One thing that must be said for Dr. Tahir ul Qadri whether one agrees with his agenda or not is that he has caused an immense amount of debate within Pakistan, which has become increasingly divisive the longer his ‘long march’ has worn on.
What it really boils down to is this: is Dr. Qadri leading the revolution that Pakistan has been waiting for? His supporters argue that he is and also that he is perhaps Pakistan’s last chance for salvation. They want him to come in and throw the current government out because its “corrupt” and has “failed to deliver”. Indeed Dr. Qadri’s (fluctuating) list of demands runs quite close to this expectation. At the last check the demands included dismissing the assemblies, dismissing the president, dissolving the election commission of Pakistan and sending C.E.C Juctice (r) Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim home (because he is too old!). And of course it all had to be done before this o’ clock in the evening or that o’ clock next morning or else Blue Area would be turned into Karbala.
I have several objections to Dr. Qadri’s demands, the chief being that what he is demanding is just down right unconstitutional to start with, and is tantamount to subverting the system. After all the assemblies, the prime minister and the president are all chosen through a process which largely represents the will of the people. Now it can be debated that the implementation of that process may have been flawed, but on this there is no debate that it is the process we have chosen for this country to select its governments by.
We can agree to improve the implementation of the process but surely that must come through the ballot and not through street power. Ironically Dr Qadri asserts repeatedly that he is not advocating violating the constitution of Pakistan – but then in the next breath calls for the ouster of a democratically elected government. Interestingly this government is due to step down anyway in a space of a few months after a 5 year term so I really don’t understand the incentive to create an issue on this right now.
Furthermore, Dr. Qadri neither has the mandate from the public to make this demand nor was this the original intention he declared when he landed in Pakistan after living in Canada for the last 7 years. At that time it was limited to just ensuring a free and fair election, which has now morphed into an immediate ouster of the sitting government.
It has been heartening to see that all political parties in Pakistan have roundly rejected Dr. Qadri’s threats to a democratically elected government. Doing anything else would have set a very dangerous precedent: if we were to cave in to Dr. Qadri’s demands today, who is to prevent any other non-representative party or aggrieved group to gather thousands of people and descend on Islamabad with its own charter of illegal demands? What is the use of elections at all and laws and constitutions if we allow them to be broken whenever a bully demands it?
I also have certain other concerns related to Dr. Qadri’s recent actions. One big one is the source of funding for what has been a massive spend so far running into estimated hundreds of millions of rupees. It is not only the cost of the months long media campaign but also the cost of transporting thousands of people to Islamabad and then the cost of feeding them at the site of the sit in for several days. Dr Qadri claims all this money has been collected from donations. I think this is a claim that needs closer scrutiny as it is not a small amount we are talking about. This is also important because the source of the funding may also hint as to the underlying agenda of this march. Secondly I find it really disturbing that he repeatedly asks the participants of the march to take oaths on the Holy Quran during his speeches and invokes Karbala. It sounds disturbingly like an instigation or preparation for violence. These are not the sort of scenes one wants to see in the capital of the country.
Lastly, since everyone is really fixated on change in Pakistan, I would like to end by asking what is that change that we want to see? If your answer is the fall of an elected government to be replaced by the flavor of the day, then I must point out that this is not change at all for it is exactly what has happened several times before in Pakistan’s history. In fact this is something Pakistani public seems to have specialized in: welcoming a leader to office with fanfare and then later supporting the use of unconstitutional means to dismiss that government, only to welcome the next flavor of the day with the same fanfare.
Change for me would be for once to see a democratic transfer of power in Pakistan: an elected government handing over to the next elected government in a smooth transition without finger pointing or accusations of rigging. This is the change I am willing to work towards and support wholeheartedly. Not subversion of this process and playing into the hands of undemocratic forces.
In this way I suppose Dr Qadri has had a positive effect on the politics of Pakistan: he has brought all political parties together in their condemnation of any unconstitutional step and ignited a debate about the principles of governance we want to defend. Dr Qadri does not then represent a revolution as such.. but perhaps an evolution??