KARACHI: In a first display of street power against Rangers since the March 11 raid on its Nine Zero head office, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement took out a huge rally on Thursday and staged a sit-in near the Quaid’s mausoleum when police stopped it from marching further towards Jinnah Courts, the headquarters of the paramilitary force, in protest over frequent raids and arrests of party workers.
The MQM had announced that it would take out a rally from Liaquatabad to the Rangers headquarters on Dr Ziauddin Ahmed Road, where it would lodge its protest against the arrests of its workers busy in the campaign for the Dec 5 local government elections in Karachi.
A large number of MQM workers and supporters converged on Liaquatabad No 10 and marched towards their destination. Led by senior leaders like Dr Farooq Sattar, Amir Khan, Wasim Akhtar and Haider Abbas Rizvi, the participants in the rally were holding placards and portraits of MQM chief Altaf Hussain. They were chanting slogans against the “state operation” and “move to occupy Karachi by other parties”.
Police, meanwhile, placed barricades on the Numaish traffic intersection on the arterial M.A. Jinnah Road to stop the MQM rally from entering the so-called red zone area.
The situation turned tense when charged MQM workers tried to remove the barricade and the police pushed back. A minor scuffle broke out between police and the protesters, but the MQM leaders promptly intervened to defuse the situation.
Senior police officials and three MQM leaders held brief talks. They were told that the police would not allow the violation of Section 144 of the criminal procedure code since public gatherings, rallies or any other activity which involved assembly of more than five people was banned in the red zone.
However, better sense prevailed and the MQM gave up their plan to march towards the Rangers headquarters. However, the party asked its workers to stage a sit-in on M.A. Jinnah Road near the Quaid’s mausoleum.
The whole episode lasted more than three hours as the MQM leaders ended their protest sit-in to “avoid any untoward incident” after delivering emotional speeches, warning the government and the law enforcement agencies that there was always a “limit” to their patience, which might run out if ‘illegal’ raids and arrests continued.
“The way in which the MQM is stopped from marching further ... had it been any other party, violence would have erupted,” said senior leader Dr Farooq Sattar while addressing the charged crowd that included youngsters, women and children. “This shows that we are the most disciplined and patriotic party which respects and recognise the law of the land and institutions. But there is always a limit to anyone’s patience.”
The charged workers kept chanting slogans during the speeches of their leaders, who mainly criticised the frequent raids on party offices and arrests of workers while repeating their concerns about a conspiracy to delay the local government elections.
MQM leader Haider Rizvi said that some parties which had separately contested the NA-246 by-election in Karachi had joined hands in the LG elections against the MQM. “Let me tell them that they live in a fool’s paradise. This city and its mandate belongs to the MQM.”
The sit-in near the Quaid’s mausoleum and road blockade by the police led to severe traffic jams on M.A. Jinnah Road. The situation turned worse when the traffic mess stretched to other adjoining arteries being used by motorists as alternative routes.
However, the situation returned to normal only after an hour or so after the sit-in ended and crowd dispersed peacefully.
Meanwhile, Karachi police chief Mushtaq Maher told Dawn that the Rangers headquarters on Dr Ziauddin Ahmed Road fell in the red zone where the police could not allow any activity due to Section 144.
Published in Dawn, November 27th, 2015