By now, most of us are familiar with the story arc: amid mounting allegations and pressure, a leader gives up the seat of power and flies across the border. After a series of introspections, the leader returns a couple of years later, prompting ardent supporters to start touting the arrival of a ‘new era’.
Among the constants, only a few things vary, such as the images on the posters: this time, the beaming face of former president Pervez Musharraf and the All Pakistan Muslim League’s (APML) fierce hawk greeted passengers emerging on Sunday from the recesses of the Jinnah International Airport.
Though the crowd outside the airport comprised about a 1,000 people – far shorter than the number which greeted late Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader Benazir Bhutto back in October 2007 – the fervour was still palpable. Wanting a better view, some people had even clambered up the streetlights armed with APML flags.
“The arrival of Musharraf is going to bring a new era of secular thought. During his tenure, religious fanaticism which had been prevailing in the country for nearly two decades was just about to be wiped out,” said businessman Syed Shehzad Ali, one of the men waiting to catch a glimpse of the former president. “Everybody is welcoming him with open arms. Only some extremists don’t want him around. He’s our only hope and I really wish he becomes the next prime minister.”
A mixed crowd
The crowd waiting outside the VIP terminal spoke volumes for Musharraf’s appeal across the social spectrum: women clad in burqas rubbed shoulders with those in blouses and jeans who had expensive designer sunglasses resting on their heads. The people who converged at the airport were from all over the city, including Defence, Orangi Town, North Nazimabad, Gulshan-e-Iqbal and Saddar. APML leader Ghulam Mustafa Khaskheli also rolled into the party with a number of people from rural Sindh who had crimson ajraks draped around their necks.
They danced together to the beat of the dhol, not even slightly anxious about the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s statement that it had put together a special squad, including suicide bombers, to take out the former president who had opted to join the US-led war on terror following 9/11.
‘Musharraf can end
Many in the crowd spoke positively about ‘Operation Silence’, which Musharraf ordered back in July 2007. During the operation, the army stormed the Lal Masjid in Islamabad, which had become a hot spot for militants as well as people espousing a hardline brand of Islam.
Sunbal, a woman clad in a burqa, termed the operation a ‘good decision’. “The militants were the challenging the writ of the government at heart of the capital,” she said. “If want we want to see Pakistan as a modern state, we have to welcome Musharraf with open hearts. That’s why we’re here despite the security threats. PPP failed to curb inflation and fix the deteriorating law and order situation.”
Irfan, who came all the way to the airport from North Karachi said, “If we want peace, love and interfaith harmony, we have to support Musharraf. Karachi’s residents are peace lovers and should vote for him if they want better law and order in the city.” Pointing to the brazen attack on PNS Mehran in May 2011, he said that TTP had become very powerful in the city. “They are also beheading and flogging innocent girls and boys in the northern parts of the country. If we want to stop TTP’s atrocities, we have to support the policies of enlightened moderation and unite people against them.”
Among the people in the crowd was Waseem Ansari, an actor who has parodied Musharraf on satirical shows on television.
He had come to the airport in a black sherwani similar to the one that the former president often sported when he was in power. “After performing parodies, I studied his economic policies. Now I am a die-hard supported of APML and I hope and pray that Musharraf becomes the next prime minister.”
Published in The Express Tribune, March 25th, 2013.