23RD MARCH PTI JALSA LAHORE, CROWD EXCEEDS EXPECTATIONS
Anyone who has followed Imran Khan’s political career in recent years will know that when he makes a promise to his followers at his Pakistan Tehreek -I-Insaf (Movement for Justice) party it comes to fruition. (The former cricketer is aiming to be the next prime minister of Pakistan). 23RD March Jalsa at Minar- e -Pakistan, Lahore did not disappoint. To those I talked to, it exceeded expectations with media crowd estimates of around 200,000 in the run up to the elections on May 11th The “tsunami” of followers extended beyond the grounds as the venue was full to capacity. Seat hire companies must have been doing a roaring business with chairs laid out as far as the eye could see.
Imran is known to attract large throngs of supporters which I first saw during his dharnas (peaceful protests) against US armed drones in Waziristan blocking the NATO supply line in protest. PTI’s main opposition in the elections are the Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Muslim League-N which have dominated main stream politics in Pakistan over recent years. The Chairman, as he is sometimes known continues to highlight the suffering of those from the Tribal Areas recently attending a sit in outside the Press Club in Islamabad with Internally Displaced Persons. These IDPs are caught between military operations and drone strikes aimed at “alleged” insurgents but often killing civilians.
Almost half of Pakistan’s more than 80 million registered voters are under the age of 35. The youth of Pakistan are attracted to Imran’s stance against corruption and violence (which comes from many directions). There is also a direct challenge to the inherited political status traditionally passed down through families.
PTI have recently successfully completed internal elections. The party has developed and utilizes an impressive range of media outlets, with PTI, radio, TV, websites, Twitter and Facebook to name a few. Through multi-media, supporters have championed policies encouraging more women into politics, promoting education for all and equal rights as well as establishing a policy of full inclusivity for those that are differently abled. Many also want to see a more buoyant economy and an end to the frequent power cuts.
As crowds carried a 100 metre red, white and green PTI flag into the venue and cheered in anticipation of Imran’s speech, Musharaff was not fairing so well in the popularity stakes. There are threats on his life relayed in a video from Tehreek-e- Taliban (TTP) now that he has returned to Pakistan and Human Rights Watch is calling for him to be held to account for alleged human rights violations.
Some PTI supporters flew in from the UK and Canada to participate in the jalsa. The journey to the Minar-e-Pakistan in Lahore however was not without its difficulties as supporters tweeted that roads were blocked with containers cutting off routes, public buses suddenly called off and cellphone networks down in some areas as a security measure against terrorism.
Faisel Javed Khan, head of Electronic Media – Founding Member PTI did a great job rallying the crowd and introducing speakers. Those appearing on stage in the run up to Imran speaking included Qasim Khan Suri, recently elected, PTI President, Baluchistan who has helped those suffering in Quetta following recent bombings. The Chairman was also joined by Javed Hashmi, President of PTI and Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Vice Chairman PTI as well as other key figures supporting his party.
King of Punjabi Pop, inspirational Youth leader, Abrar ul Haq sang his newest song “Jitna Vey Jitna Imran Jitna” and Salman Ahmed gave an uplifting performance of “Naya Pakistan” which has become an anthem for PTI in the forthcoming election. A man called Ammad tweeted to the singer, “I lost hope and pride in being a Pakistani, but looking at Imran Khan’s commitments, I am smiling and heart starts beating again for Naya Pakistan.
One of the main reasons for the weekend rally in Lahore was to take an oath from the 80,000 newly elected party workers and to deliver the party manifest.
Imran was photographed in prayer before the rally.
MAIN POINTS OF IMRAN’S SPEECH
During his speech he was keen to state that “I have strength only because I’ve a strong belief in Allah” and “I always follow the path of PBUH Muhammad at every hard time… Allah has given me everything – it’s your rights I am fighting for – ”
“Whenever I have faced a difficult time in my life I look at my Prophet and think what he would do. You all must follow the Prophet’s footsteps in your life and you will be free. You will never have to answer to anyone and success will follow you…….On the other hand are my political opponents, like Miyan Nawaz Sharif, who has included everyone with him. The reason I can stand alone and fight without being a slave to such partnerships is because of my faith in Allah”
“Now, I take you back to 1940, when the Quaid was speaking in this ground. A 19 year old youth was standing in this ground listening to him. That 19 year old youth’s name was Ikram Ullah Niazi, that was my father. When Pakistan’s resolution was being passed my own father was here and all the while growing up my father always told me and my sisters the feeling of pride he felt on being there. Tomorrow, when you will stand in front of your kids, you will tell them that you were at the 23rd march Jalsa of PTI when Pakistan changed.”
He stressed that, “it was a huge decision to conduct Intra-party elections, people said we will get disintegrated. It was an even bigger decision to go to Waziristan, people told me that I will die. Learn from these examples and remember that those who believe in God and fear him need not fear anyone else!
“I will only promise what I can do and not something that I cannot achieve. I will present the PTI manifesto in front of you and all the promises will be based on things I can fulfil
My and Inshallah my government will fight a Jihad to end oppression in Pakistan. We will fight for all oppressed facets of society without prejudice
The Chairman also gave his promise to the people to build a Naya (New) Pakistan and highlighted the following six points…
PTI CHIEF IMRAN KHAN 6 PLEDGES:
1. I will always speak the truth to the people of Pakistan.
2. The PTI government that will come into power, I promise that we will try to end tyranny. Until the time our system in this country isn’t grounded in equality and justice, Allah will never send his blessings to this nation.
We will stand the weak and the powerful in front of law all the same.
3. I further promise you, that all my wealth and property will be in Pakistan. I will take ownership of this country and won’t be like those leaders who create hideouts abroad”
4. “I will never take undue benefits from politics nor will I grant favours to my friends and family. I am not here for personal gain.
5. I will protect your tax money! It won’t be spent on Prime Minister and Governor houses. Inshallah the day PTI government comes in power these walls of governor houses will be brought down. We will break these walls and make libraries and playgrounds for the public to use.
6. We will stand together with every Pakistani in or outside Pakistan.
The deluge that accompanied Imran’s speech did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd. In fact it was a fitting and symbolic finale on the Tsunami theme as the winds whipped the crowd into a frenzy, Imran’s voice battling and rising above the storm. He concluded his speech by asking people to “sign up with Tabdeeli Razakar (volunteer for change) program so we can sweep elections in the coming weeks.”
Supporters praised him “standing in the rain with his people, not in a bunker” with one supporter stating “when I saw him in that rain, I had tears in my eyes.”
Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad. She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”.