x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Pakistanis head home to march in protests

Expatriates who can’t make the trip are glued to TV and social media, especially those with loved ones marching against political graft.

Supporters of Tahir ul Qadri, a populist cleric, listen to his speech during a mass anti-government protest in Islamabad. Bilawal Arbab / EPA
Supporters of Tahir ul Qadri, a populist cleric, listen to his speech during a mass anti-government protest in Islamabad. Bilawal Arbab / EPA

ABU DHABI // Hundreds of Pakistani residents have gone home to take part in pro-democracy protests in Islamabad, as thousands more watch developments on television and social media in the UAE.

Opposition leader and former cricketer Imran Khan, and populist cleric Tahir ul Qadri, have been leading protests outside parliament for the past few days.

They are calling for prime minister Nawaz Sharif to resign, and for new elections and electoral reform.

Expatriates are closely following the situation, especially those with relatives in the marches.

Yasir Awan represents the UAE chapter of Mr Khan’s party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Pakistan Movement for Justice).

Mr Awan, who works as a banker in Dubai, believes as many as 300 people from the UAE have travelled to Pakistan for the rallies.

“Many Pakistanis went home for the Eid holidays and decided to stay longer, and are now participating in the Islamabad protest,” he said.

“I strongly believe that at least 300 people are there from the UAE. I am in touch with representatives of the Saudi, Kuwait and Bahrain chapters, and each chapter has reported around 250 supporters have joined the protest.

“I fully support Khan. Electoral reforms should be made. Without free and fair elections true democracy cannot prevail.”

Mr Awan was not able to take part in the protest as his office would not allow him to take holidays.

Other expats were more concerned about the outcome of the rallies.

“We are worried and having sleepless nights these days,” said Asim, an accountant working in Dubai.

“The moment we reach home, we sit on the sofa in front of the TV and keep watching unless we get sleepy or have to be ready for work the next day.”

Asim’s cousin is taking part in the marches, so he was reluctant to give his full name.

He said he was scared that the marches could become targets for terror attacks.

“We all know that our country is facing a difficult phase while dealing with terrorism, and there is a possibility that terrorists might attack due to the ongoing military operation against them,” Asim said.

“We are worried and pray to Allah to keep everyone safe over there.”

Asim has not been able to get in touch with his cousin.

“It looks like a big, fun party on the screen but I am sure it’s not easy for the participants,” he said.

Rabia Ali, a housewife in Abu Dhabi, has just returned from her hometown of Islamabad and is also concerned.

“I have never taken politics seriously but this time I have witnessed a complete change in the mindset of people against corrupt politicians,” Ms Ali said.

“As I am overseas I am glued to social media and the TV. I hope and pray for Imran Khan and his vision for a new Pakistan.”

Shiraz, a graphic designer in Abu Dhabi, also believes Pakistan is changing for the better.

“The people in Pakistan are getting politically mature and asking for their rights as per the constitution,” Shiraz said. “These are critical moments in the country’s political history.”

Dr Talat Mahmood Butt, in Abu Dhabi, believed the rallies would not change anything in Pakistan.

“In my lifetime, the worst traditions were set in Pakistani politics. Morality has been tarnished,” Dr Butt said.

“There is no hope even for the new players in politics. It has become an affair of self interest rather than public interest. Hence the word ‘revolution’ is a joke.

“One has to be careful and see who is leading us to bring revolution in the country.

“With lots of cheaters around, how one can believe who is a true revolutionary leader?”