The Un­ex­pected Storm

Tahir-ul-Qadri sud­denly emerges as the peo­ple’s ‘mes­siah’ and the government’s worst night­mare.

Southasia - - Contents - By S.G. Ji­la­nee

The year had just be­gun. The daily killings in Karachi, the Hazara pogrom in Balochis­tan and the US drone at­tacks in North and South Waziris­tan were go­ing on as per rou­tine. Prime Min­is­ter, Raja Pervez Ashraf had given a new mean­ing to nepo­tism. The term meant show­er­ing fa­vors on rel­a­tives be­cause the popes used to lav­ish boun­ties on “neph­ews.” By nom­i­nat­ing his son to the World Bank, the prime min­is­ter made it “fa­mil­ial­ism.”

Balochis­tan chief min­is­ter, As­lam Raisani was en­joy­ing the snowfall in Lon­don while his province burned. The Supreme Court was chas­ing the cor­rupt ones and those who killed and dis­ap­peared in­no­cent peo­ple in Balochis­tan. The killing of Shahzeb Khan by Shahrukh Ja­toi over a prior brawl had sparked a protest against feu­dal­ism. And Bi­lawal Zar­dari had de­buted on the po­lit­i­cal stage with a salvo on the ju­di­ciary a few days ear­lier.

The Chief Elec­tion Com­mis­sioner was busy ver­i­fy­ing the elec­toral rolls and de­lim­it­ing con­stituen­cies. The stake­hold­ers were dis­cussing the com­po­si­tion of a care­taker government to con­duct the elec­tions, which were due around mid-year. Above this, all po­lit­i­cal par­ties were gloat­ing that for the first time in the coun­try’s his­tory an elected government was go­ing to com­plete its full

The Pope has a larger hat, Tahir-ul-Qadri’s hat is smaller. Please ask him why he’s act­ing like a semi-Pope. Rehman Ma­lik In­te­rior Min­is­ter of Pak­istan I as­sure you that the power your vote has, no long march or sit-in can match. Nawaz Sharif Chair­man, Mus­lim League (N)


All was hunky-dory. In fact, the sce­nario re­called Robert Brown­ing’s lines: “Morn­ing’s at seven. /God is in His heaven. /All is right with the world” when, Sheikh-ul Is­lam Al­lama Tahir-ul-Qadri sud­denly de­scended upon the coun­try from the com­fort of his self-ex­ile in Canada and be­gan vi­o­lently churn­ing the tur­bid cesspool of the coun­try’s pol­i­tics. Gov­ern­ments, both pro­vin­cial and fed­eral, did not con­sider him wor­thy of at­ten­tion in the be­gin­ning. They had seen the Ja­maat-e-Is­lami’s “Mil­lion March” and JUI (F)’s ral­lies. They did not ex­pect any­thing much from Qadri, all the more be­cause he had not been among the peo­ple for a long time.

But when on De­cem­ber 23, all roads in La­hore seemed to lead to Mi­nar-e-Pak­istan and the city looked as if it was burst­ing at the seams with the tsunami of peo­ple coming to hear Qadri, they were stunned. His slo­gans, “Si­asat Nahi, Ri­asat

Bachao” (save the state, not pol­i­tics) and “Nizam Badlo” (change the sys­tem), re­peated in full-throated roar by the mul­ti­tude sent tremors in the por­tals of power in La­hore and Is­lam­abad.

In his speech, Dr. Qadri crit­i­cized the un­just and feu­dal sys­tem in the coun­try and de­clared, “I give the government a dead­line of three weeks to es­tab­lish an hon­est and in­de­pen­dent body that will in­tro­duce elec­toral re­forms and pave the way for free and fair elec­tions.”At a loss to know how to re­spond, the government re­sorted to pour­ing scorn on him and deem­ing his de­mands un­con­sti­tu­tional.

The Long March: Buoyed by the success of the La­hore meet­ing, Dr. Qadri an­nounced a Long March to Is­lam­abad, sched­uled for 14 Jan­uary. He in­vited Im­ran Khan to join him but the former crick­eter de­clined, while all other par­ties frowned at him, al­leg­ing he was try­ing to de­rail democ­racy. Only the MQM ex­tended its full back­ing.

What brought the two lead­ers closer was that both Qadri and Altaf Hus­sain are on the same page on in­ter-faith and sec­tar­ian har­mony, ex­trem­ism, ter­ror­ism and feu­dal­ism. How­ever, com­pli­ca­tions arose along the way. Ini­tially, Altaf Hus­sain de­clared that MQM would join Qadri’s march. But af­ter fre­netic ef­forts from the government to dis­suade him, he with­drew ac­tive par­tic­i­pa­tion, though con­tin­u­ing with his mo­ral sup­port, ask­ing the government to ac­cept his de­mands and not use any force to stop Qadri.

In or­der to de­ter Qadri, Rah­man Ma­lik - lov­ingly called the Pres­i­dent’s court jester - launched his usual gim­micks, cau­tion­ing pos­si­ble ter­ror­ist at­tacks on the march and law and or­der break­down. But Qadri out­foxed all at­tempts, in­clud-

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