The International News: March madness in January

Ikram Sehgal
Friday, January 18, 2013
From Print Edition

Considered the usual month for political madness in Pakistan, March came early this year, the turmoil complicated by election-year factors. The obstacles of the federal and Punjab governments notwithstanding, the Tehreek-e-Minhajul Quran’s (TMQ) ‘long march’ came nowhere near the “million” mark claimed by Dr Tahirul Qadri. People in small numbers continued to join those assembled in the kilometre-plus D Square space in front of parliament in Islamabad. By late afternoon Tuesday the calculation was close to about 100,000.

A former professor of international constitutional law at the University of Punjab, Dr Muhammad Tahirul Qadri is a prominent authority on Islam, with more than 400 published works on Islamic scholarship, law and Sufism. Born on February 19, 1951, in Jhang, he was educated at the Christian Sacred Heart School, going on to study Hadith at the Muhaddith al-Hijaz. Briefly becoming member of National Assembly during Gen Musharraf’s democracy before leaving for Canada, Dr Qadri considerably expanded Minhaj-ul-Quran International (MQI) using that base. Representing a moderate vision of Islam, its long term strategic vision is promotion of peace, love, harmony and modern Islamic sciences. The MQI explicitly rejects terrorism and all other unjust violence as being entirely un-Islamic.

Elections in the present circumstances would mean a mere change of faces, and Dr Qadri wants them delayed indefinitely until Pakistan’s endemic politics-based corruption is rooted out. These calls for sweeping reforms have riled both the ruling PPP and the loyal PML-N opposition (the late Gen Ziaul Haq’s “club of politicians”). The means Dr Qadri is advocating to pursue demands for ‘good governance’ may be wrong. Political parties decried such means quite rightly, but why did they remain silent about people’s cries for good governance? Most politicians view him not as a champion of reform but as a tool of those with their own agenda. The question bedevilling most analysts, a majority of whom trashed Dr Qadri’s “invisible” agenda without taking issue with the stated one, is: who put Dr Qadri forward?

In her piece in Foreign Policy ‘Who is Tahir ul-Qadri, Shamila N Chaudhary, writes “Could Qadri be another Imran Khan prototype, informally sponsored by the military? At least Khan can deliver the people. We should not overlook the meaning behind Qadri’s interestingly timed, well-organised and well-funded return. He says he wants to put “true democracy on track,” but Qadri comes at a time when the PPP-led government and the main opposition party the PML-N are near agreement on the timing of elections and the caretaker government setup.” She goes on, “Speculating on the military’s connections to Qadri is unavoidable, but it is not the only issue Qadri brings to the fore. Something else much more tangible and visible is at work, the desperate desire of ordinary Pakistanis for change.”

That aspiration for change is very visible, not only on primetime TV but in streets throughout the country. Whose agenda Dr Qadri is pushing is certainly important, but far more important are his objectives: ushering in electoral reforms for a genuine democracy in Pakistan to replace the fraud in practice today. How can those who break the law at will become framers of the laws of the land, and be expected to uphold the rule of law?

While the vast majority of Muslim clerics are targeted and labelled “terrorists,” with so much anti-Islamic propaganda in the media, why has Qadri remained unscathed and unmentioned, heralded as an advocate of world peace? As with all politicians, corrupt leaders and other such exploiters of the human race, one finds multiple flows of financing as a result of self-started organisations, political ties, and memberships. From where does Dr Qadri get his primary funding?

If the present regime has made bad governance into an art, what did others do before it? This democracy only functions to fulfil the needs and greed of the rulers and their functionaries. This stood out in stark relief during the recent Balochistan crisis when no one of any consequence visited the Shia protestors, a majority of them women and children braving the cold for several days and nights, beside the dead bodies of their loved ones. The provincial government was dismissed by presidential diktat only when it became apparent that the crisis could possibly derail the federal government itself. Asif Zardari was helped along in his decision when a large group of Shia protesters, somehow evading the strict security cordon in Clifton, gathered to stage a dharna near Bilawal House in Karachi.

Democracy cannot work where its practitioners have no sincerity of intention or purpose. Most analysts agree that there is nothing wrong about the present constitution, even though some do not agree with how the Supreme Court interprets it from time to time. Rulers, present and past, flouted the constitution at will, and at the same time remained holier-than-thou about everyone else but their kith and kin. Many TV analysts who bad-mouthed Tahirul Qadri (and his objectives) never once mentioned the crass criminal activity blatantly indulged in by the rulers, their friends and relatives under the camouflage of the constitution. Dr Qadri’s contention that elections will simply replace faces is correct, for the most part.

All this dissolved into a constitutional crisis on Tuesday when the Supreme Court ordered the prime minister be arrested along with more than a dozen others in the ‘Rental Power Projects’ (RPP) case. This is no coincidence, claim the conspiracy theorists, only the fulfilment of an invisible agenda to derail democracy. Qadri helped this perception along by immediately claiming partial “victory” in the middle of his speech, promising to continue the ‘sit-in’ till the fulfilment of the rest of the demands for change.

If the Shia protesters could sit out the freezing cold of Quetta till the Balochistan government was shunted out, Qadri’s supporters can brave Islamabad’s freezing rain. Certainly there is need for elections to sustain democracy but what if this democracy continues to sustain corruption? Do not confuse SC’s orders for Raja Pervaiz Ashraf’s arrest as an attack on democracy. A coincidence perhaps, but orders for his arrest for corruption as an individual coincided with him being PM. Let another PPP stalwart become prime minister or simply announce general elections! The country cannot afford a constitutional crisis because of the likely confrontation between the government and the Supreme Court. Previous experience shows that Asif Zardari will back down if push comes to shove, so why let it come to shove?

The writer is a defence and political analyst.

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