The hustle and bustle that has marked Jinnah Ground for the past few days was nowhere to be seen on Thursday morning, a few hours before Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan was scheduled to make an appearance.
The election camps run by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) were shut down as the party leadership called off all campaigning and were busy preparing for Khan's arrival.
The barriers leading to Jinnah Ground were left open and the MQM activists, who are usually deployed there for security, were sitting on the sides. "Our leader Altaf Hussain had asked us to welcome PTI with flowers so we will abide by our chief's orders," said one of the guards. "Even if they abuse us, we will stay calm."
A large crowd of MQM supporters had gathered outside Jinnah Ground, leaving one side open for the PTI rally. The MQM representatives tried their best to keep the crowd under control but several women were heard protesting. "Khan calls us living corpses, how can we stay calm?"
MQM leader Farooq Sattar also spoke to the media ahead of Khan's arrival and pointed out that Khan is heading towards Azizabad after several years. "He is coming here to offer fateha at the Yadgar-e-Shuhada [monument of MQM martyrs] and we welcome him," he told the crowd. "We are glad with his gesture as it will help flourish democracy." Sattar appreciated MQM chief's wholehearted welcome for Khan and believed that it will reduce the estrangement between the two parties.
As a gesture of this new 'friendship' between the two parties, Sattar even hugged a young PTI activist who was wearing a green and red scarf around his neck. "The colours you are wearing are also our colours," said Sattar, referring to the similar colours on both parties' flags. Despite these apparent friendly gestures, the organisers on both ends made sure the crowds stayed separate to avoid any clashes.
MQM leaders, Sattar, NA-246 candidate Kanwar Naveed, Khalid Maqbool, Waseem Akhtar and others, stood in line in front of the monument to welcome Khan, whose motorcade was winding its way slowly through the crowds.
Before Khan, PTI's NA-246 candidate Imran Ismail made his way to the MQM leaders, whom he hugged. They discussed ways to make space for Khan to offer fateha at the monument. Sattar offered to relocate to another position to avoid any inconvenience. District Central SSP Noman Siddiqui also asked the MQM leaders to ask their supporters to leave the ground as it was 'creating tension in the area'. "Sorry I cannot do that," Sattar replied. "They are just shouting slogans in favour of their leader."
Next to meet the MQM delegation was PTI leader Asad Umar, who was welcomed with a shower of rose petals. "Gharibabad, Sharifabad and Karimabad are all parts of Karachi and Karachi is the heart and brain of Pakistan," he told Sattar.
The two leaders decided to keep their supporters outside Jinnah Ground and allow only the party leaders to offer a combined fateha at the graves. "It would be a historic moment," said Sattar. "For now we should all forget about the elections."
Umar nodded in agreement and went back to Khan's motorcade, leading people to believe that he will return with the PTI chief. The MQM leadership waited in vain as the PTI leaders failed to return.
As news spread that Khan's motorcade had left the area, MQM's Waseem Akhtar told The Express Tribune that this was another U-turn for the U-turn master. "We were waiting for him [Khan] but all he ended up with was a photo session outside Jinnah Ground," he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 10th, 2015.
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