History in the making by Farah Zahidi Moazzam
The first thing that caught my eye, as my car ascended and turned towards the designated parking area, was the variety of vehicles people were using to arrive at the two-day “Dharna” or sit-in by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), against the drone attacks and the Nato supplies that fuel these attacks. Seven people whizzed past me on a donkey cart, wearing red and green stickers, caps, badges and T-shirts, chanting slogans of “Pakistan ki shaan, hamari jaan, Imran Khan, Imran Khan”. A family arrived on a bus, and another on a bike. A seven-series BMW halted near us, and not far behind was a beaten Suzuki FX which was clearly an artifact from the ‘80s. As my experience at the sit-in confirmed, it was literally people from every strata, every walk of life, and most importantly, from every ethnicity who had gathered to try to put in their share in the cause.
A crisp but detailed security check by a female police officer and I was in. A barrage of young men wearing the ‘PTI security official’ badges and T-shirts were politely ushering people in. Interestingly, apart from an isolated number of these security officials, none had any weapons in their hands. To me, that was significant. I have personally witnessed Khan with minimal security, mingling fearlessly with the people, confident of his stance even if a tad naively. It took me a few minutes to get a grip of myself and the situation, amid the loud noise of speeches and the intermittent PTI anthem saying “hum aik hain” (we are one) and the thousands of people waving flags. This was bigger than I had anticipated, and also different from my expectations. Pleasantly different.
The speakers were not nearly as boring as one would expect. Representatives of nationalist parties made their presence felt. The General Secretary of Sindh National Front forwarded the message of the president of his party, Mumtaz Bhutto, that he has given his allegiance to PTI. Many right wing parties also joined in. Jamaat-e-Islami Karachi’s Ameer Muhammad Hussain Mehanti invited everyone to be united for the cause and strive to end this imperialism. Dr. Fauzia Siddiqui, Aafia Siddiqui’s sister, thanked Imran Khan for having supported her sister’s cause so consistently. Justice Wajihuddin Ahmed’s speech was a moving and believable account of Pakistan’s problems and the solutions. MNA Marvi Memon was very vocal in her trademark manner, and had the crowds cheering and hanging onto each word, as she took a public pledge to support the cause. Representatives of PTI workers and leaders from each province were making it a reality for the observers that this is now more than a party that just belongs to the elite and the well-heeled women.
Abdullah, an 11-year-old boy, with PTI stickers all over his body, who had been at the Dharna for two days, said, “The people of Pakistan are asleep. I, along with Imran Khan, am going to wake them up.”
Day one saw singer Ali Azmat perform while day two had Faisal Kapadia and Bilal Maqsood of Strings, motivating the crowds not just with their open show of support through words but also their choice of motivational songs.
Talking to the media before the Dharna, Khan said, “As a human and a Pakistani, this is our duty. Twice the parliament passed a revolution against this, yet nothing is being done. People killed in drone attacks are persecuted before proven guilty. Someone has to stand up for them. We will try our best and the rest is up to God.”
The crowd’s frenzy and excitement reached a crescendo when Imran Khan finally arrived on the stage. His grip on himself, on the subject as well as on the crowd was evident. During his speech, I was guided towards the rickety, wooden makeshift staircase that led me on to the stage; they wanted the media to be able to see the view from there. And the view was breathtaking! As far as the eye could see, there were people. All united for under a single leader….a leader they believe in and trust.
The following was stated on PTI’s official website on the second day of the Dharna: “Today’s date should be marked in the history of Pakistan as more than 100,000 people have already come. Kudos to the city of lights, Karachi.” They said it was the largest audience ever recorded ever for PTI in 15 years, officially.
Much has been written about the political policy, or the lack thereof, of Imran Khan and his party. Our misgivings are understandable. We are cynical, sceptical, afraid to believe, too scared to hope. A revolution seems a far-fetched dream. Yet, at that Dharna, I clearly saw signs of an upheaval, one that is needed. It was ironic that towards the end of the Dharna, another dismal event was unfolding in another part of the city at PNS Mehran, another rude reminder that policies and leadership are in need of a drastic change.
While the Dharna was centrally focused around the drone attacks, the speeches of the many people who addressed the crowds, and Khan himself, touched upon a wide spectrum of issues. From drone attacks to inflation, corruption and power cuts, to the marginalisation of minorities and extremism. All issues which are relevant.
Pakistan’s problems today are like Pandora’s box. Pandora was told not to open the box, but she did, releasing all the evils into the world. She managed to close it just in time to leave just one thing behind – hope. In Imran Khan and his party, I sense in myself and the people of this country just that – hope. If we do not have even that, what do we have?
Farah Zahidi Moazzam is a freelance features writer and editor. She is passionate about human rights and social issues, and terms marginalisation of any kind to be a “pet peeve”.
Farah Zahidi Moazzam