As Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf supporter Zohair Toru’s famous phrase “garmi mein kharab” made its rounds on Twitter, Imran Khan supporters braved the sweltering Karachi heat on Saturday when they gathered at the Native Jetty bridge to protest drone strikes.
Brushing aside rumours of road blocks and traffic jams, residents said that the KESC protesters had caused more traffic problems earlier this week than the security measures for the sit-in.
Amongst heavy security, barbed wires and separate entrances for the awaam, the press and ‘Defence walay’ — as pointed out by an enthusiastic organiser - around 6,000 PTI supporters gathered at the sit-in venue, some brandishing green and red party flags and others carrying colourful posters calling for an end to drone strikes and the US support in Pakistan.
Standing with these supporters was a visibly cheerful Fauzia Siddiqui, sister of Dr Aafia Siddiqui, who came out with members of her party — the Aafia Movement — and said that Imran had personally told her to come “because Aafia’s imprisonment was the first drone attack against Pakistan”.
Fauzia was not the only one in high spirits as Imran Khan songs blared along with ‘Jazba Junoon’ and some Vital Signs hits. “I was called to the Peshawar dharna and I am in Karachi now because Imran especially requested it,” said Lahore-based DJ Butt proudly. An organiser's voice booming through the speakers was drowned out by screams of “stop yelling and turn up the music!” - Butt’s journey to the city was not in vain.
Overall, the protest was well-organised. Female party members in shalwar kameez and sneakers stood at the entrances and body-searched attendees for arms and explosives. There were chairs for the women, media people and other party chiefs. Water and tea were distributed among people who had been there since noon.
Imran did not, however, arrive until 10 pm but his absence did not deter his supporters’ enthusiasm. Abdullah, an elderly labourer and former Pakistan Peoples Party supporter, said he had stood behind the barbed wires waiting for Imran to speak. A madrassah student, Wali Mohammad, said he was going to vote for Imran Khan in the coming elections as he supported his stance against the drones that killed civilians in the tribal areas.
As soon as Imran Khan arrived, the area resonated with applause and cheers. The PTI song was played and everyone sang, “Khyber se Karachi tak aik hee nara, aik hee naam, Imran Khan, Imran Khan.” He came on stage and raised both his arms. The crowd followed suit.
The highlight of the night was Ali Azmat’s performance of Jazba Junoon. The crowd roared and applauded, PTI flags were raised and waved in sync with the beat, and people seemed to forget all about the anger that had built up waiting for Imran’s arrival.
Other people at the ‘party’
Members of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Samiul Haq faction expressed solidarity with Imran Khan and echoed his sentiments about drones. “This protest is not just for PTI,” said Mufti Mohammad Osman Yar Khan. “It is for Pakistan’s sovereignty.”
Commenting on the Abbottabad raid that killed Osama bin Laden, Mufti Khan was critical of the US government’s approach, saying that “Shaheed Bin Laden deserved a fair trial” and his killing was against America’s self-proclaimed principles of fairness.
A supporter of the Aafia Movement said he supported Imran but thought the Abbottabad raid was a hoax. “There is no such thing as Osama bin Laden,” he said confidently. “What 9/11? It was all just a Jewish conspiracy.”
Published in The Express Tribune, May 22nd, 2011.
More pictures from the sit-in can be seen here.
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