Meet Pakistani cleric and founder of Tehrik-e-Minhajul-Quran International, Dr Tahirul Qadri, who had taken Islamabad by storm over the past few days. Qadri’s triumph in getting the government to meet his demands as the two signed an agreement, titled Islamabad Declaration, may well be eclipsed by the trouble he could face in Canada.
According to Express News, Qadri, who is also a Canadian citizen, is now being summoned by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to explain why he violated an oath by returning to a country where he faced death threats, after having been granted asylum. Qadri went into self-imposed exile to Canada after a stormy exit from his home country in 2002. However, given the fact that Shaikhul Islam (as Qadri is popularly called) is now expected to be integral in implementing the agreement for the caretaker setup once parliament is dissolved in March, any worries about his adopted country could temporarily be put on hold. For the 61-year-old Qadri who hails from Jhang in Central Punjab, there is a bigger role to play in his home country.
In retrospect, Shaikhul Islam’s Zeus-like thunderous warnings to the government to resign, dissolve the national and provincial assemblies and implement electoral reforms, lest they are struck by the wrath of the people, led by none other than the honourable zealot, did highlight the plight of the common people. No uneducated reformer, Qadri is a law professor and someone who knows the constitution and law by heart. But the firebrand cleric’s attempt to ignite a revolution fizzled out after much fanfare, entailing his “million march” and four-day dharna (sit-in), besieging the parliament till his demands were met. Fortunately, no terror attack occurred during this time since the tens of thousands that had joined the protest also included women and children. Their presence despite the biting cold is proof enough of the growing urgency to bring about change in the political system.
As for his political ambitions (or the lack of it), since Qadri has already dismissed the possibility of contesting personally in the forthcoming election, his Canadian citizenship will not matter, unless he has a change of heart and jumps on the elections bandwagon, come May. His party however may take part.Technically, any politician holding a dual nationality cannot contest elections nor hold public office according to a constitutional prohibition. Surely, then, his expensive endeavour to march to the capital and camp in D-Square near the parliament was motivated by a selfless zeal to spring-clean the system. But allegations fast doing the round of Qadri having been propped up from the blue by the military put a dampener on such altruistic motives.
The real reason behind the jamboree?
According to the conspiracy theorists, it was to delay elections of course, to derail democracy, to ensure that the present ruling setup does not return etc … But what really got tongues wagging was the vast amount of funds the prodigal reformer seemed to have landed back home with. Fifty to eighty million rupees (Dh1.88 million to Dh3 million) were allegedly spent phase-wise on a massive rally in Lahore and then hiring trucks and buses to transport tens of thousands of supporters to Islamabad for the protest. The question is why did he stage the whole show now when the present government is nearing the end of its five-year term? His supporters have argued for the need to make these demands precisely at this juncture to avoid a return of corrupt politicians at the ballot. As for the rest of the Pakistani politicians, Qadri’s last-minute entry demanding change and cleansing of the system of corrupt politicians, was an orchestrated move. Political parties of all stripes got together to denounce Qadri’s “circus” as stated by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif who also heads Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz, the second largest political party.
Qadri, who belongs to the Barelvi school of thought, is viewed as a moderate figure who has taken a strong stand against terrorism and the Taliban brand of ideology. Besides successfully securing headlines, sharp retorts and very interesting soundbytes, Qadri may have landed others in trouble as well. Interior Minister Rahman Malek for one has drawn the ire of the Christian community in Pakistan by comparing Qadri’s hat to that of the Pope!
It remains to be seen if Qadri endures and uses his new-found fame for the benefit of the masses, who are craving sincere and clean leadership, or takes a bow to exit the stage — once again.