Over 200 Pakistanis from across metro Atlanta gathered in Decatur Square on Sunday, in a show of support for Pakistan's recently ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan. The rally was in response to the removal of Khan from government on April 9th, which his supporters say was a result of U.S. interference (an allegation that both the U.S. and Pakistan's National Security Agency have refuted) and corruption within the parliament. They called for immediate elections and for Pakistanis to unite and come out in support of Khan.
The recent political turmoil has stirred emotions not just within Pakistan, but across the diaspora. Though not without his critics, Khan has managed to sustain steady support from many overseas Pakistanis - with rallies of Khan's supporters popping up everywhere from Houston, Texas to Melbourne, Australia.
There are almost 12,000 Pakistanis in the metro Atlanta area, up from about 9,000 a decade ago. Almost half of these families live in Gwinnett County, and the rest are spread throughout the metro region. "Our presence is segregated and in different spots," said Hasnain Shaban, one of the organizers of the rally in Decatur Square. "When we get together, we are huge."
Shaban said that the local supporters of Khan's political party PTI - Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (which translates to Pakistan Movement for Justice) - hadn’t been active in organizing any events. About a month ago, he and several others in the community took it upon themselves to get organized, "We just made a group ourselves, and got together and said, let's do this."
They organized via zoom meetings and phone calls and spread the word through social media. "It's all social media - Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and the PTI official account tweeted us," he said.
The grassroots group, Atlanta Supports IK, now has around 200 members, according to Shaban. At the rally on Sunday, there were at least that many people, some traveling from as far as Alabama and Tennessee, he said.
"People who have never seen each other before, came together for this cause," said organizer Momina Niazi, who lives in Johns Creek. "I especially want to thank all of the volunteers…some of whom I've seen today actually in person for the first person," she said over the loudspeaker to the crowd.
One older gentleman who has lived in the U.S. for over 30 years said it was his first rally. When I asked him what he thought of it, he said "I love it!" a giant smile spreading across his face.
Here in Georgia, primary elections are coming up and a nationally watched governor's race could mean dramatic changes for the state, but for many people, it's what's happening back home that is at the forefront of their minds.