PTI Sacramento Holds Event in Support of Imran Khan’s Azadi Dharna
By Ras H. Siddiqui
If anyone has been following the news from Pakistan these days, beyond the acts of violence, there have been two long-term media items which have become prominent. One is directly related to the game of cricket since it appears that the mercurial national team is on a winning streak with a reawakened batting order, providing us with a solitary piece of continuous good news. The other, indirectly related to cricket, is one of the longest (and still going) protests-dharnas that the country has ever witnessed led by former captain of the Pakistan green caps, Imran Khan Niazi.
This November 15 th event in Sacramento, a part of a multi-city effort in America, was held at the Laguna City Hall in the local suburb of Elk Grove. It was scheduled for a 6 o’clock start but began after 8. Some early arrivals actually left before things started, but they missed out on some pretty colorful action. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Sacramento members worked hard in putting the event together and their success here although late became quite visible. One of the best aspects of this event was the presence of women and children (over 30%); quite significant as far as Pakistan-related political programs are concerned. Close to 250 people were in attendance, quite an enthusiastic bunch, and they appeared extremely upbeat about the future of Pakistan!
The formalities began with emcee Sohail Shahzad coming to the stage and inviting Aurangzeb who proceeded with the Tilawat or recitation from the Holy Qur’an. He was followed by Farooq Azhar who presented an Urdu translation of the Ayat with a Tafseer. In addition, he urged everyone to support Imran Khan.
The entire proceedings at this event were conducted (including speeches) in the Urdu language and my regrets if any translation in this report is not accurate.
The national anthems of the United States and Pakistan were played to which the entire hall stood up in respect. Sohail returned and thanked both individuals and the entire Sacramento community for its support for past Pakistani humanitarian causes (after disasters like earthquakes or floods). Today, he said, Pakistan needs help for what he called a “Man-made disaster” (bad governance) which continues, something which Imran Khan and the PTI are trying to change.
Dr Shahid Rehman spoke next. During his short delivery he highlighted our common affection for Pakistan but without ignoring the challenges there. He spoke of the VIP culture and a lack of emphasis on the common man’s problems in our country of origin, including corruption, lack of law and order, shortage of electricity etc. He revisited the vision of Allama Iqbal and Pakistan’s founding father M.A. Jinnah and spoke about the vision of the country and community they had in mind. He urged everyone to support PTI to change the system.
Usman Khalid took over as emcee on to the stage next and thanked the people present for their participation. Bashir Choudhry, President of the Pakistani American Association of Sacramento, was next invited to say a few words. He said that he was here to support the Pakistan vision. He added that we live here in a free country (United States) but feel for the poor people in Pakistan who are not free, ruled by elite which just wants to maintain their control. Imran Sahib wants to change that status quo, and the best we can do is to offer our support to his strivings.
Usman Khalid returned and said that the system in Pakistan obstructs change and we need to change it. We cannot wait and need to make an effort to bring that change. He said that Nawaz Sharif is just a name and it is the system that needs to go. A video on Imran Khan was presented next which was appreciated by all in attendance. Encouraged by Usman Khalid, a young kid next came to the stage and delivered his very vocal support of Imran Khan and PTI.
The keynote speech for the evening was presented by the special guest and PTI leader from Karachi, Ali Zaidi. Zaidi is Member CEC, Pakistan Tehreek-e -Insaf and has run for the Pakistan National Assembly seats from Karachi and Jacobabad in Sindh. We have seen him before in the US at Imran Khan Foundation events since he lived for several years in America before moving back home. He said that there is a trend in Pakistan to blame outside elements for all ills but realistically we are ourselves responsible. We (Pakistanis) need to first look inside ourselves and see what we have done to our country. He said that those who have lived in America (like himself) know that we are pushed and expected to tell the truth here. But in Pakistan, the system encourages you to lie. The system has been destroyed because the common man there sees that the rulers are corrupt and also now thinks that corruption is a path to his success. Nawaz Sharif is a product of that system, he said.
He claimed that parents have committed suicide due to poverty in Pakistan and some have sold body parts for the sake of their children. He said that if the revolution in Pakistan does not come through the ballot (via PTI), it will acquire a very bloody nature. That could be dangerous for Pakistan, the region, and even the world, he said. That is why Imran Khan is trying to change the system. He added that Pakistan is full of natural and manpower resources. We do not need to beg from anyone. Our leadership has been the problem, he said. Zaidi praised the work of Sattar Edhi Sahib and The Citizens Foundation as examples of hope. He said that people have become much more aware today. They know who has built palaces for themselves and who has built hospitals for everyone.
After the entire PTI Sacramento Team (too many to name here) was introduced on stage, the fundraising started during which PTI Chairman Imran Khan addressed the event live from Pakistan via Skype. That Imran Khan has a following here in America should come as no surprise. He has kept his line of communication open with Pakistani-Americans for over two decades now unlike most other Pakistani leaders with the possible exception of General Pervez Musharraf and Shaheed Benazir Bhutto (only during the last three years of her life).
Imran Khan thanked Ali Zaidi for his efforts and all the people present. He said that Pakistan was at a defining moment in its history and at crossroads where we could change our destiny. He highlighted current corruption in government where all the major politicians are banded together (Nawaz, Zardari especially), and that is why they have been protecting the system. He said that they are all afraid that if the system changes, their shop-keeping days will be over. He said that Nawaz politics today has become a business venture. He added that the “Go Nawaz Go” meaning has now changed to “Go Nizam Go” (Nizam=System).
Imran shared some of the financing details of his protests and added that the cost was covered by donations from the people. Khan emphasized the significance of the coming November 30 th Jalsa which he says is going to be really big. He said that the PTI calls for electoral accountability would continue. He added that the only way to get action left was the pressure from the Pakistani people without which those in charge will not act. That is why we will not stop the dharna, he said. He added that the momentum is increasing. He equated the moment to some aspects of the French Revolution; “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” The public is with us. He thanked everyone present and said that we will not stop till we get justice (insaaf).
To conclude, around $30,000 was raised at this event. It may seem like a small number but one must keep in mind that this call was not for charity. This writer can recall an event where Imran khan helped to raise the highest dollar amount in the history of our community for Pakistan, around $350,000 for the victims of the 2005 earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area. But politics is a different platform. Khan Sahib’s leadership skills are indeed unquestionable and he remains a national icon. But trying to lead a country of iconoclasts will require political astuteness and more flexibility as well.
(This article is dedicated to Sister Jameela Khan, a long-time Sacramento area resident and Pakistani-American activist whose funeral many attended on November 16 th. Rest in Peace)