S Iftikhar Murshed
Sunday, January 13, 2013
From Print Edition
The politicians of Pakistan are incapable of saying anything without indulging
in coloured phrases of rhetorical exaggeration. The pathetic grandiloquence of their
speeches is invariably laced with barbs against their rivals, and the discerning
listener is left with the impression that each one of them fancies himself as a
Christ among the Pharisees. Opponents are projected as self-seeking ravenous parasites
whose motives are summed up in the Biblical reprimand: “Woe unto you Pharisees,
for ye love the uppermost seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets!”
Yet they all dwell in glass houses and cannot afford to throw stones.
Tahirul Qadri, the leader of the Tehreek-e-Minhaj-ul-Quran (TMQ), cannot be faulted
for ranting and raving against corruption in high places, but his critics say that
there are skeletons in his cupboard as well. They refer, in particular, to a scandal
in 1990 when he claimed that he had narrowly survived an assassination attempt.
A one-man commission of the Lahore High Court comprising Justice Akhtar Hassan did
not find any corroborative evidence, generating the impression that the incident
had been stage-managed by Qadri himself.
But Qadri never expected justice from the commission, and boycotted its proceedings.
Its findings are equally suspect because the judiciary of those times was far from
independent. Furthermore, if the TMQ chief was really so disreputable, he should
have been disqualified from being a member of the National Assembly during the Musharraf
era under Articles 62 and 63 of the constitution.
It is these two constitutional provisions that lie at the heart of Qadri’s demand
for cleansing the political system prior to the elections. To achieve this he vowed,
in his December 23 address to what was probably the biggest ever rally at Lahore’s
Minar-e-Pakistan, to converge on Islamabad with four million of his supporters on
The government has reacted nervously, and, despite its earlier pronouncements,
has said that Qadri had neither sought nor was given permission to stage his demonstration
in the federal capital. But the TMQ leader is undeterred. His messianic zeal has
blinded him to the perils he will be exposing his followers to from terrorist threats.
Hideous confirmation of the danger came on Thursday with the carnage in Quetta,
Swat and Karachi.
Qadri’s slogan of ‘save the state, not politics’ is eerily reminiscent of Ziaul
Haq’s fraudulent pledge, ‘first accountability, then elections’. His critics say
that he aspires to become the kingmaker, who, without actually acquiring the shallow
trappings of power and its attendant responsibilities, will control the executive.
Qadir’s impassioned appeal for a caretaker setup established through consensus
among all stakeholders, including the judiciary and the military, has been roundly
criticised as contrary to the provisions of the constitution. The interim government,
he insists, will undertake electoral reforms, detoxify Pakistani politics from the
poison of corruption, and immunise the system from the termites that have progressively
devoured state institutions.
Politicians have selective memories. The mainstream political parties, particularly
the PML-N, are on tenterhooks and have accused Qadri of undermining the democratic
process by assigning a political role to the judiciary and the armed forces. Yet,
it was none other than Nawaz Sharif, as reported in the media on October 29, 2010,
who proposed a ‘Twenty-five-year Pakistan Charter’ to be determined by: “All people,
including judges, politicians, generals and lawyers who would have to sit together
to lead our country out of the difficulties it is facing today.”
What distinguishes the TMQ leader from run-of-the-mill politicians is that he
has been consistent in what he has been saying for more than two decades. When he
founded the Pakistan Awami Tehreek on May 25, 1989, its manifesto was anchored on
the bedrock of elimination of corruption in politics, economic and social justice,
emancipation of women and the protection of human rights. Since then, this has been
the constant theme in his speeches. On November 24, 2011 he declared that “even
a hundred elections under the corrupt political system” will not bring any change
in the country. This is precisely what he is saying now.
The federal government has demonstrated that Qadri’s apprehensions are well-founded.
Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, whose limited vocabulary and equally circumscribed
imagination are devoted to highlighting the achievements of the administration,
keeps promising that the elections will be “free and fair.” Yet he has diverted
a colossal Rs15 billion from crucial development schemes to his discretionary funds.
Consequently, allocations for the Diamer-Bhasha Dam and vitally important projects
in Balochistan have been slashed. The funds thus generated are being disbursed among
PPP politicians for pre-election spending in their constituencies. In one broad
sweep, the prime minister has set aside all norms of propriety, despite his tall
promises of fair play. Tax payers’ money, originally earmarked for sorely needed
development programmes, is being used for the re-election of the ruling party’s
candidates. Till now the Election Commission has been silent about this ill-disguised
endeavour to buy votes.
The lust for power is like a parasite that dwells in the heart and nourishes
a hateful existence in the life-blood of the rich and influential; it absorbs them
so completely that they can think of nothing else. This was in evidence a few months
back when the local media reported that Humayun Akhtar, of the PML (Like-minded
Group), called on Nawaz Sharif and pledged a whopping Rs150 million to the PML-N
in return for a party ticket for contesting the next election from Faisalabad and
an eventual seat for his brother in the Senate. The report was never contradicted
by the two leaders.
It is this morbid reality that has grotesquely disfigured the electoral system.
Tahirul Qadri has sworn that he will uproot the poisonous hedge of thorns that surrounds
the limited political landscape of the country. In his mission to bring about change
he has taken the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), despite its murky track record,
Altaf Hussain, the leader of the MQM, whose flair for dramatics verges on the
ridiculous, finally launched his “drone attack” on Thursday when he said that Jinnah
also had dual nationality. Qadri’s decision to partner with a man so predictably
unpredictable raises serious doubt about his political acumen.
Erratic and as unpredictable as a weathervane, the MQM has now decided to opt
out of Qadri’s long march. But this has made no difference to the TMQ leader who,
at a press conference on Friday, reaffirmed his determination to press ahead with
his Islamabad escapade. This was within the parameters of the law and had been confirmed
as such by the recent pronouncements of the Lahore and Islamabad High Courts. Should
any untoward incident occur, he said, the federal government and the Punjab government
would be responsible. They had forfeited their right to remain in office because
they were either incompetent or hand-in-glove with terrorist outfits. Depending
on the way things eventually pan out, Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)
could also throw in its lot with Qadri. PTI insiders have disclosed that the party’s
information secretary, Shafqat Mehmood, was severely reprimanded by Khan for criticising
Qadri after his December 23 address. The PTI has adopted a watch-and-wait approach
but has been generally supportive of Qadri in television talk shows.
There is an unmistakable air of self-assurance and confidence in Qadri since
his two hugely successful rallies in Lahore and Karachi. His statements have become
increasingly strident and judgemental as though he alone is the repository of all
wisdom. Although he styles himself as Shaikh-ul-Islam, a little more humility would
serve him well. He needs only to contemplate on the Quranic admonition: “And walk
not on earth with haughty self-conceit: for, verily, thou canst never rend the earth
asunder, nor canst thou grow as tall as the mountains” (17:37).
The writer is the publisher of Criterion quarterly. Email: iftimurshed@ gmail.com