryani on the bus.” But all of them agreed that Khaskheli was why they had come. “We support Musharraf because Khaskheli supports him,” said Maula Bux from Thatta.
In the main area, a massive two-floor stage was set up with a huge LCD screen in the middle with the top leadership slouched on the couches by the side. A huge sound system blared songs praising the former president as men showed off their dance moves and girls clapped and cheered. Zainab from DHA College declared: “I will vote for him. I saw banners across the city and that’s why I came. He is the only one who will save us.”
Watching the crowd dance was Mrs Rizwan Khan, who was the director general of the Press Information Department during Musharraf’s era. “After 9/11, it was a difficult time for Pakistan. But being a great leader, Musharraf handled it well,” she said. “That’s why we are here to support him.”
A number of Bengalis and Biharis from Orangi Town also came to the event. Mushtaq said that his group, the Bengali Ittehad, had offered its support. From Gulistan-e-Jauhar came Syed Imran who brought his elderly mother and two children as he felt that only Musharraf could make a difference.
He did add, however that the murder of Akbar Bugti and the Lal Masjid episode were still fresh in people’s memories and could prove a hurdle to Musharraf’s popularity.
Others chose to mock PTI chief Imran Khan. Young Zeeshan from Gulshan said, “Imran Khan is only interested in politics. Musharraf’s cause is only to save the country.” Another participant felt that they had only a week to organise the event while Imran Khan had a month to organise his rally.
Unlike at recent political rallies, Naeem Abbas Rufi was the only one singer present to entertain.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 9th, 2012.