Just as the clock was about to strike 5pm, activists and supporters of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) began their peace walk from Park Towers headed towards Teen Talwar in Clifton.
About a dozen women, mostly from the PPP led hundreds behind them chanting slogans of ‘Jeay Pakistan’ and waving the green and white flag along with those of their parties.
“We invited many political parties including the MQM, Awami National Party, Sunni Tehreek, Pakistan Muslim League-Q as well the F factions,” gushed Sindh Minister for Information Sharjeel Memon. “The MQM is here, we expect others to join as well as they told us they would participate.” As this effort was under way, however, the body count rose as violence erupted in Malir, Landhi and Gulistan-e-Jauhar where at least 11 people were killed.
Representing the MQM was Dr Sagheer Ahmed who was the former health minister for Sindh till the MQM quit the coalition. “The MQM will go wherever needed to restore peace to Karachi. Chappa chappa, gosha gosha, gali gali main jaeen gay aman ki bahali keh leay,” he stressed. Also at the walk was Raza Haroon.
Many people in the crowd, however, seemed to believe the peace rally was pegged for more than met the eye. “This is not just about peace in Karachi, this is about the two parties preparing the ground for the MQM to go back into the coalition,” said a party activist who requested anonymity.
On those parties who did not attend the rally, Ahmed said, “Peace in Karachi is at the very core of stability in Pakistan. Parties need to rethink their stance and join in on the peace efforts.”
Memon added that the message of the rally was for Karachi’ites to live together peacefully. “We want to make this city peaceful. After this programme we also plan to visit all affected areas of Karachi, street by street, door by door and promote the message of peace.”
But while the party leaders’ sentiments seemed to echo one another, others didn’t think the initiative would achieve much except much-needed exercise for a few.
Police mobile units and armed personnel were sandwiched in the rally as it moved at a relatively fast pace to its destination. According to Clifton SP Tariq Dharejo, 700 police personnel and 40 mobiles were deployed. Buses and containers and armed police personnel blocked entrance points on to the side of the road which usually carries cars heading towards Teen Talwar. Some personnel were deployed on the roof-tops as well.
But soon after the walk began, a turf war of sorts seemed to be brewing with men carrying flags from the PPP and MQM attempting to out-run one another to lead the rally.
Soon after party slogans started to dominate the crowd: “Jeay Altaf” and “Jeay Bhutto” replaced “Jeay Pakistan”.
At its culmination point, 45 minutes later, the two parties, perhaps subconsciously, divided into two groups and continued holding aloft their flags. A light blue Corolla broke through the crowd with the MQM’s Nasreen Jalil and the PPP’s Shehla Raza popping out of the sun-roof, waving Pakistan and peace flags. Perhaps others felt the need to bridge the divide as well and suddenly patriotic songs began blasting in the background to drown out the party slogans.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 31st, 2011.