Imran Khan is ready to hold his rally on Dec 25 in the stronghold of the MQM. -AFP File Photo

KARACHI: City walls and installations that were splattered with spiteful anti-Imran Khan remarks in 2007 may now see the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chief, riding a wave of new-found popularity in the country, stage his first rally in the stronghold of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement at the Mazar-i-Quaid this Sunday.

Mr Khan, who is now recognised as a force to be reckoned with after his successful show of political prowess in Punjab, was denied entry to Karachi twice in 2007 for criticising Altaf Hussain, chief of the MQM which was then bitterly opposed to the since reinstated Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry.

Though the city’s major arteries and billboards wear welcome slogans and banners for Mr Khan, who won the 1992 cricket world cup for Pakistan, unlike Punjab no political heavyweight is likely to join his party here.

“Trends of politics in Punjab and Sindh, particularly Karachi, are quite different,” said novelist and political analyst Mohammed Hanif.

“One cannot expect any heavyweight to announce joining the PTI. In Karachi there are individuals who are recognised for their political struggle but they have never been effective.”

But what amazes many is a sudden change in the relations between the PTI and the MQM — the blue-eyed party of the General Musharraf regime that banned Mr Khan from even entering Sindh in 2007 during the movement for the restoration of the pre-PCO judiciary.

Uncharitable remarks and allegations formed the major content of primetime television shows for some time. Many have yet to erase those memories, though leaders from both sides have almost ‘buried the unfortunate past’.

Without defining the fate of those serious allegations, they seem to have started believing in ‘co-existence’.

“I don’t think we are political opponents,” said Syed Faisal Ali Sabzwari, the Sindh minister and the MQM’s deputy parliamentary leader in the provincial assembly.

“The MQM doesn’t believe in political extremism. Whatever unfortunately happened in the past, we were not responsible for that. We only responded in the same way — whether it was an argument or a statement.”

All set to welcome ‘hundreds of thousands of Karachiites’ at Mazar-i-Quaid on Dec 25, PTI leaders are little interested in looking into ‘such minor issues’. However, they insist that political and ideological differences between the two parties will stay.

“We are not getting into such controversies right now,” said the party’s secretary general Dr Arif Alvi, a respected Karachiite, who is recognised for his political loyalty and professional distinction.

“MQM chief Altaf Hussain has already welcomed the PTI movement, saying that it represents the middle-class and educated class. So we take it positively and in line with our own slogan of national unity for the Dec 25 rally.”

Mr Sabzwari sees the PTI rally as a ‘good sign’ for healthy and democratic politics and Dr Alvi wishes representation of all political parties at Mazar-i-Quaid on Dec 25.On the one hand it appears to be a good day out for Karachiites interested in politics but on the other the rally is seen to be mostly about national issues offering little to Karachi politics.

“I think much water has flowed under the bridge since 2007,” said Mr Hanif, the analyst. “There is so much spoken and heard about the establishment’s support for Imran Khan’s PTI, though one can never establish that. So my reading is that both parties at this point of time are forward-looking. The PTI stages a rally for symbolic reasons and in a bid to portray itself as a national party. The MQM keeps its options open by avoiding confrontation with a fast-growing party.”