Can India: Tahir ul Qadri… still alive!

January 17, 2013

Candian Islamic cleric shakes Pakistani politicsCanadian Islamic cleric, Dr. Tahir ul Qadri must be a marked man. In climate where assignations by so-called Taliban supporters are the order of the day, it would not be presumptious to say that he is on the hit list. Two-time Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto comes to mind at a time like this. The then-leader of the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party, had been campaigning ahead of elections (scheduled for January 2008) when she fell victim to a suicide bombing on December 27, 2007 in Rawalpindi.After nine years of self-exile, she returned had just returned to Pakistan in October that year.

Dr. Qadri’s safety is definitely in question. In fact Chief Commissioner Islamabad Tariq Mahmood Pirzada is reported to have voiced his concern that the Canadian cleric was on the hit list of militants. This prompted him to ask for tightened security during the long march scheduled for January 14 as it was believed that any terrorist could enter the red zone.

Two months ago, few Pakistanis and even fewer people around the globe had ever heard about Dr. Tahir ul Qadri, a dual Canadian nationality holder. Now he is an household name. Last month, Dr. Qadri arrived in Pakistan, led a march of tens of thousands from Lahore to Islamabad to stage a sit-in in order to bring about some radical changes and reforms. How radical? For starters he is demanding the dissolution of the Election Commission, next he wants every political candidate standing for election to pay taxes, only a minority of politicians are taxpayers, one notable non-tax paying politician is President Asif Ali Zardari.

What is startling is the level of support he is receiving from Pakistanis across the country who are fed-up with the current state of affairs. Is a religious scholar who has lived seven years in Canada the right person to be putting forth such demands? Who are his backers, where is he getting his funding from and why has he arrived just months before a scheduled national election? The timing threatens to plunge the country into a crisis and risks derailing a highly flawed but fragile democracy.

Outside Pakistan, Qadri is often been presented as a “moderate” Sufi scholar who famously wrote a 600 page fatwa against terrorism in 2010 which won him international applause. However while his work to counter extremists has brought him his share of admirers, there hangs a question mark over the extent of Qadri’s own moderating influence. For example one video doing the rounds over the internet shows Qadri giving what appear to be two contradictory statements on blasphemy – the subject of so much controversy in Pakistan. In one clip he is shown speaking in English where he says: “Whatever the law of blasphemy is, it is not applicable on non-Muslims. It is not applicable on Jews, Christians and other non- Muslims minorities. It is just to be dealt with Muslims.” Yet then in Urdu in a different clip he says: “My stance was that, and this was the law which got made, that whoever commits blasphemy, whether a Muslim or a non-Muslim, man or woman – whether be a Muslim, Jew, Christian, Hindu, anyone – whoever commits blasphemy their punishment is death.”

Huge amounts have been spent on print and television advertisements. On the backs of rickshaws his photo has become the most popular advertisement staring back at all vehicle drivers. Power cuts, gas shortage, bans on mobile phones and daily terrorist bombings have all become associated with the current government. Yet surely the ballot box is the way to bring reform. The Supreme Court has this week ordered the arrest of the Prime Minister Raza Pervez Ashraf over corruption charges – proving there are other avenues towards change without resorting to revolutionary tactics.

The Supreme Court had ordered the anti-corruption body to arrest the prime minister and 15 other people accused of taking kickbacks in power projects when Ashraf was the minister for water and power.

A three-member bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhary had ordered the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to arrest the prime minister and submit a report by Thursday.

However, the NAB refused to arrest the prime minister on the plea that its own investigation report in the corruption case was flawed and that evidence was not enough to arrest him.

NAB chief Fasih Bukhari told the apex court that the bureau’s inquiry report earlier submitted to the court was inaccurate. Corruption, nepotism and feudalism run deep in Pakistan a country that continues to lurch from one crisis to the other. I

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