KARACHI: Instead of taking the normal route to his court hearings, Afaq Ahmed’s convoy raced out of Central Jail on Saturday to a destination he hasn’t been to in seven years: home.
The Mohajir Qaumi Movement-Haqiqi (MQM-H) chairperson was released after the Sindh High Court struck down his detention orders on Friday.
Even though his release orders came in at 2 pm, supporters only began gathering at the jail around 5 pm; hanging off buses, rickshaws, pick-ups and cars draped in a flag that is only distinguishable from Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s because it has the word “Mohajir” written in bold across it.
No visible arrangements had been made to divert traffic or to create a route for the buses in the MQM-H rally arriving at the jail. Itching to get the celebrations started, party workers stuck in traffic started waving their flags and flashing victory signs. As the sun set behind them, people stopped to watch the dramatic scenes unfold.
When former MQM-H leader Amir Khan was released earlier this year he was scuttled out of the jail’s back gate to avoid the crowds and the media. For Afaq Ahmed, people had set up camp outside both possible exits. MQM-H supporters played songs that paid tributes to the sacrifices of Mohajirs. They danced and embraced each other to the tunes of the unabashedly ethno-centric songs even though many revelling in the fun were Pashto speakers.
MQM-H vice chairperson Zafar Khan Qaimkhani was standing among the crowd. In an unexpectedly stoic manner, he said, “The party has been waiting for seven years and we will now fully resume our political activities. We will bring out our workers from our strongholds and change the face of Karachi by making it a peaceful place again.” People around the jail were surprised to hear which prisoner was about to be released, and many expressed fears for the future state of security in the city. MQM-H supporters believe that if any violence does take place, it would be by other parties trying to frame the MQM-H and prove that Ahmed should be detained.
The party is also concerned for Ahmed’s security.
Irfan, a party worker of six years, said, “Nothing has been done by the government to ensure security for Afaq Ahmed, and it has only been the courts who have delivered justice. It is Afaq himself who is responsible for his freedom now. In the past our rallies used to get better security than this, there were no Rangers present on the route.”
According to Qaimkhani, “The fatwa on Afaq Ahmed’s life was given out a long time ago. There is a serious threat to his life. If you read the Joint Investigation Team reports and the confessions of people like Ajmal Pahari and Kamran Madhuri, they have said they were tasked with murdering Ahmed.” Qaimkhani said they have been in touch with different government departments to ensure Ahmed’s security. Party supporters danced on until after sunset. As more police vehicles started to appear at the gate, the anticipation for Ahmed’s release started to peak. Party workers ordered supporters to clear a path for the convoy.
At 6 pm, with supporters neatly lined up on either side of the exit, the gates flew open and the blue and red lights formed a line inside the jail. The crowd stared into the sea of police lights and roared and chanted, “Kaun karega rehnumai, Afaq bhai, Afaq bhai” (Who will lead us, Afaq, Afaq) as police vehicles started moving. But the 20-odd police convoy sped out of sight before supporters could even figure out which car their leader was in. In a rush to catch up with the convoy, supporters haphazardly jumped onto any vehicle they assumed belonged to the rally, so they could accompany Ahmed to the graveyard in Sherpao Colony where his father is buried. Their next destination was Landhi, where they expected to hear their leader speak as a free man for the first time in seven years.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 18th, 2011.