So, I’m not good at wielding banners. I know this from the days when Islamabad first discovered activism – slogans and me, they don’t work too well. But I really, truly wanted to attend Imran Khan’s “Jashn-e-Azadi” Dharna last night. If anything, he’s come to represent a desperate kind of hope for something good, something clean and fresh and strong enough to mobilize a generation of apathetic young people.
We vacillated a while, as Pakistani ladies do before deciding to attend a late night political rally. In Ramzan, on the 13th of August, etc. But the strange and wonderful thing was that very many people we knew were out there, shrugging at security concerns and saying, “Don’t worry, just come.” It’s heartening, it matters. So we headed out and got there to find a massive congregation on Constitution Avenue – several thousand-strong. There was ice cream and cold drinks and children and laughter; finally, some show of Independence Day festivity. And we were found by friends and handed a flag, and it felt good to hold.
The Secretary General sounded like he should, I suppose, delivering sweeping rhetoric in his best rally-voice. A recording of “Tera karam Maula” seemed to work quite well as Junaid Jamshed’s contribution to the event, even if I would secretly have preferred “Dil, dil Pakistan”. Everyone strained to hear M. A. Jinnah’s crackling voice giving his first national address, and the countdown to midnight was just about right. Balloons, cheering, national anthem – Happy Birthday, Pakistan!
And then there was Imran Khan.
Good-looking Pathan Man.
His voice boomed, people cheered. I happily succumbed to groupthink and thought, “Our Leader”.
But then, well.
He started out with some bashing of rival parties – which is quite standard, might be forgiven. Then he moved on to some serious bashing of the USA. Which, for him, is also quite standard. Except, soon enough, brows began to furrow. These were old words, the ones pandering to anti-American sentiment. Oh, don’t.
We will not be slaves, we will not be pawns.
There was no Pakistani Taliban, no TTP before.
This is not our war.
Violence breeds violence, it’s true. The number of civilian casualties during drone strikes and our own military operations has been heart-wrenching. But for the sake of the God you invoke so often, look around you. Peshawar. Karachi. Even sterile Islamabad. No one, anywhere, feels safe.
There are multiple wars in this country, in multiple hotbeds of volatility. Several of them are purely our own. People are tired, now, of closing shop and living in uncertainty when it comes to food, water, energy and human security. They are tired of a great many things, which is why they have begun looking towards the PTI. So start off on a positive note in your Jashn-e-Azadi address; be kind to those who have come out to support you. If there are ideological rifts and ethnic disintegration, acknowledge them as serious issues that have to be dealt with. But stop being so abrasive, so that you can be inspiring.
Maybe he got there. To be fair, we then joined a stream of people moving towards the exit. We left just as he was saying, “Thank God I don’t have a wife. I’ve heard they’re really big on shopping.”
I’m glad to have gotten a taste of it. Simply to have seen so many different kinds of people wanting to be in sync, wanting to be naive. The PTI support base is largely urban, we know, largely middle class and above. But people came in droves today, in coasters and buses from different places and backgrounds. I just wish I could commit to revolutionary slogans, without a shade of doubt.