No surrender before corruption, says Dr Qadri

NEW YORK - Minhajul Quran International chief Dr Tahirul Qadri has called his long march on Islamabad a ‘moral revolution’, saying there will be no surrender before corruption.

“There will be no defeat,” Qadri, 61, said in a phone interview with The New York Times on Saturday. “This is for a spiritual and moral revolution. We will not surrender before corruption.”

In a dispatch from Islamabad published Sunday, Times correspondent Declan Walsh wrote: "Little known in Pakistan just one month ago, the preacher, Muhammad Tahirul Qadri, a white-bearded Sufi scholar with a taste for hard politics, has taken the country by storm in recent weeks in a campaign that has gripped the news media and jolted the traditional political mainstream. "But Mr Qadri’s sudden arrival on the political scene has also brought worries that he represents the interests of forces bent on derailing Pakistan’s fragile democratic order," the dispatch said.

"Questions have been raised about Mr Qadri’s source of money — one opposition senator estimates that he has already spent $4 million on relentless television advertising — and, inevitably in a country where conspiracy theories run rife, media reports have buzzed with allegations of outside support. "Some theories focus on Western governments, particularly the United States, but most analysts point to the convergence between Mr Qadri’s agenda and that of the powerful military, which has done little to disguise its disdain for Mr Zardari — and even the opposition leaders who threaten to replace him."

The dispatch quoted Shamila N Chaudhary, an analyst at the Eurasia Group who formerly served as the director for Afghanistan and Pakistan on President Barack Obama’s National Security Council, as saying that the march on Islamabad ‘reflects the military’s desire for regime change’ and ‘signals that military interest in political engineering is alive and well’.

But, Ms Chaudhary added, the days when Pakistan’s military could seize power on a whim have passed, thanks to an aggressive news media and fiercely independent courts. “Real regime change led by Qadri is most unlikely,” she said.

The Times noted: "Both the military and Mr Qadri have publicly denied working together. Others say such comments are scaremongering meant to quell a movement that taps into popular discontent.

"At the very least, the situation betrays government jitters about whether it can survive until its term ends on March 17. It is expected to set elections for some time in April or May and appoint a government to take over until the vote. If a peaceful election follows, the transfer of power would represent a first in a country that has suffered three military coups over nearly six decades.

"But Mr Qadri will not be running for office — as a dual citizen of Pakistan and Canada, he is ineligible under Pakistani law," the dispatch said.

"Supporters are drawn by his mix of modernism and religious conservatism. Corruption is a focus of his politics, and he insists that all election candidates should be vetted by the country’s tax authorities. He is less clear, though, about his own finances." Qadri was quoted as saying in the dispatch, "Street traders, small businesses and ordinary Pakistanis are financing his impressive drive. So has his family: his wife and daughters pawned their jewellery to help out." But the preacher (Qadri) could not name one major campaign donor, or say how much his team had spent on television advertisements, according to the Times. “I don’t get involved in these things,” he was quoted as saying. About Qadri's challenge, Shamila Chaudhary, the analyst, predicted that he was ‘ultimately unlikely to shape the election results’.

For his part, the Times said, Qadri has moderated his demands, stressing that his goal is simply to nudge Pakistan toward more open leadership. “I can’t say that Pakistan will become America or Canada in a couple of years,” he was quoted as saying. “But we want a reflection of America, to put the process on track.”

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