One year later

As PAT workers observe the first anniversary of Model Town violence, Dr Qadri's arrival and return last year are still shrouded in mystery

One year later
One year ago, Lahore police killed more than 10 workers of Pakistan Awami Tehrik (PAT) and Minhajul Quran, in Model Town Lahore. The incident left a deep mark on national politics.

It was June 16, a few days before the return of Tahirul Qadri. Lahore police tried to remove the barricades from outside his residence. The PAT and Minhaj workers resisted the move and the situation turned ugly in no time.

Following the incident, the chief minister’s principle secretary Dr Tauqeer Shah and Punjab law minister Rana Sanaullah were forced to resign. Several police officials were also booked. PAT demanded registration of a murder case against the prime minister, chief minister and several federal ministers.

Recently, a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) exonerated Rana Sanaullah and Dr Shah of all charges. The former has resumed his responsibility as the provincial law minister and the latter now serves as ambassador at World Trade Organization. PAT rejected the report. As another return of Dr Qadri is reverberating in the media, his party is observing the first anniversary of the June 16 incident, with a new political zeal.

Last year, the PML-N led government survived a long sit-in in Islamabad, not because it had Barbarossa at the helm, but because other favourable factors navigated the ship to calm waters.

The nation might never know whether the “Azadi March” of Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI) and “Inqalab March” of the PAT were orchestrated to get rid of or neutralize the Nawaz Sharif government. The real story behind a so-called London Plan may also remain secret.

But the Model Town incident shook the foundation of the Punjab government. It intensified the movement against the PML-N government, which had been accused by the PTI of stealing its mandate in the 2013 general elections.
The incident left a deep mark on national politics

That was not the first time Mr Qadri had led a march to Islamabad. He made a similar effort before the 2013 general elections when he staged a week-long sit-in outside Parliament. Flanked with a few thousands supporters and, perhaps, a handful of invisible backers, he demanded the postponement of the general elections until a stern accountability of corrupt politicians. Since politicians saw no attraction in that slogan, they managed to persuade Mr Qadri to end his “useless” protest. He returned to his second home in Canada to wait for another opportunity.

His return in June 1013 coincided with the PTI’s threats of a “long march” against the PML-N government on account of alleged systematic electoral rigging. The killings at Model Town added fuel to the fire. He was furious and created a perception as if his return would sweep the government away like a flash flood. Where he was driving his strength from remains a mystery. There were rumours that anti-Nawaz Sharif elements within the military establishment were patronizing Mr Qadri.

Qadri enjoyed cordial personal relations with late Mian Sharif, father of the prime minister. Later, he joined the General Pervez Musharraf bandwagon and got elected on a National Assembly seat in the 2002 general elections. He was anticipating a big position in the government, but some seasoned Punjabi politicians hijacked the administration. Dejected by what was happening in the parliament, he resigned and left for Canada.

When the Dharna was at its peak, the prime minister sought help from General Raheel Sharif. The general spoke to both Mr Khan and Mr Qadri. What really transpired in the meeting was never made public.

Not too long after that, the Punjab government formed a JIT headed by Quetta police chief Abdul Razzaq Cheema to investigate the incident. The JIT also included ISI’s Col Ahmad Bilal, Intelligence Bureau’s Director Mohammad Ali, Senior Superintendent of Police Rana Shahzad Akbar and Crime Investigation Agency DSP Khalid Abubakar.

After a long exercise, the JIT exonerated Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, provincial law minister Rana Sanaullah, Dr Tauqee from charges of ordering or abetting the police action. The report declared Mr Qadri’s allegations against them as “baseless and without any evidence.”

The report also gave a clean-chit to DIG (Operations) Rana Abdul Jabbar saying he had reached the site at 9.30 am, after the sorry incident. The report also identified 42 PAT workers through news channel footage who ransacked a police vehicle, attacked policemen and threw petrol bombs.

However, then Commissioner Lahore Division Rashid Mehmood revealed before the JIT that the decision to remove the barricades from outside Mr Qadri’s residence had been taken in a meeting chaired by Mr Sanaullah.

It is a stark reality that more than 10 innocent people died on June 16. It is another painful fact the bereaved families are still waiting for justice. It is true beyond doubt the Punjab police needs massive reforms and structural overhaul. Nonetheless, Mr Qadri’s departure was as mysterious as his arrival. He had come to Pakistan to save the nation from corrupt politicians and the exploitative system. He had sworn to take the murderers of Model Town victims to the gallows. With both goals unachieved, he returned to Canada.

Shahzad Raza is an Islamabad-based journalist
Twitter: @shahzadrez