IT took only a couple of minutes for the former prime minister and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan to break the internet, and quite likely a global record on Twitter, on Wednesday night.
Nearly half a million users (over 446,000) from around the world interacted with Mr Khan via Spaces, an audio live feature on Twitter. The average number of users listening at a time was 165,000. The address was also live-streamed on other platforms with thousands watching such as Facebook and Instagram.
For PTI supporters attending from within Pakistan and without, however, the highlight was being able to convey their support and concern with their leader. “How are you doing?” asked a worried supporter, officially starting the session that lasted over an hour.
To a question about a threat to his life at the Lahore rally today, Mr Khan said he would attend no matter what.
“Minar-i-Pakistan is a special place because the Pakistan resolution was presented there. Indian Muslims decided that they wanted [a] separate [home]land. We will also launch our freedom movement there. I believe a record number of people will come,” he said.
The PTI leader said that he did not expect such huge crowds would come out in his support after his government was ousted earlier this month. “I had expected just five per cent of what actually came out. When I saw people I was so happy because I saw a nation emerging ... for the first time I saw where we should have been 75 years ago,” he added.
Terming the protests by overseas Pakistanis “unprecedented”, the former PM said that conspiracies would not work anymore as people had become politically aware.
The role of army
Amid a crackdown by FIA on social media activists running anti-state campaigns and PML-N’s allegations of involving bots to trend these campaigns, the PTI leader urged his supporters to not say anything against the armed forces of Pakistan. “Never ever speak against the army. If we didn’t have the army, we wouldn’t have survived. The army is more necessary than Imran Khan,” he said.
He added that enemies of Pakistan were attacking the army and both Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari undermined the army when in power. “What were Dawn leaks and Memogate?” he asked.
There were other issues of importance that needed urgent attention by the PTI leader. For, instance, what happens to the memes that the social media supporters said they were tired of making. “I have stopped reading papers. Social media has taken over, I only watch social media,” replied Khan.
Talking about the chief election commissioner, Mr Khan said ECP’s judgements were “anti-PTI”. “The day [foreign funding] cases of all three parties are heard simultaneously, it will be clear that only PTI has a proper system of funding,” he added.
In terms of future strategy and choosing electables over PTI core workers, the chairman said they gave out tickets to wrong people and this time he would prefer ideological workers over electables next time. “Last time, I didn’t give tickets myself. This time I will not approve a single ticket without scrutiny,” said Khan.
Answering a question about 95pc of media being against Imran Khan’s government and politics, the PTI leader maintained that the country’s media was the freest during his tenure. “So-called liberals used to attack us about media freedom. We faced the most criticism and propaganda. They spread fake news against us. Today, all of the media is blacking us out...This is because these mafias co-opt media owners,” he said.
“I found out three months ago that journalists and anchors were getting foreign offers to run campaigns against us. But this will not work in the age of social media, information will get out and it cannot be stopped,” he said.
Mr Khan said that after the Lahore rally, he would start speaking to international media as well.
Before concluding the session, Mr Khan said that he had never witnessed this widespread sense of nationalism in people as he had seen after his government was removed. “This will make Pakistan a nation... I urge everyone to come to Minar-i-Pakistan tomorrow. We will create history at a historical place.”
Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2022