Imran Khan’s surprise political rally

Imran Khan holds rally on the streets of Karachi, Pakistan’s most dangerous city, in defiance of Taliban threat.

The beats pulsed through the speakers as mass of flags seemed to dance in tune with pro-Imran Khan songs being played at full volume.

Supporters danced and sang as they waited for Imran Khan, the cricketer-turned politician, to arrive in southern port city of Karachi.

By Pakistani standards the crowd was small, but significant.

This was the rally that was never meant to be. Yet here it was, small, vocal and celebratory.

Shimmering in the morning sun, the mausoleum of Pakistan’s founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah made for an impressive sight.

Placed inside a gorgeous park, the mausoleum is considered not a holy place, but a place to pay one’s respect to the man who fought, or connived depending on who you ask, to create Pakistan.

It has become tradition of sorts for Pakistan’s politicians to come here and pay their respects.

Over the years, majority of politicians have held symbolic rallies here, hoping that Jinnah’s presence might help them in some way.

Khan is no exception, he too came here despite odds stacked against him.

The Pakistani Taliban have made good on their threat to disrupt the general elections that will lead to historic handover of power from civilian government to another.

Across the city, the parties under threat – The Pakistan People’s Party, The Muttahida Quami Movement and The Awami National Party – have not held mass rallies, and their leaders have stayed away from street canvassing.

So, it’s all the more remarkable that Khan decided to come here.

‘Yes we Khan’

His supporters were few in number but brightly decked in PTI, the initials of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, colours.

Young women drew scarves over their faces, not for religious reasons but to beat the fearsome Karachi sun. A few sported clothing with Khan’s face in block print over the traditional Shalwar Kameez.

Young men wore T-shirts with monochrome prints of the man himself, while others had “Yes we Khan” emblazoned on the back.

Fatima, 39, a resident of the upscale Clifton neighbourhood in the city, said she had heard of the event on Facebook.

“I’ve supported him since I was a child, we’ve all had a crush on him!”

Clutching a small bat – Khan’s election symbol, Fatima claimed the low turnout was due to it being a working day and not for security issues.

For some though, work could wait. Asad Ali said he took a day off from his job at the mobile phone company to show his support.

Khan’s 13-vehicle strong motorcade arrived, amid a carnival like atmosphere outside the Mausoleum ground.

Suddenly the atmosphere erupted as people clambered on to his car, and supporters began to shriek at the tops of their voices “look who has come, the tiger hunter has come!”

The chant mocked his political rival Nawaz Sharif whose slogan is “Look who has come, the tiger has come”.

In defiance of threat

The crowd surged toward the gate of the Mausoleum, as the police allowed them fearing chaos.

Finally Khan made his way to coffin inside. There he prayed while a crowd gathered to hear him speak.

To the disappointment of supporters, Khan emerged out of the mausoleum without addressing the crowd. Faces hung heavy and flags, once waved so proudly, fell limp.

Khan must have sensed he couldn’t leave without saying something.

Without losing an opportunity, Khan hopped on to one of the trucks and thanked God and urged Karachi to support him before he left for the airport.

His words briefly re-energised the crowd, but many among them were disappointed.

“I waited all morning” Fazal, aged 20, said.

“I spent my last few rupees on fuel for my bike to get here and show my support. I wanted to hear him roar!”

Still what Khan achieved was to hold a rally on the streets of Karachi, Pakistan’s most dangerous city, in defiance of threat.

What that does for his campaign is negligible as he has few candidates running for election here.

However, his supporters will use social media to show Pakistan that Khan is campaigner through and through. For Khan this short stop must have been worth it.

This piece was written just hours before Khan fell from a platform at the planned election rally in Lahore and sustained minor injuries.

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