THE city of Karachi is not new to her. Perhaps, it’s the first place from where she made her unwitting political debut some 21 years ago when her father was on trial for hijacking a plane and mother was leading a movement against then military dictator Gen Pervez Musharraf.
Then in her twenties, she was the lone voice of defiance in a packed courtroom when the judge of an antiterrorism court sentenced her father to life in 2000. She dealt with local and foreign press when her mother was trying to revive the party while her father was behind bars. She stood like a rock in the face of all odds then and today many see her as a symbol of resistance against the so-called ‘hybrid regime’.
Karachi is definitely not new to Maryam Nawaz and so is repression.
Over the years, her party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, stopped giving attention to its cadre in Karachi despite having considerable support here. Although party stalwarts from Karachi like Mushahidullah Khan, Nihal Hashmi, Saleem Zia and others were rewarded with Senate seats from Punjab, in essence, the party of Nawaz Sharif lost focus on the whole Sindh province apparently because of a tacit understanding with the Pakistan Peoples Party so much so its then president Ismail Rahu amid complaint of neglect, parted ways and joined the PPP in 2017.
Last month, PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif had visited the metropolis to express solidarity with the rain-affected people of Karachi. The zeal and fervour showed by PML-N workers and the people of the areas visited by Shahbaz Sharif to welcome him was enough evidence that the party still enjoys support here.
And when Ms Nawaz, the vice president of her party, arrived in Karachi on Sunday afternoon the enthusiasm of the PML-N workers and supporters could be gauged from the fact that her caravan reached the mausoleum of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah in about five hours — a distance that would normally be covered in 20-30 minutes. The slogan that dominated the first day of her visit, even at the Quaid’s mausoleum, after Vote Ko Izzat Do was Teri Awaz Meri Awaz, Maryam Nawaz Maryam Nawaz.
Ms Nawaz was visibly overwhelmed by the love and support she got during her visit. When she started her speech at the PDM’s public meeting, she said she came to Karachi after many years but she could not possibly return the love and affection she got by the people of Karachi in her lifetime.
She did not forget, however, that the PML-N workers were traditionally and historically opposed to the PPP as she twice mentioned that both the parties joined hand for the sake of democracy but they would fight the elections from their own platforms against each other.
“Today, we all are united because of Pakistan and the people of Pakistan, but when the time comes and we will enter the electoral arena ... we will be opponent of each other’s but we will never disrespect each other,” she had told the PDM public meeting, but the obvious audience was PML-N core constituents.
However, the appreciation of the PPP-led Sindh government by her and skipping the contentious issues of census results of Karachi as well as other civic and administrative problems does not bode well for her in the eyes of already suffering residents of Karachi.
Ms Nawaz knows well about the vacuum created after the forced removal of Muttahida Qaumi Movement founder Altaf Hussain from the country’s political scene but despite this she chose not to talk about the plight of the people of Karachi and to offer them an alternative in the form of PML-N during her visit to the city.
Many believe she did not want to offend the PPP leadership by talking about any neglect the country’s biggest city has been facing for over a decade since she was a guest of the ruling party in Sindh and the occasion was the death anniversary of around 200 PPP workers who were killed in twin suicide bombing on Oct 18, 2007 during the homecoming rally of slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
While the arrest of her husband, retired Captain Safdar, from the hotel room the couple was staying at early on Monday morning turned the sweet memories of her visit sour for sure, everyone praises her for dealing the incident with patience as she announced the news on Twitter and then continued her day’s engagement as per schedule.
The new-found relationship between the PML-N and PPP could have been ended if she pointed an accusing finger towards the Sindh government for the arrest of her husband but she did not fall into what many suspect a trap.
But Karachi needs her attention. Of the 21 National Assembly seats in the metropolis, the PML-N had contested the 2018 general election on 18 seats and bagged over 261,000 votes. The number of votes the party bagged seems to suggest that the party had a following in Karachi and so does Ms Nawaz.
With PPP seems uninterested in expanding its voters’ base to all areas of Karachi and the MQM is battling hard to regain its past glory in the absence of Altaf Hussain, Ms Nawaz needs little efforts to turn the situation in her favour. But it appears she isn’t ready to give attention to anywhere except Punjab.
It took her years to visit Karachi this time. Who knows how long her next visit to the provincial metropolis will take? After all, time and tide waits for none.
Published in Dawn, October 21st, 2020