Dubai: It’s show time in Islamabad with Dr Tahirul Qadri emerging as an unlikely avenger of the Pakistani people’s discontent with poverty, a crippling power crisis and a corrupt political system.
The Pakistan’s Supreme Court’s ruling on the second day of his "long march" to arrest Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf has added fuel to his "sit in" demands.
Instead of fizzling out, his support base has grown and is even more charged up with the every passing day as it anticipates "change" in the country.
Qadri will be an instant hero if Ashraf is taken in to custody and removed from the office because with him, the whole cabinet will be dissolved as well.
The next couple of days will be very crucial in setting the course of the political scene in Pakistan, with the ruling coalition, led by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the opposition groups, led by Nawaz Sharif, holding separate meetings to chalk out an action plan to counter Qadri in the event of Ashraf being removed from office.
The PPP will be fine if Ashraf is granted bail and the government completes its term on March 16.
However, there is also the possibility of appointing a new prime minister while the third option is to dissolve the assemblies succumbing to Qadri’s demands before their terms expire and form a caretaker government in consultation with all stakeholders. General elections will held within 60 days of dissolving the parliament.
Though elections are around the corner, Qadri is vehemently opposed to the current administration, which he has termed “corrupt”, presiding over the polls.
Instead, he wants the electoral commission to be reconstituted, followed by the dissolution of assemblies and electoral reforms under a caretaker government. And he is determined to see his agenda through.
There is no doubt that Qadri, who led Tahrik-e-Minhajul Quran (TMQ) — a moderate religious group which has offices in more than 90 countries and millions of followers, including an estimated 200,000 students enrolled in its schools in Pakistan — has managed to create a scare in government and opposition circles, as well as outside parliament.
If the ‘long march’, which was followed by a ‘sit in’ of thousands over the last four days in Islamabad, set any standard for a ‘revolution’, Qadri seems determined to dethrone the existing government and ensure that his demands are met.
There had been predictions that Islamists would take over Islamabad in a bloody revolution against the corrupt political system in Pakistan. However, no one would have guessed that the so-called revolution would be led by a ‘Barelvi’ Muslim, who is also a liberal and has now become a top militant target following his ‘fatwas’ (edicts) condemning terrorist attacks and suicide bombings, in which he has declared these acts un-Islamic.
No one believed that Qadri, who does not like to be called a ’Maulana’ — a common word used for religious scholars in Pakistan — could put up such a great show of strength, all alone without the help of any political or religious group.
Even the media doubted his intentions owing to his chequered political career and have been searching for the force they believe is behind him.
Qadri is also blamed by opposition groups, such as the one led by Nawaz Sharif, for driving a Western agenda to destabilise Pakistan and delay the general elections due this year.
He has kept the nation hostage on television channels since his return from Canada in December.
He has been addressing the ‘long march’ gathering for hours every day and has kept his audience spellbound with his speeches.
In some circles, he has been compared to Imran Khan, with others saying where Khan just talked about change, Qadri has sought to bring about the change and revolution.
However, this is not the first time that Qadri has made headlines. His first big rally in Lahore in 1989 was very impressive but he lost the elections then and failed to win even a single seat.
He again appeared in 2002 when General Pervez Musharraf held elections but the ambitious Qadri, who is not averse to short cuts, won only one seat under the banner of the Pakistan Awami Tahreek (Pakistan Public Movement) political party.
Later, he stormed out of parliament and resigned, branding the then parliament a rubber-stamp legislature.
Soon after, he settled in Canada in a self-imposed exile only to reappear in Islamabad just before the elections.
Some believe that he has been motivated by the uprising in Egypt where the protestors camped at Tahrir Square in Cairo for 18 days, starting January 25, 2011, and eventually forcing President Hosni Mubarak to end his 30-year rule on February 11 of the same year.
But the scene in Pakistan is different as political forces have their own stakes and they may "shoot" Qadri who is on currently on a "solo flight".
Pakistan minister issues warning
Pakistan's Interior Minister warned an anti-government Muslim cleric backed by thousands of protesters camped out in the heart of the capital near parliament to disperse, saying they were at risk of attack from militants.
Rehman Malik said authorities had learned that militants might be planning to target the crowd, and that the cleric, Tahirul Qadri, would be held responsible for any attacks.