Liaquat Bagh versus Raiwind

It isn’t essentially non-trivial for Sheikh Rasheed to organise a jalsa (rally) on August 13, and neither was it something out of the blue this time around. But Imran Khan’s presence added a little zest.

Seat adjustment and alliance are both on the table
Seat adjustment and alliance are both on the table

The Rawalpindi-based politician of Kashmiri origin and leader of the Awami Muslim League (AML) had always organised this event within his own constituency at Liaquat Bagh; however, the only thing that really changed this time was his express and explicit alliance with one of the most popular political parties in Pakistan – the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).

By inviting the leader of the PTI, Imran Khan, to this little affair, Rasheed probably thought to capitalise on Khan’s limelight. He had been adamantly advertising this rally for a month prior to the affair on various television talk shows. Of what was reported as AML’s future strategy was anything but. With news of Rasheed forming an alliance with Khan, the PML-N executives and politicians had their panties in a knot. However, they got to heave a sigh of relief when the turnout was an utter disappointment.

Who Needs Whom?

Politics in Pakistan is rife with deception. It matters to none whether a person willingly wants to form an alliance with another and media pundits usually end up scratching heads trying to figure out who is to gain from their antics. Rasheed’s rally was another such ordeal where journalists and analysts are oblivious to who really is gaining out of this so-called alliance.

Khan and Waziristan

The primary reason that the media pundits put forth for Khan’s eventual acceptance of Rasheed into the folds of his political desires is to gather his help to move into Waziristan. At one particular point in his speech at the gathering, Sheikh Rasheed asked the Taliban leadership (in this case, Mullah Omar) to open passage for Khan to move into the land.

Even if Khan is off to a noble cause in Waziristan, it begs to question why Sheikh Rasheed had to ask for Mullah Omar to relegate a safe passage to Khan? Does Rasheed think that Waziristan is not under the Pakistani government? Does he think that Mullah Omar is nevertheless an ultimate authority in Waziristan? If this is so, then the American attacks on Waziristan usually their deadly drones stand justified. How does Rasheed’s rant help Khan in any way then.

However being the conspiracy theorists that we all Pakistanis are, I suggest a more sinister approach to this debate. I think that Khan is only cozying up to Rasheed because deep down Khan knows that Rasheed’s ties with the Taliban leaders might help him rally enough support to march into Waziristan against the American kill zone.

Rasheed and Islamabad

While Khan is adamant at leaving off to Waziristan, Rasheed has taken up a stance of marching towards (and has often asked Khan to take towards) Islamabad. There however is another layer of mixed reactions on this very aspect of this strange alliance. Where Khan has been pretty vocal about the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N), he hasn’t bothered enough to target the PPP and assimilate a political rivalry with the party in office.

Thus, Rasheed hopes to capitalise not only on Khan’s popularity amongst the masses but may also seem to move towards taking up issues that Khan foregoes. This he feels could establish him and his party alongside the ranks of the PTI. Although throughout his speech, Rasheed constantly reminded Imran Khan that he is willing to sacrifice all his constituent seats for PTI’s cause if it comes to that. Nevertheless, Rasheed is quite reluctant to take upon that path at such early a point in time. Khan, on the other hand, seems to be gunning towards getting as many constituencies under his belt as he can.

Some Moments at the Rally

I was tweeting the accounts of the jalsa as and when they happened. I was perhaps not the only person who noticed a resentment on Khan’s face when Rasheed stepped up into his regular sharp-tongued banter. “Kill the bastards before they kill you”, said Rasheed at one point in his speech. I even tweeted Khan rolling his eyes at the harshness of the words.

Profane Rasheed

Soon afterwards, various other journalists and television personalities took it upon themselves to bleep out the word ‘bastard’ and make it appear to be more profane than it was essentially meant to be. Nusrat Javed was so out of his mind on the profane nature of this one word and started to get a strange feeling out of Rasheed’s speech as if he was out to personally get him. That Nusrat chap is one feather that is easily ruffled by the PTI trolls.

Fahd Hussain also took to personally ask Rasheed why he had chosen the words that he did use in the speech and Rasheed simply didn’t find any malicious intent to abuse in his choice of words. “I just thought it’s a simple matter of word-mongering”, quipped Rasheed.

Khan in his Usual Self

Before leaving the podium to Khan, Rasheed pushed one last tiny remark that I think should have been a part of prime time debates but sadly made no mentions in the media. Rasheed proclaimed himself to be the “coach” of this alliance leading the former cricket skipped Khan to lead the reigns of captaincy. To an ideal mind like myself, a coach holds a more superior position than a skipper – could Rasheed have been pulling at the reigns of this alliance as well? God knows.

Amidst the crowds, one could make out the flags of both the PTI and the AML interspersed with one another and a crowd of merely a few thousands thronging the Liaquat Bagh when Khan arrived at the podium. In his first few sentences, Khan made it absolutely clear to Rasheed that he wasn’t here to do politics on seat adjustments.

Khan however started counting the many non-accomplishments of the current PPP government before moving onto what I thought was the first real policy coming out of the PTI leadership and executive. Khan had recently been watching the Olympics. My friends in Muslim League would joke about that Khan lost his bets on all Pakistani athletes and is now out to strengthen the country’s sport policy – something no other party or politician is fussed at all about.

In his usual self, Khan issued a rant on how a nation as small as the city he stood in was actually able to secure gold medals in the Olympics. There was no doubt that Khan pointed towards the current standards of sport training within the country. Enthusiastically, Khan also proclaimed that any property developer would first have to build a sports ground, a complex or stadium before they move to develop further estate on their lands, thereby alienating a lot of property developers from his campaign. And while Malik Riaz may have had a grin on his face at that particular moment, Shehbaz Sharif probably lost his when Khan vowed to plough and tear down the excess space around the Punjab governor’s house to build a cricket and a hockey ground.

Khan also plans on taking foreign journalists and media personnel to Waziristan when he moves to the Pakistani tribal lands in September. He ended his speech with a tiny glimmer of hope that the next Independence Day would probably see a brighter and newer Pakistan.


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