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