On a sticky Karachi afternoon, my car stood outside a house at main Khayaban-e-Shaheen – “the very heart of Karachi” as the invitation flier described it – behind a Mercedes Benz that was waiting for the valet.
People walked into the house with purposeful strides. The event inside, ‘Tea and Dialogue with Imran Khan’, was hosted by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s Karachi women’s wing.
As I entered the gate, the first thing I heard was the PTI anthem, “Imran Khan! Imran Khan!”, while organisers eagerly ushered guests to the 400-odd seats in the carpeted garden. After seeing and listening to his quixotic views on television, I was eager to see what kind of support he would attract in a previously unwelcoming Karachi.
I scanned the crowd from a press corner. I was impressed by the turnout of fashionable women – with tasteful accessories – seated under a marquee in the deadly Karachi heat. Fanning themselves with rolled-up flyers, they eagerly awaited the arrival of Imran Khan – billed by PTI as “the only hope for Pakistan”.
As the party chief made his entrance, excited guests stood up. Some whipped out iPhones and Blackberrys and snapped pictures of the tall, handsome politician marching towards the podium. Children rushed towards him with cricket bats for autographs and women and men of all ages beamed expectantly as Imran took his seat on stage.
Women could not help but fawn over him. He may be nearing 60, but standing in the daylight in his crisp, white, shalwar kameez, Imran looked every bit the striking cricketer fans swooned over in the 90s. The ensuing dialogue was casual and he seemed comfortable inviting questions from curious spectators.
His answers were forthright and earned a few laughs, especially when he acknowledged that he has been stereotyped as ‘Taliban Khan’.
He spoke strongly against the drone attacks. He was critical of the government’s contradictory stance to Pakistan’s role in the war on terror, comparing it to a line from Alice in Wonderland: “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”
When my turn came, I asked him how he felt about the estimation floating that he is supported by the agencies. Imran laughed and said that the PTI does not promote any agency’s agenda. “I have never even met General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. There was a rumour that Pervez Musharraf and I met in London and that he gifted me a dog. But I can assure you that there was no such thing.”
By: Atika Rehman
The Express Tribune