It was an impressive showing again when the MQM chief Altaf Hussain, speaking through telephone from his home in London, was joined by Chairman, Tehrik Minhajul Quran (TMQ), Dr Tahirul Qadri, in addressing a huge gathering at Karachi on Monday, the New Year day. The rally, organised by the MQM, lived up to the party’s reputation of gathering together its workers and supporters in large numbers whenever its leader wanted to covey some message; and, certainly, the follower of Dr Qadri also showed up to be part of the rally. While their avowed mission of bringing about a revolutionary change in the social structure (the feudal system, for instance) of the country would, no doubt, have wide appeal, Hussain’s invitation to the army to intervene to help promote their cause would be strongly rejected by the patriotic elements in Pakistan and its well-wishers outside. The people have had enough of the military dictatorships that have run the country for nearly half of its existence, leaving behind an unenviable legacy of intractable problems for civilian governments to deal with. They have no more stomach for the return of the one-man rule, notwithstanding the mess the present political setup, now gearing up to go to the electorate, has created. They would rather opt for a leadership they expect would look after their interests and vote out the party if they believe it has let them down. For now, they have, by and large, become conscious that only a democratic system holds the prospect of addressing their needs since it is ultimately going to be accountable to the bar of public opinion. The ‘army factor’ in this campaign for change would make a real dent in its popularity.

The question in everyone’s mind is: would the combined forces of TMQ and MQM be able to live up to the challenge of simulating Cairo’s Tehrir Square that toppled the Mubarak regime and which Dr Qadri has committed to do? In the eyes of some political commentators, both the parties have the organising ability to hold a long march, even though it would prove a far harder exercise than bringing large crowds to a public meeting. And on the supposition the long march does go through, it would still be an almost insurmountable task to keep the participants in Islamabad till the campaign’s demands are met or the ‘corrupt lot’ succumbs to the pressure. Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira’s statement that ‘no Tehrir Square will be allowed’ also raises alarm in the sense that the use of force, if that is intended, could prove counterproductive, just as the bomb blast that killed four returning from the Karachi meeting could reinforce the resolve to hold the long march. Comments have also come from several other political circles. PML-N’s Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, who is also the Leader of the Opposition, has termed the MQM and PML-Q’s support for the long march ‘a comic drama’ and JUI-F’s chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman feels that behind Qadri’s sudden arrival on the scene there are hidden forces at work.

The emerging scenario is, indeed, unpredictable and would need the utmost skill to defuse it, which should be the priority for all political forces in the country so as not to permit any interruption in the country’s march towards a better democratic rule through the ballot box.