'This is revenge'

Tahir-ul-Qadri to shut down Lahore over CM, law minister resignations for 2014 worker deaths

'This is revenge'
Lahore is bracing for protests by Pakistan Awami Tehreek chief Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri who wants Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Law Minister Rana Sanaullah to resign by January 7.

Qadri holds them responsible for decision-making that led to the deaths of 14 party workers and injuries to 90 others on June 16, 2014 during clashes with police. PAT supporters had gathered outside his Minhaj-ul Quran Academy in Model Town, Lahore. Police was sent in to disperse them as it was believed they were planning to “overthrow” the government. PAT supporters pelted the force with stones and the police opened fire.

Justice Baqar Najafi headed an inquiry into the deaths and the Lahore High Court ordered his report be made public. When it was, Qadri announced the sit-ins and a number of parties have offered their support for his position.

These developments come less than a month after the state succumbed to demands of the radical Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLY) in Islamabad. TFT sat down with Qadri to ask about his plans, reasoning and position on the issues.

TFT: Your thoughts on Justice Najafi’s report.

Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri: The report has made it crystal clear that Shehbaz Sharif and Rana Sanaullah are responsible for the Model Town massacre. This responsibility has been assigned because the CM said in writing that he had given the police the order to disengage, but the commission has reached the conclusion that no such order was given out. His lie exposes his involvement in the horrendous crime.

Second is his claim that he wasn’t aware of what was going on and he only knew about it at 9:30 pm on June 17. The June 16 meeting that is now on record, even from the Punjab government representatives, had the law minister present. Who was he representing? Wasn’t he representing his chief minister? Principal Secretary Dr Tauqeer Shah was present. Whose personal secretary was he? Also, the CM has control over the home ministry. So, if the secretary home was also present in the meeting, whose representative was he?

This shows that he knew on June 16 what was going to happen on June 17. We have given Shehbaz Sharif and Rana Sanaullah a deadline of a week to resign and allow a fair trial to continue.

TFT: Both Sharif and Sanaullah have categorically said they won’t resign…

TUQ: The demand for resignation is there because their involvement in the tragedy has been proven. These are the same people who didn’t even allow an FIR to be registered and didn’t even let an FIR get registered after the court’s order. In fact, they didn’t even let a neutral joint investigation team be formed, and sent a one-sided JIT’s report to the court, not even letting the victims’ voices be heard.

They even had to forge the report of their own JIT spearheaded by Abdur Razzaq Cheema by removing the papers that stated the police registered FIR No. 510 was null and void. Hence, as long as they are in power they won’t allow a fair trial. And how can those police officials that were involved in the tragedy allow justice to take place?

That is why we want the court to give the verdict on them. If the court says they are innocent, we will accept the decision. Also, the CM said on June 17, 2014 that even if a finger is pointed in his direction, he would resign. We are just reminding him of his word.

TFT: And for this you have joined hands with the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). How did that happen considering you were protesting for their government’s ouster in 2013? (Qadri protested for the dissolution of federal governments in 2013 and 2014.)

TUQ: There is no formal alliance with the PPP. In fact, there hasn’t even been any discussion regarding elections or any electoral strategies. It’s a humanitarian cause. Fourteen innocent people were killed in broad daylight and no justice has been served as yet. It’s an incident that even the members of the ruling party can’t justify. So we’re coming together on a one-point agenda: justice. That’s where PPP has joined us. We aren’t even talking politics. It is on this point, on justice over the Model Town incident, that the PPP has assured their support. And so has the PTI, the PML-Q, the Majlis-e-Wahdatul Muslimeen, Jamaat-e-Islami, Pak Sarzameen Party, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan and many others.

TFT: But are there not political gains for everyone, including yourself, if Shehbaz and Sanaullah resign?

TUQ: Of course there are political gains for the parties, but they are indirect. I want to make this clear that we are not using our humanitarian struggle for politics. Having said that, it’s also important to note why the parties are uniting against these particular rivals: it’s a matter of principle.

If the PTI stood firm over the Panama Papers case and benefitted from the verdict that had political reverberations—with the PM disqualified—they can’t be denied. If there are political gains to be had, so be it.

TFT: Is perpetuating dharna culture by holding democracy hostage the way to go about it?

TUQ: Which democracy? A democracy that swallows innocent human lives? One that keeps a significant percentage of the population deprived of health, education and water? One that keeps the educated youth deprived of jobs? That is [eating away at] the national exchequer, orchestrating a movement against the judiciary, maligning the national security institutions and using violence against workers of opposition parties? This democracy? Where even the right to life isn’t secure, where there’s no security for anyone’s property or honour.

Such a democracy that has trapped the country in a foreign imperialistic, and capitalistic, dictation should be demolished. It has amassed debt on the nation and given multiple presents of terrorism. There is a never ending charge-sheet against this form of governance, which has given birth to the likes of Nawaz Sharif and other corrupt kings.

TFT: Military regimes have similarly been corrupt and have arguably done more to invite foreign dictation…

TUQ: That is true, but I am sure that the current set-up can’t produce anything good for the country. Our aggressive antagonism with regards to the Sharif family is because they have the blood of our workers on their hands. The differences here with them aren’t political but personal. One can always review political differences, and tolerate certain things. This is a fight for personal revenge.

TFT: So, it is personal vengeance?

TUQ: Yes, but this is also a quest to change the system. We want a system which ensures that representatives are elected under the conditions laid out in the Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution. The plan to dissolve the assemblies is a part of this same plan. Hence, the 2013 sit-in was issue-based politics and a fight to install a proper system to address lawlessness. In fact, it is the benefits of that very protest, and bringing Articles 62 and 62 to the forefront that led to the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif.

TFT: Is that fight now backed by the Army?

TUQ: Those who accuse us of striking deals in exchange for money, please tell me wouldn’t it be more convenient for me to ally with the Sharifs, who are not only ultra-rich but also used to lift me up during religious pilgrimage and trips to the holy cave of Hira? They used to help me wear my shoes. They used to consider me their spiritual leader.

Is there anyone who has more state authority than the Sharif family right now? If I wanted power, I would be with those in power and not challenging them. I have also announced that if anyone can prove that there has been a deal, I’ll give them Rs50 million. No one has come forward yet. You don’t need to strike any deals when you’re fighting for rule of law.

TFT: So you might soon be shutting down Lahore to uphold that rule of law?

TUQ: When there’s no justice, cities have to be locked down. Even an FIR has to be registered by taking the Army Chief on board. If the TLY protesters can shut down the city and get the resignation of the law minister that means that politics of sit-ins is fruitful. This is an expression of dissent and there should be complete freedom of speech in any civilised country. And also, whenever we have agitated we haven’t even broken a [flower]pot.

TFT: What about the attack on the PTV office in 2014?

TUQ: Those were the government’s people. What did we have to do with it? There hasn’t been any identification of the people involved and there has been no evidence against us. That’s what they do. They dressed up ordinary folks in PTI and PAT flags and orchestrated the attack themselves. Had I done it, would PTV have been free? It would’ve been captured.

TFT: So you support what the TLY did in Islamabad. What about the hate speech against the Ahmadis?

TUQ: The Ahmadiyya issue is settled. The Constitution of Pakistan has established the status of Ahmadis. Also, over 70,000 people have been killed in terror incidents in Pakistan. Were all those Ahmadis? Or minorities? They were from all sections [of society] and most of them were Muslims. Minorities have been targeted in only a few incidents. What about the mosques that have been targeted? What about the Sufi shrines?

This phenomenon of terrorism affects everyone. In fact, minorities in Pakistan are faring better than those in other parts of the world.

TFT: What about the incitement to violence during the sit-in of TLY?

TUQ: This shouldn’t happen. The Constitution doesn’t allow persecution of any minority. And if any action contrary to the Constitution is taken against any minority the state should take notice and act according to law. Whatever the rights the Constitution has set out for each minority, it is the state’s responsibility to protect them.

TFT: But then how do you support Khadim Rizvi’s protest in Islamabad considering the hate speech?

TUQ: I wouldn’t want to say anything on the comments of any individual. In any case, I wasn’t with him. Even if they belong to the same [Barelvi] sect, they have their own way of protesting. But yes, I was the first one to say that the Khatm-e-Nabuwwat clause that was removed should be reinstated in its original form, and that there should be accountability for those responsible for breaching Constitutional limits.

TFT: What about the fatwas of kufr?

TUQ: They’re wrong, because the Constitution doesn’t allow them. The state should take action against anything that is barred in the Constitution. It is the Constitution that binds all of us, the majority and minorities, together. There should be no fatwas on kufr. They would lead to turbulence and can never lead to peace. No individual or group should have the right to issue edicts on who is and isn’t a Muslim, only the state has that right. And whenever ideological limits are breached, the judiciary should take action; we have the Federal Shariah Court.