KARACHI - The Imran Khan wave, which the cricketer-turned-politician prefers to call 'tsunami', reached Karachi on Sunday with a large turnout at a Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf (PTI) meeting which surprised many political analysts, some of whom termed it one of the largest rallies recently held in the city.
Imran Khan was accompanied on the dais by the new entrant to his party, the firebrand Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) heavyweight Javed Hashmi who had left his party on Saturday to join the PTI bandwagon and former PPP foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.
In his speech, PTI chief Imran Khan dropped a bombshell by announcing that senior PPP leader and another former foreign minister, Sardar Assef Ahmed, had called him earlier in the day to confirm that he was joining his party.
Imran Khan touched on his favourite themes, including rampant corruption, people's misery and economic downslide.
But most noticeably, he pledged to address the grievances of the people of Balochistan if his party came to power.
He said he would apologise to Baloch people on behalf of their other compatriots for injustices done to them.
"We have committed excesses and have treated you like the people of a colony as we did in the case of the people of East Pakistan," he said.
"I pledge that when we come to power, we will give you a special status as West Germany gave to East Germany by diverting all development projects to the latter."
Turning to an emotionally charged crowd of youths, Mr Khan said if his party came to power with the support of people, he would accomplish the dream of the Quaid-i-Azam to turn the country into an Islamic welfare state.
He reminded the people that he had never disappointed the nation as a cricketer, built a cancer hospital and a most modern university in a rural area of Mianwali and said he would fulfill their dream of a welfare state with their support.
He appealed to the nation to join him to build a new, sovereign and prosperous Pakistan.
The PTI chief claimed that he would eliminate much of the corruption in government within 90 days of coming to power.
He described corruption as the biggest hurdle to progress.
Referring to development and prosperity in Singapore, Malaysia and Turkey, he said they were able to do so by installing honest leadership in power.
The cricketer-turned-politician termed the crowd a tsunami and announced that its next stop would be in Quetta on March 23.
He said he had decided not to speak against any party, but PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif had given him a challenge to play a 10-over match with him.
He advised Mr Sharif to hurry up lest he should be left with men not enough even to form a cricket team. He said he also wanted to play a match with Asif Zardari, but he now stood retired hurt.
Welcoming Javed Hashim into the party fold, he announced that another wicket was about to fall as Sardar Assef Ahmed Ali had called him to confirm that he was joining the PTI.
PTI vice-chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi, whose speech was punctuated with slogans of "Go Zardari go", said the country's nuclear assets were not under physical threat, but policymakers did pose a danger.
He said the policy of credible minimum deterrence was aimed at warning those who cast an evil eye on Pakistan.
Mr Qureshi said the nuclear program must be protected from those who could bargain over it for their personal interests.
He said when he was foreign minister a nuclear deal between India and the United States had been discussed at a conference in Algeria and Pakistan had opposed it on the grounds that it amounted to discrimination against Pakistan.
"This was my first ideological difference with President Zardari who did not approve of the stand taken by the Foreign Office."
Mr Qureshi said Pakistan did not harbour any aggressive designs against any country and sought friendship with India and the US, but could not opt for slavery. "If the nation wants to have an independent, sovereign, prosperous, credible and strong Pakistan, it must elect a party whose leadership could offer their heads rather than surrender."
He said the message of this massive rally was clear to the world that no one could bargain over the nuclear program.
Javed Hashmi said the historic rally was a harbinger of a revolution in the country. He said he was with Imran Khan at every step, but would oppose every wrong decision of the party. "Justice was a slogan of the Quaid-i-Azam."
He promised that the PTI would set up a system of justice after coming to power. "We will form a government comprising youths."
People from various areas of the city and other parts of Sindh and the country attended the PTI's first impressive political gathering. People thronged the venue in buses and private vehicles waving flags of the party.
Although a majority of the participants were Pakhtuns, Hazarewall and Punjabis, they also included Sindhi-, Urdu- and Balochi- speaking people.
A large number of Imran Khan's fans from posh areas of the city also attended the rally. Some of them sat on the second stage made for local leaders.
Justice (retd) Wajihuddin, Fauzia Qasuri, Dr Arif Alvi, Zehra Shahid Hasan, Jahangir Tareen, Hamid Khan and Azam Swati also addressed the public meeting.