Tahirul Qadri is back

This time, the government warns he might not be able to return to Canada

Tahirul Qadri is back
“Mubarak Ho, Mubarak Ho,” screamed Dr Tahirul Qadri from his temperature-controlled container. The crowd outside, braving the cold breeze of Islamabad, cheered. It was January last year, and the People’s Party government was about to conclude its tenure.

For days, Dr Qadri and his thousands of disciples were occupying Jinnah Avenue, a stone’s throw away from Parliament House. He had returned to Pakistan with the revolutionary slogan “Syasat Nahi Ryasat Bacaho” (Save the state, not politics).

The reason behind Dr Qadri’s euphoria was a short order of the Supreme Court in which it had directed the authorities to arrest all the accused in the Rental Power scandal. Among them was then Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf.

The Canadian citizen interpreted the short order as his victory. He believed, and compelled his disciples to believe, that the apex court judges had joined his so-called revolution. But the prime minister was never arrested.

Dr Qadri approached the apex court requesting postponement of the general elections due on May 13. The judges discarded his petition right away, asking what stakes he had in the Pakistani political system being a Canadian national, and how his rights were being infringed by the general elections. He waved a picture of then chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry taking oath from military dictator General (r) Pervez Musharraf. The mighty chief justice got infuriated and warned him against contempt of court. Later, Dr Qadri termed the apex court’s decision as unconstitutional. He did manage a face-saving exit to return to Canada, after key politicians met him in his container and promised free and fair elections.

Years ago, when he was a smalltime firebrand cleric, Mian Muhammad Sharif, the father of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, gave him the coveted position of the Imam of Ittefaq Masjid in Raiwind. Some Lahoris claim he wanted to become the Imam of Badshahi Masjid.

[quote]In April 1990, Tahirul Qadri accused the Punjab government of trying to assassinate him[/quote]

In April 1990, Tahirul Qadri accused the Punjab government of trying to assassinate him. The government constituted a one-judge commission to investigate the matter. The commission’s report was never challenged at any level, although Tahirul Qadri and his organization always rejected its contents.

First, Justice Fazal Karim of the Lahore High Court headed the commission, but he was removed. Justice Akhtar Hassan wrote the final report, which had interesting contents. For instance, quoting a witness Mufti Ghulam Sarwar, the report said: “Qadri once delayed a Friday prayer for 45 minutes because General Ziaul Haq was expected to join that day.”

The report concluded the entire complaint of assassination was false, and fake blood was used to manufacture a crime scene. The report called him untruthful.

In his lectures, Dr Qadri repeatedly took credit ofor convincing Gen Ziaul Haq to introduce blasphemy laws in the country. In lectures abroad and interviews with the foreign media, he denied his involvement in the matter. Videos of the contradiction became popular on the internet when during his 2013 visit.

Tahirul Qadri at the Supreme Court in 2013
Tahirul Qadri at the Supreme Court in 2013

Dr Qadri’s hopes were rekindled when Gen Musharraf overthrew Nawaz Sharif’s government in 1999. He supported the general in the 2001 presidential referendum. He took part in 2002 general elections, but managed to win only one National Assembly seat. He was expecting a lucrative office, but bigger hunters were already in the game. Disappointed, he resigned in 2004 and went back to Canada.

This time, he is back for what he calls a Green Revolution. But how he will bring it about is still a mystery. Dr Qadri and his disciples claim they can bring more than 20 million people to the streets. Neutral analysts rubbish the claim. Last year, when approximately 30,000 people staged a sit-in with him outside the Parliament, Dr Qadri would say the number was around 400,000.

[quote]Political parties condemned the Lahore incident, but wouldn't join his street agitation[/quote]

But the Model Town incident, in which a dozen of Dr Qadri’s supporters were killed in clashes with police, strengthened his position. All political parties condemned the incident, but none promised to join his street agitation.

Qazi Faiz, a senior leader of Dr Tahirul Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehrik (PAT), said his party believed the time had come to get rid of the corrupt system and politicians. But he wouldn’t say how that change would come.

Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI), which extended moral support to Dr Qadri, declined to become part of his movement. Perhaps Imran Khan was wary of Dr Qadri stealing the limelight that he wanted for himself. On June 23, PTI spokesperson Dr Shireen Mazari tweeted: “So NS panics, forgets right to protest, creates havoc & TUQ wants army intervention! Now who is/r destroying democratic norms & democracy?”

Dr Qayoom Soomro, a confidant of former President Zardari, made it clear that his party would never allow any outsider to threaten the democratic system. He said Dr Qadri wanted army to help him attain power, which the political forces would never allow.

At the last Shuhada Conference, Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif categorically stated the armed forces believed in strengthening democratic norms in the country. Analysts say the military, already engaged in seemingly decisive operation North Waziristan, would never act the way Dr Qadri wanted.

On his arrival on June 23 his flight was diverted from Islamabad to Lahore. Thousands of PAT and Minhajul Quran workers, who had gathered outside the Islamabad airport, went berserk and beat up police officials. Information Minister Pervez Rashid said around 100 cops were injured and some had their bones fractured.

“This is a new form of terrorism imported and introduced in Pakistan. Dr Tahir incited his followers to violence. The law will take its course,” he said. While referring to trial of Gen Musharraf, the information minister warned Dr Qadri might not be able to go back to Canada whenever he wanted.

Shahzad Raza is an Islamabad-based journalist

Twitter: Shahzadrez