The not-so-reluctant fundamentalist

Qadri has promised a revolution, but his motives and track record are questionable

The not-so-reluctant fundamentalist
The last time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif redirected a flight, it did not end well for him. The then Chief of the Army Staff General Pervez Musharraf took power in a bloodless coup, jailed, then exiled Nawaz Sharif, and ruled for the next nine years. But then again, perhaps the joke is on Musharraf, for he is now under investigation in several cases, at least two of which are murder trials, banned from leaving the country, and a political failure, whereas Nawaz Sharif has ascended back to the premiership for a record third time in the country’s history.

Diverting the plane, officially for security concerns, was the latest in a list of heavy-handed tactics used by the government to nip firebrand Qadri’s religio-political revolution in the bud. A few days prior, in Lahore, in one of the worst examples of police brutality, at least eight supports of Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehrik (PAT) were killed in clashes near Qadri’s residence. The “peaceful revolution” did not kick off to a very appropriate start. Even with dozens injured, and video evidence of over the top police cruelty, the political blame game continued unabated, with politicians spinning the tragedy into yarns of opportunity. A case was lodged against the protestors by the police. The provincial law minister was sacked.

[quote]The stage is set for a major confrontation[/quote]

Qadri vowed holy vengeance against the Sharif brothers. On Monday, nearly 1,500 Qadri supporters, armed with sticks and stones, surrounded the airport in anticipation of Qadri’s arrival. This time, their sticks and stones broke a lot of bones, with serious injuries reported by at least 70 police officers at the scene. The plane was diverted back to Lahore amid clashes. Qadri refused to disembark, demanding protection from the army, creating a standoff for five hours at the airport. He finally gave in, assuaged by Punjab provincial governor Muhammad Sarwar and Pakistan Muslim League (Q)’s Chaudhary Pervaiz Elahi. Federal Information Minister Pervez Rashid called the event a “hijacking for political aims”. Qadri visited the injured from Lahore a week prior. Emirates Air banned Qadri for life.

This is not the first time Qadri has attempted to bring revolution to the streets of Pakistan. In January 2013, four months shy of the elections that would see the lion of Punjab roar, and an arrow miss its mark, Qadri staged a massive sit-in on the main artery in the federal capital of Islamabad. By his own estimations, the crowd was four million strong, but crowd counting methods put that number at a fraction of this bloated figure. Regardless of the actual numbers, the sheer amount of bodies packed into Jinnah Avenue was a staggering sight.

The demands then were the embryonic beginnings of the objectives now. Qadri wanted electoral reforms, and an early dissolution of the PPP-led center. This time, he wants a people’s revolution to create an Islamic system of government. “We want a system based on the constitution and democratic principles that are practiced in other countries,” he said in a statement last Friday.

For many, Tahirul Qadri’s sudden emergence as a political force was unprecedented and unanticipated. The 63-year old founding leader of Minhaj-ul-Quran, an peace advocating organization with branches in over 90 countries, is a self-professed anti-Taliban establishment supporter. In fact, some political pundits viewed his abrupt surfacing as an attempt by certain sections of the establishment to regain power. This view is further supported because he has resurfaced when tensions between the civilian government and the powerful military leadership were at an all time high, and compounded by a long-awaited military operation launched against the Taliban on June 15, 2014, which has already resulted in 414,429 internally displaced people (IDPs).

[quote]This is not the first time Qadri has attempted to bring a revolution[/quote]

Federal Information Minister’s Pervez Rashid painted the Taliban, Qadri and Imran Khan as cohorts. While there may be little truth to this allegation, as Qadri left the country in 2006 due to death threats from extremist outfits that he vehemently spoke against, it may reflect how the government feels. They are besieged by the Taliban, and a potential backlash, both in terms of retaliation, and the massive influx of refugees from the affected areas. They are heavy-handedly dealing with Qadri and his army of devotees, resulting in one political debacle after another. They are also battling coinciding protests from Imran Khan, who continues to claim election fraud. By all accounts, this government is bogged in an ever-deepening political quagmire, and the vultures are circling.

Whether Qadri manages to deliver on his promise and bring revolution remains to be seen. For now, the stage is set for a major confrontation. “I will give a sudden call”, he said to his followers at his residence on Monday, promising a date for the pending revolution. The not-so-reluctant fundamentalist ended the evening with an ominous foretelling. “The rulers will try to run away, but I won’t let the looters run away.”

The author is a journalist and a development professional, and holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree in strategic communications from Ithaca College, NY, USA. He can be reached via zeeshan[dot]salahuddin[at] and tweets @zeesalahuddin