Tahirul Qadri’s entry in political arena

By: Asif Haroon Raja;

Sudden arrival of Chairman Minhajul Quran, Dr Tahirul Qadri in Pakistan and holding a mammoth public meeting at Minar-e-Pakistan on 23 December has puzzled the thinking minds and set the tongues wagging about his stated and hidden motives. It is being asked whether he has come of his own accord driven by pristine thoughts or has been launched with an agenda. Some say he has been motivated by the uprising in Egypt where the protestors camped at Tahrir Square in Cairo for 18 days starting 25 January 2011 and eventually forced President Hosni Mubarak to abdicate his 30 years rule on 11 February. Professor Qadri revealed his inner thoughts of replicating Egyptian model in his November 19, 2011 video address. They say Qadri wants a similar change in Pakistan by gathering 4 million people at Parliament D-Chowk in Islamabad on 14 January 2013 and forcing the government to accept his demand of appointing impartial, clean and powerful caretaker setup acceptable to all stakeholders inside and outside the parliament as well as Army and judiciary and carrying out electoral reforms before holding elections.

He is not wrong in saying that even hundred elections under the corrupt political system would not bring any change. Recycling of same lot of corrupt politicians is in violation of the constitution. Resounding success of his Lahore address and his one-point agenda of electoral reforms has sent ripples throughout the length and breadth of the country and alarmed the status quo loving politicians. Opportunist MQM embraced Dr Qadri and made token contributions in making his rally at Lahore a grand success. Both organized a public meeting in Karachi on 01 January to strengthen their political bonds. While Imran Khan riding on the crest of popularity apparently supported Qadri on the plea that his agenda of reform is similar to his party’s manifesto, as an afterthought he has pulled back. PML-Q also hastened to jump into Qadri’s bandwagon.

Acquisition of support of two important government allies of PPP has secured the flanks of Qadri. MQM’s decision to join the long march has made the prospective march from Lahore to Islamabad menacing. Alliance of Pakistan Awami Tehrik-MQM-PML-Q will become bothersome for the two mainstream parties as well as Tehrik-e-Insaf (TI). However, it must not be forgotten that Altaf and Qadri have commonalities but have dissimilarities as well. Both are revolutionary leaders, headstrong, highly ambitious with high aims living in self exile. At some stage there will be a personality clash, unless Altaf and Pervez Illahi jointly propose the name of Qadri as caretaker prime minister and he proves useful to them. Qadri has already indicated his willingness to become part of the interim setup and may even accept caretaker PM job if peoples’ court which he plans to hold in Islamabad say so. He has threatened that caretaker setup formed before the long march will be unacceptable.

All this wheeling and dealing will be mainly at the cost of PML-N, which has waited for its turn with great amount of patience and braved the taunts of ‘friendly opposition’. Punjab will remain the main battleground to win elections, where PML-N has emerged as the most popular party, overshadowing mercurial rise of TI. Punjab government is so far putting up a brave face and has stated that the long march will not be blocked as long as law and order is not disturbed.

PPP leaders have little to lose since their regime is completing five years stint on March 16, 2013. Their craving to mint money to their heart’s desire has been amply fulfilled. They can afford to go into hibernation for next five years or at best form a coalition government in Sindh. Anything more than that will be a welcome bonus! The PPP has so far not given any friendly signal to Qadri and its leadership has advised him to stay within the limits of constitution and rule of law. It is indeed ironic to hear the PPP leaders giving sermons not realizing that all these five years they have been breaking laws and defying the Supreme Court with impunity. After showing a tough stance, PPP has ceded to MQM’s advice and agreed to form a committee to negotiate with Qadri.

Imran and Qadri both advocating change, and PML-Q acting as a spoiler, are essentially attacking the vote bank of PML-N in Punjab. Imran’s TI, the biggest catalyst for change will be able to win seats in all provinces as well as in FATA, but will not be able to form a government at its own. Its claim of sweeping the polls is wishful, particularly after the arrival of Qadri who has stolen the limelight. Some say if Imran and Qadri are game changers and their manifesto of change is in harmony, why don’t the two join hands, or is it again the factor of clash of personalities?

Like TI, in the face of gathering opposition, PML-N may win but its dream of securing two-thirds majority is farfetched. In fact no party is strong enough to sweep the polls. PML-N – TI – JI alliance together with nationalist parties of Balochistan and Sindh could be a winning combination. The other alternative for the PML-N to gain substantial votes in Punjab is to marry up with PML-Q, which is least likely. PM Raja’s claim that PPP’s five-year tenure was a golden period and it would again win is absurd. Current alignments are pointing towards split mandate and a hung parliament. This arrangement will be unsuited to cleanse the muck left behind by the outgoing government.

Dr Qadri has surely created a scare among government and opposition circles as well as those outside the parliament. No one can deny that whatever he is saying is not true. He is showing mirror to those who have taken turns to plunder the nation. They are responsible for impeding the growth of institutions and bringing a bad name to democracy. The two mainstream parties have captivated their respective vote banks with the help of majority of their rural based voters (85% of 34 million voters) tied to Baradaries, or yoked by Chaudhris, Maliks, Waderas, Police, Patwaris, Pirs, Faqirs. Few can slip out of fortified banks of PPP, PML-N, PML-Q carved out of PML-N, PML-F and religious parties. In order to save the corrupt political system favoring a tiny elite group than the state, they have preferred sham democracy over true democracy.

With this aim in mind, the crocodiles have begun to holler and have cautioned Qadri not to derail sham democracy. They fear he has come to delay the elections and to put an end to dynastic politics. They want old worn out faces clinging to status quo to be recycled again and again and their sons taking their places. Petitions have been moved in Supreme Court to stop the march. Stories to malign and defame him are in circulation. TV anchors are asking him pointed questions about certain controversies attached to him, wherefrom he is receiving funds and his agenda as a dual nationality holder. They ask him that since he is not a stakeholder, he should either fight political or legal battle rather than giving ultimatums to attain his objective of electoral reforms. Some suspect he has Army’s backing. Others say an enlightened moderate scholar like Qadri suits the west to confront religious extremism.

Being knowledgeable and a forceful orator, he is giving lucid answers, but is also somewhat shifting his goalposts. Given the jolts given by Qadri, coming weeks are full of suspense and action. About four million zealots are getting geared up to storm the citadel of Islamabad and bring down the edifice peacefully. The dedicated followers of Sheikhul Islam are hectically busy in tying up nuts and bolts for the grand event and collecting funds and items including dry rations needed for a long sit-in. However, it is quite possible that the bubble of Qadri may burst before or just after the D Day and he once again heads for Canada in utter frustration. His efforts may succeed if he is joined by equally ambitious and resolute Imran and backed by the military.

Qadri’s outbursts in the backdrop of escalation in terrorist acts in KP, continuing bloodbath in Karachi, unrest in Balochistan and economic indicators going in negative, have added to the uncertainty of the people about the prospects of timely elections. Those keen for timely elections say that any delay will result in civil war. Irrespective of the circulating hypothesis, 2013 will be the year of elections and it will hopefully herald a healthy change. The writer is a freelance columnist and a defence analyst.

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