The spectacular return of Dr Tahirul Qadri to the national stage has added another dimension in the already polarized spectrum of Pakistani politics. The realignment of political forces seems to be traversing towards a disturbing course that has a potential of getting out of control. The articulate and extremely energetic scholar of many talents sprung a surprise for many of his friends and foes alike, who had of late written him off after he had immigrated to the greener pastures of Canada over half a decade ago and had acquired its citizenship. Preceding his arrival, an intense and effective publicity campaign was launched in the print and electronic media and other mediums of advertisement with the catchy slogan ‘save the state and not politics’. An open invitation for one and all to join his public meeting at Minar-e-Pakistan was extended. The good doctor landed in Lahore three days prior to the big day of 23 December and instantly proceeded to make his presence felt and his face recognized by appearing on television interviews. Quite a scoop!

Dr Qadri delivered on what he had promised. He staged a mammoth show of tens of thousands of his devotees and hundreds of representatives of several political parties and organizations from near and far. The gathering was exceptional with its immaculate discipline and organization rarely seen anywhere else except in the MQM public meetings. He presented his agenda in an eloquent, bold and passionate address and put the government on short notice to fulfil his demands or he will storm the capital with the ‘Million March’ of his followers on 14 January 2013. Whispers soon turned into hysterics and questions were raised about the timing of his return, who planted him, who the mysterious helping hands that managed such arrangements with clockwork precision were and what the source of the not-so-modest fortune spent to finance a venture of this scale is. Dressed in trademark brand new fashionably designed attires, Dr Qadri has since been the centre of attention. Every top television anchor did their bit to make him an instant star by rushing to interview him on prime time making him the most debated and analyzed phenomenon in the circus of current Pakistani politics. Grave issues that haunt the state have since been swept further back under the carpet.

Dr Qadri immediately found an ally in the MQM that is ever ready to ride a rising wave. Its firebrand leader embraced him and his doctrine and pledged to join the march against the very government of which his party was an integral part. For MQM the advantage is obvious. It will achieve the dual purpose of dissociating from a failing, discredited government in its final days (besides conveying displeasure to the PPP) and creating an opportunity to enter the Punjab politics and strike at the PML-N. For Dr Qadri a new life and vigour are added to his campaign, his street power and organizational capability are enhanced and his ultimatums have assumed more credibility that has pushed everyone on the defensive. A win-win situation for both!

The tempo, tone and the direction of the march were set by the MQM chief at a public meeting in Azizabad, Karachi, on the New Year day of 2013, where Dr Qadri was welcomed as the big brother and a partner. The right to hold peaceful public meetings or marches cannot be denied to any citizen and all are entitled to express their views in a democracy (except treasonous or blasphemous). The leaders are, nevertheless, expected to exercise caution in their choice of words. Here, both leaders exceeded each other’s aggression. It was demanded of the army to disobey any government orders to block the march, any caretaker government installed before January 10 would be thrown out and a parallel government will be formed if demands are not met. Television anchors were told to behave or be ready to face the consequences. Intent to occupy Raiwind Estate (of the Sharifs) and distribute among the masses was declared. It is this turn of events and threats that has shaken the political tranquillity across the board sending alarm signals of possible anarchy. Occurring so close to the expected democratic transfer of power for the first time in Pakistan, any untoward incident could delay or derail that process.

Dr Qadri is not the only leader that shot into fame consequent upon one successful rally in Lahore. The October 22, 2011 call of Imran Khan of PTI (a political party outside the parliament) at a public meeting in the same city was also responded to spontaneously by the young, the middle class, women, the educated elite and ordinary workers as never witnessed before. He presented his track record of accomplishments and his programme to clean Pakistani politics from financial corruption, induct fresh faces and the youth. They were to take the place of the hereditary feudal class and the nouveau riche that played politics by employing their influence and wealth but had consistently failed the nation driving it to bankruptcy but enriching themselves. He also achieved certain success through a democratic and voluntary process in mobilizing people that he called a ‘tsunami’ and his struggle continues within that framework that has been joined by people from all walks of life. The objectives of Dr Qadri are no different. What is different is the autocratic course he has adopted to pursue those objectives. What is suspicious is that he seems to be a man in a hurry.

Dr Qadri’s is known to have developed a large following among certain sections of Muslims at home and overseas where he claims his ‘Minhaj-ul-Quran’ is represented in 50 major countries from where his disciples contribute generously to his various events and activities. His political following and funding so far appears primarily to be his religious institution that he has diligently established as a highly disciplined and resourceful network. Whether his campaign will attract the average citizens and whether it will represent their wishes are yet to be discovered. His idealism is already compromised and diluted as he fell for strange bedfellows in the PML-Q and MQM who have always sided with power at any cost and who are now trying to ride two boats of the government and its challenger at the same time. Why is Dr Qadri in such a mad rush that he addresses a public meeting within three days of landing in his native country and gives an ultimatum of three weeks to implement reforms that may take years in a democratic system? Will he continue to win the support of the people in a democratic manner like Imran Khan has done or will he retreat to his adopted country, to his followers and business interests in the West as soon as he finds that the roots of democracy in Pakistan have strengthened enough to absorb the shocks of street power?

No one, except the beneficiaries, can dispute that our corrupt and incompetent governments have weakened the state, emptied its coffers, depleted the value of the currency and pushed the country to the brink. Our democratic government has failed even to establish political harmony. Air, land and air communications stand ruined and chaos prevails everywhere. All that needs to be restored. The solution, however, does not lie in intolerant and extreme right wing systems or mob rule.  The Egyptian people staged 18 days long sit-in at Tehrir Square in Cairo to oust a mighty dictator Hosni Mubarak, who had ruled Egypt with an iron hand for thirty odd years and to hold free elections. We have already been through a similar process five years ago when the military dictator was made to resign and later pushed into self-exile by democratic consensus. The course that we have adopted is governance by the vote of the people at which we are making slow but sure progress. Our problems need not be compounded by impulsive, untimely and inconsequential marches and agendas set by adventurists. Let the people decide by their vote.

The writer is an engineer and an entrepreneur. Email: k.a.k786@hotmail.com