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New year heralds season of rallies in city

December 31, 2011

KARACHI, Dec 31: Probably inspired by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s dazzling show in Karachi on Dec 25, right-wing parties are set to emulate Imran Khan and stage anti-government rallies in the commercial capital of Pakistan in the coming weeks.

Just a week after the PTI rally, the city is likely to become a centre of political activities once again with nearly half a dozen rallies planned by religious parties and the retired general Pervez Musharraf-led All Pakistan Muslim League.

While the parties see this as an opportunity ahead of a general election to regain a foothold in once their stronghold after the return of relative peace to the coastal city, critics find it as a campaign backed by the security establishment and analysts believe it to be a move by the parties to regain their grounds lost to the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, the Pakistan People’s Party and the Awami Ntional Party.

The year begins with the Jamaat-i-Islami’s rally on Sunday when the party expects the ‘largest-ever crowd’ held at the Banaras Chowk, which has been the centre of political activities mostly for the ANP.

Though titled ‘Jalsaa-i-Aam’, JI leaders insist that the rally is being organised by the party’s west district group and may not reflect participation from entire Karachi.

“Banaras is our district headquarters,” said one of the leaders when asked about the reason behind selecting the venue, one of the mains Pakhtun neighbourhoods in the city.

“It’s purely a district-level event but we expect the largest-ever crowd seen at Banaras. JI chief Munawwar Hasan will speak at the rally.”

But it appears as a beginning. The JI plans a ‘big show’ in February and is looking at the Nishtar Park or the Bagh-i-Quaid, across from the Quaid-i-Azam’s mausoleum, as its venue, where the PTI staged its Dec 25 rally. Enjoying one of the strongest organisational party structures with committed workers, the JI is likely to be seen active in every nook and cranny of the city during the coming days.

The Sunni Tehreek will follow suit. Though rejected in every kind of electoral politics in the past, whether it’s local government polls or general elections, the ST is gradually elevated as one of the city’s key ‘political stakeholders’. Its leaders were frequently seen at meetings called by the political administration of the province whenever Karachi’s law and order was discussed.

The party plans to celebrate Yaum-i-Ala Hazrat on Jan 7, 10 and 14 in different districts of the city, but it all appears as a preparation for a big show on Jan 22 at the Nishtar Park.

“On Jan 22, we are organising a Pakistan Bachao Jannisaran-i-Mustafa Conference,” said ST leader Shahid Ghori. “The slogan itself reflects the agenda and theme of the conference. It will be a protest against the recent US aggression and to show solidarity with our army.”

Once allied with the PPP coalition government at the centre, the Maulana Fazl-led Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam returns to Karachi after more than 12 years. Leaving many wondering, JUI-F leaders sound positive about the success of a proposed ‘million march’.

“Any significant rally we last held was in October 1999,” said Qari Usman, the JUI leader in the city. “Our actions suggest our policy. Our slogan for the million march is ‘Islam Zindabad’, obviously to condemn the existing system of governance and the recent Nato and US aggression against Pakistan.”

Amid right-wingers, known for his slogan of ‘enlightened moderation’ during his nine-year rule, retired general Pervez Musharraf is also trying to assemble his followers in Karachi. On Jan 8, he is expected to speak at his All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) in the city.

“We will demonstrate our power on Jan 8,” APML secretary-general Barrister Muhammad Ali Saif told reporters, adding that no one could now hinder the ‘popularity and influence of his party among the masses’.

Though differing in their opinions, critics and political analysts agree on one point: the need for remounting political activities in Karachi that has descended into lawlessness and bloodshed in recent years. They believe it will end the element of fear to a large extent, but they also see the ‘security establishment behind’ a party or two to play their cards.

“It’s a good omen that parties in Karachi are reorganising and arranging such events,” said columnist Nazeer Naji. “As we have witnessed in the past, General Musharraf used the alliance and strength of right-wing parties to bargain with the US, the policy seems to continue with the current establishment as well. After the recent strained relations with the Americans, I think the right-wing is being mobilised locally to bargain internationally.”

But with his arguments, Mr Naji has little point to convince many – particularly those who are well aware of the city’s vulnerable law and order which has almost eliminated political activism over the years.

“Overall, it’s a positive thing one must say,” said novelist and journalist Mohammed Hanif. “The Jamaat-i-Islami is quite active in organising such events and keeps its workers active almost round the year. But for others, I think they are just following the trend set by Imran Khan’s rally. With political gatherings, they try to keep their vote bank intact and mobilise the workers to keep their loyalty in place before they are lured away by another party.”