Hundreds of thousands of people assembled here under the banner of Pakistan's leading Islamic party to call for immediate national elections and voice support for oppressed Muslims throughout the world.
This dusty uninhabited wasteland has turned into a vast hive of activity as an estimated 300,000 Jamaat-i-Islami supporters opened a three-day congregation on Friday.
"The current military regime of General Pervez Musharraf should immediately organize national elections and hand over power to people's representatives," Jamaat chief Qazi Hussain Ahmad told the opening session.
He said his party would participate in the elections, warning the regime against carrying out any amendment to the 1973 constitution, which Musharraf suspended after seizing power.
Ahmad rejected the forthcoming local district polls without participation by political parties which the regime has scheduled in phases starting from December 31 in order to devolve power to people at the grass-roots village level.
"It is no solution to the problems confronting the country, instead it will open a Pandora's box," the Jamaat leader said, adding Pakistan needed general elections to steer it out of the current crisis.
Pakistanis have been hit by soaring fuel, electricity and commodity prices resulting from new tax measures, rising crime and a crumbling economy.
Jamaat-i-Islami is Pakistan's most well-organized fundamentalist party with a nationwide network of members and offices as well as chain of social welfare centers.
It boycotted the previous elections held in February 1997, demanding a purge of corrupt politicians and later opposed the rule of prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who was ousted in a military coup last year.
The military government allowed the congregation to go ahead, although outdoor political rallies and demonstrations are currently prohibited.
Party officials said the assembly has also drawn delegates from Islamic movements abroad.
The crowd chanted "Allah-o-Akbar" (Allah is great) and slogans condemning Israeli "atrocities" against Palestinians, Indian "repression" in Kashmir and Russian "aggression" in Chechnya.
Ahmad announced plans to build a modern Islamic city at Chakri for which it has purchased 20,000 acres (8093 hectares) of land.
The city will have an Islamic university, schools and colleges for boys and girls, information technology training centers and Internet facilities, he said.
The new city will be functioning in a few years' time to make a significant contribution toward Islamic causes and mobilizing opinion against "injustice and oppression" against Muslims, he added.
The party has installed generators to provide electricity and made arrangements for food and water for an estimated 300,000 people attending the gathering, about 40 percent of them veiled women.
Party sources said about 100 million rupees (1.6 million dollars) had been budgeted for the congregation, with security provided by Hizbul Mujahideen, a powerful guerrilla group fighting against India in Kashmir -- CHAKRI (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com )