RAWALPINDI: Merely a kilometre away from the military headquarters in Rawalpindi, thousands of people gathered to ‘show’ their strength against, what they called, anti-Pakistan forces.
Hosted by Sheikh Rashid Ahmed of his one-man Awami Muslim League, many leaders from religious, sectarian, and jihadi outfits; previously banned and now operating under different names, charged the jam-packed Liaqat Bagh with their religiously motivated speeches.
“Al-Jihad, Al-Jihad” (the holy war, the holy war) slogans rose from the crowd in response to every fiery claim by orators who warned against the ‘grand conspiracies’ being hatched by the ‘enemies of Pakistan’.
A majority of the participants in the rally were holding Jamaat-ud Dawa (JuD) flags, led by Hafiz Saeed, whose 17-minute speech, consistently referring to Indian-American aggression against Muslims, resonated with the crowd of over 50,000.
“The current standoff between state institutions is the result of a sin that we committed 10 years ago by allowing our territory to be used against Afghan Muslims, and until we repent for that grave mistake, we will never be able to overcome these issues,” Saeed said.
“This is America’s war and we only want to fight Pakistan’s war.”
Saeed said that India is a greater threat to Pakistan than the US. “The current government is conspiring with the US to give in to Indian supremacy in the region. Granting Most Favoured Nation status is part of that plan. We must practically oppose this.”
He said that the Defence of Pakistan Council (DPC) is working to unite all political and religious parties to thwart these conspiracies and tackle the difficulties that Pakistan is embroiled in.
Speaking later, former Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief General (retd) Hamid Gul warned that he would besiege the federal capital with over 2.5 million retired army personnel if the government restores Nato’s supply routes.
People were brought from different corners of the country in buses and vans. There were white shalwar kurta-clad, turbaned and bearded JuD activists from Azad Kashmir, some people from Peshawar, parts of Punjab and from Rawalpindi and Islamabad, but JuD members dominated the crowd.
The rally brought back memories of the leaders of once banned sectarian outfits in the shape of posters of Maulana Azam Tariq, the slain leader of Millat-e-Islami, a faction of Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), Haq Nawaz Jhangvi of SSP and others. The posters were distributed by the activists of Ahl-e-Sunnat-wal Jammat, who came in large numbers to listen to their leader, Maulana Ahmed Ludhianvi.
Activists of the participating religious outfits freely distributed hate material, including jihadi pamphlets, books, CDs and posters inciting sectarian hatred and urging jihad.
Liaquat Road was the main distribution point for these items.
“We were against these people for spreading sectarian hate among Muslims, but they are now using public rallies and conferences for the purpose,” a JuD leader said while talking to The Express Tribune.
More than 2,000 JuD volunteers were responsible for administrative and security matters. Dozens of Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation ambulances, a charity wing of JuD, including mobile operation theatres remained stationed at the venue the whole day.
Murree Road was closed for traffic, which compounded the problems of commuters who were diverted to link roads, causing long traffic jams at multiple points.
Ijazul Haq of Pakistan Muslim League-Zia (PML-Z) and Sheikh Rasheed, both cabinet members during the Musharraf era, asked religious parties for a grand alliance and jihad to stop US and Indian aggression against Pakistan.
They also opposed the government’s intentions to give MFN status to India.
The rally was also attended by Maulana Samiul Haq, Chief of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam of his own faction, Jamaat-i-Islami’s Munawar Hasan and Ahmed Ludhianvi, and former army chief General (retd) Mirza Aslam Baig.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 23rd, 2012.