The city of Manchester is bracing itself for a bitter street tussle — possibly running battles — as supporters of sworn enemies Pervez Musharraf and Nawaz Sharif converge on the city on Saturday in a show of force.
Now leading the newly-formed All Pakistan Muslim League (APML), Musharraf has personally chosen Manchester, known all over the world for its famous Manchester United football club, as the last leg of his Pakistani community engagement after launching the party on Friday.
But after Musharraf launched vicious personal attacks on former premier Nawaz Sharif, whom he ousted from power in 1999 and exiled him to Saudi Arabia and London, the tension between the two camps has soared to fever pitch.
Greater Manchester Police are believed to have put hundreds of policemen on the spot to prevent the two sides from engaging in a Pakistani-style free-for-all brawl.
A GMP spokesman said the police force was aware of the planned visit of Musharraf on Saturday 9. He added: “The GMP is currently planning for the visit and working with event organisers to ensure an appropriate policing operation is in place.”
Sharif has found the attacks nerve-twisting and there is every indication that the former president of Pakistan will lambaste Sharif at every possible opportunity, especially using the western and Pakistan media.
A highly agitated Sharif, according to a PML source, has taken Musharraf’s attacks so seriously that he will be present in London to ensure a large-scale protest outside the invitation-only venue of Musharraf’s public meeting and also to mobilise his party activists.
It is not yet clear whether Sharif will himself lead the protest rally in Manchester, but his party activists are urging him to announce his own participation in the rally to increase the participation.
The news has learned on authority that the PML-N leadership in Pakistan has also asked the UK chapter to step up the fight against Musharraf’s activities in London. Top PML-N leaders are now personally involved in the preparation for October 9 protest.
But the PML-N leaders are facing a difficult task in assembling a large number of people in the city, where Chaudhry Altaf Shahid and Asif Shahzad, two known and skilled political organisers, are hoping to bring out at least 3,000 people to cheer Musharraf on.
Zubair Gull, PML-N’s UK leader, told The News his party was organising a demonstration in Manchester to show “solidarity and support to the victims of cruel regime of ex-dictator Musharraf in Pakistan”.
Gull said the decision to hold the demonstration against Musharraf was a local decision and the orders had not come from the above. “We will be holding the demonstration to expose Musharraf to the world. After selling Pakistanis for dollars while he was in power, these days he is speaking the language of the Indian establishment. He has insulted the feelings of millions of Kashmiris and Pakistanis and we will be there to show our true feelings to him.”
Chaudhry Altaf Shahid and Asif Shahzad said in a statement that the success of the AMPL launch in London and the Birmingham event, where over 1,500 people attended the public address, had given them the confidence that Musharraf’s message was being received well.
They said every effort was being made-especially after the Birmingham rally incident in which two protesters agitated during Musharraf’s speech. They alleged that Punjab government was using money to bring people to Manchester against Musharraf.