As Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) prepares for the biggest public gathering in Quetta in four years, incessant rain and overcast conditions threaten to play spoilsport.
The last political show was held four years back when Akhtar Mengal was accorded a rousing welcome in Balochistan’s capital city upon release from jail.
The April 20 PTI rally, initially planned at the Ayub Stadium which has a capacity of roughly 100,000 people, has now been shifted to an adjacent ground at Quetta’s hockey stadium due to muddy conditions. The new venue has a capacity between 60,000 and 70,000 people and organisers are mulling over plans to extend it by removing a back wall.
However, weather is not the only hindrance for PTI’s success in Balochistan. With Imran Khan scheduled to arrive in Quetta on Friday morning (today), the party’s central leadership, despite hectic efforts and all ‘tsunami’ rhetoric, has failed in making any big waves in Quetta.
For the past few months, the party’s leadership has been engaged in and around Quetta trying their utmost to attract the Nawabs, Sardars, nationalist and religious leaders in preparation for their upcoming gathering in the city. So far, PTI has only mustered former Capital City Police officer Humayun Jogezai and a few tribal elders from Kuchlak, near Quetta, from Balochistan. PTI leaders in Quetta are also carrying intense efforts to court Mir Lashkari Raisani, younger brother of Balochistan Chief Minister Aslam Raisani, who quit the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) on Tuesday.
Raisani, who also served as the president of PPP’s Balochistan chapter, confirmed the reports. “Yes, the PTI leadership has contacted me to hold a meeting with Imran Khan,” he told The Express Tribune on Wednesday.
“I am still indecisive about my future party. However, I hoped that I would hold a meeting with the PTI chairman soon.” He asserted he has been contacted by the top leaderships of PML-N and JUI-F as well during the last two days.
Considering Imran Khan’s personality, Quetta’s populace believes the gathering will undoubtedly be huge. However, they expect it to be a one-man show with usual fanfare rather than a demonstration of political strength.
PTI Balochistan chapter President Qasim Suri claimed the rally will be historic. “The youth of Quetta and adjoining localities is fully motivated and enthusiastic about joining hands with the PTI leadership,” he said.
Vice president of PTI’s Balochistan chapter Humayun Barkwal meanwhile claimed that numerous tribal notables will join the party in the coming days.
“We have invited dissident Baloch leaders and hope to see them tomorrow,” said Syed Zahoor Agha, PTI Balochistan general secretary.
PTI general secretary Dr Arif Alvi claims there will be a tsunami of people at the Quetta gathering.
Political observers, however, maintain that PTI’s slogan of change falls on deaf ears in Balochistan. They argue that the region is too strongly divided along ethnic lines for it to work. Those living in Baloch-dominated districts vote for Baloch nationalists or tribal leaders, while people in Pashtun-dominated areas trust either Pashtun nationalists or religious parties.
“There is no doubt PTI will hold a huge gathering and manage to attractive few big politicians but the Baloch people are not expecting much from Imran Khan,” said Abid Mir, a columnist and political analyst from Balochistan.
“So far, we have not heard of any big name interested in joining PTI. It is a very hard pitch for PTI to get big wickets,” other observers added.
Abid Bukhari, a sub-editor at a local Urdu newspaper in Quetta, noted: “The Sardars, Nawabs, nationalists and others win because of their personal influence and status, not because of party affiliation.”
WITH ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ZAHID GISHKORI AND MOHAMMED RIZWAN
Published in The Express Tribune, April 20th, 2012.