KARACHI: Almost 44 years after its last grand political show in Liaquatabad, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is set to display its might in Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s (MQM’s) stronghold today (Sunday).
Party founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto addressed a massive gathering in the area in 1974 and his grandson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is expected to launch the PPP’s election campaign in the area today. After Bhutto's death and MQM’s emergence as a powerhouse in the area, the PPP and other political parties were restricted to corner meetings and small gatherings but now the tables have turned and political parties are taking advantage of the multiple rifts within the MQM.
"Some people, under the guise of a political party, had held city hostage and political forces were not allowed to enter this constituency. Now, these terrorist gangs operating in the city have been busted. Political activities have resumed and everyone has the right to organise events," Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah told the media during his visit to the rally venue on Saturday.
The rally will be organised in Federal Capital Area’s Tanki Ground and is scheduled to start at 4pm. The PPP has made seating arrangements for 30,000 people and set up a 120 feet long and 40 feet wide stage from where senior leadership will address the gathering. The areas and streets surrounding the venue have been decorated with party flags and portraits of PPP leaders.
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"Tanki Ground will not be the only place filled with PPP jiyalas [activists] – every nook and cranny of Liaquabad will echo with PPP slogans today," said Waqar Mehdi, secretary of the PPP’s Sindh chapter. He added that Benazir Bhutto and her mother Nusrat Bhutto had frequently held rallies in this area but this mega event was being held after a gap of many, many years.
Before the rally, more than two dozen MQM, Pak Sarzameen Party and other party leaders and workers joined the PPP. Mehdi attributed this to the party’s soaring popularity.
A senior party leader requesting anonymity said that the party’s Karachi division leadership has been told to win as many seats as it can in the city. "In the last meeting jointly chaired by Asif Zardari and Bilawal, it was decided to win more seats from District Central and District East. The party leadership is already confident that it will sweep the upcoming polls from districts South, Malir and West, where the Sindhi and Baloch population is high," he said, adding that some prominent figures of the MQM would also join the PPP a few days before the general elections.
"This event is aimed at launching the election campaign from Karachi's District Central where the PPP has previously gotten a lukewarm response," a PPP central executive committee member said, adding that the situation in the upcoming general elections will be changed totally as the MQM is struggling for survival and other political forces have ignored this area.
"In the last five years, the PPP has initiated mega schemes in Karachi and contained the law and order situation that is why people will vote for it," he said.
But MQM's spokesperson rejected these claims and said, "We are a political force and every party has the right to organise the event in any area of Pakistan." He dispelled the impression that political parties other than the MQM were not allowed to carry out their activities in the district.
On Saturday evening the area was abuzz with political activities.
To ensure strict security, the police distributed notices to all shops, petrol pumps and kiosks operating in the vicinity, including Karimabad and its adjoining areas, to shut their businesses after midnight on Saturday.
According to the notice, on Sunday, April 29, all shops, hotels, general stores, bakeries and petrol pumps will be sealed by 12am. "Legal action will be taken against violators," the notice, which was issued by the SHO of the Sharifabad police station, read.
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The owner of a trunk shop in Liaquatabad number 10, Nafees Ahmed, told The Express Tribune that on Friday evening two policemen on motorcycles distributed the notices in all the markets in the area. "The policemen clearly told me that shops should remain closed on Sunday," he said.
Meanwhile, a meat seller at alKaram Square adjacent to the Liaquatabad flyover, said that there must be about 800 shops in the vicinity, all of which have been notified to remain closed on Sunday. "On Sundays we generate the most business," he said, adding that they have forcefully been asked to shut their businesses, which will cause them to suffer huge losses.
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Mehdi, however, said the police mistakenly issued the notice, something the party’s leadership is frowning upon. "We won't let anyone close their businesses," he assured, adding that even the shops in FC area would remain open.
DIG Amir Farooqui said that the notice has been withdrawn. "It was only for a few shops near Tanki Ground, which has not been taken back," he said. Meanwhile, Central Deputy Commissioner Asif Jan Siddiqui said that the notice was actually for those hotels and kiosks illegally operating in the area causing traffic jams.
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"On Sunday an illegal bird market is held under the Liaquatabad Flyover," he said adding that their intention was to send notices to such markets and that has nothing to do with the PPP jalsa. It was a mere misunderstanding, he said.
"We will take strong action against all illegal businesses in the area after the event," he said.
However, no shopkeeper in the area was informed that the notice had been taken back.