ISLAMABAD - Panic-driven strategy to bar Dr Tahirul Qadri from landing at Islamabad Airport and diversion of the routine Islamabad-bound Emirates flight to Lahore on one hand has galvanised, otherwise, a trivial issue while on the other hand exposed the fragility of the ruling elite and their little belief in the democratic and constitutional norms.
Political leadership across the spectrum has dubbed the government’s move an overreaction and a classic example of mal-governance where they seemed least prepared to tackle the negative fallout and the condemnation coming from all and sundry on this act on their part.
On the other hand the people in government defended the move as according to the reports pouring in from intelligence agencies and other quarters Qadri could march on Federal Capital or at least stage a sit-in near Islamabad, the situation security Czars consider more difficult to tackle.
Background interviews with the people in government informed that initially it was decided that Qadri would be allowed to travel from Islamabad to Lahore, but later the programme was altered in the light of the information coming in from secret agencies that the PAT chief could turn his face to Federal Capital at the eleventh hour and create difficulties for the government.
Hours before his arrival Monday morning Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif after having a detailed meeting with his elder brother Premier Nawaz Sharif in Lahore flew to Federal Capital where he gave final touches to their plan to thwart Qadri from using land route to Lahore and the decision of diversion of his flight to Lahore was made late Sunday night.
As initially the government was not in a mood to block him from travelling to Lahore from Islamabad Airport the plan to seal off the Federal Capital was made and those living in the capital said that they had never seen such a closure of the city entry and exit points before that. It was in the light of the earlier plan to block all the major roads linking to Federal Capital with other parts of the country to block the influx of his (Qadri) followers from reaching Islamabad for his welcome.
The Punjab Chief Minister had also a detailed meeting with Chief of Army Staff Gen. Raheel Sharif Sunday night. Later, after having the input from Army Chief the political leadership of ruling PML-N had given final touches to their plan to handle Qadri.
Giving a brief and crisp comment on government’s handling of Qadri’s arrival a veteran politician and constitutional expert S.M. Zafar said that government was in sheer panic and they should have handled the situation remaining within the precincts of law and constitution. In his view the matter would not end up here and it would aggravate in days to come in case they continued to mishandle it.
Almost all the opposition political parties have criticised the government for the mishandling of the issue, which according to them, has given boost to Qadri.
A senior leader from Pakistan Tehreek-I-Insaf, while criticising the ruling PML-N, said that they were not in habit of tolerating opponents and all what they had done with Qadri depicted their autocratic tendency.
By diverting Qadri’s flight to Lahore they had given boost to ostensibly a lacklustre show of Qadri because neither the climate nor the time was ripe for any mass movement against the government and on top of it holy month of Ramadan is about to start in a week’s time, so the chances of any major protest against the government is out of question.
It was a blunder like Model Town fiasco, but of low intensity, because in Model Town episode around 14 innocent people were killed in the direct police firing. Here the government after Qadri’s forced landing in Lahore instead of his destination in Islamabad showed some laxity and accepted some of his demands and dispatched him to his residence on his terms and conditions.
Political observers said that the government was once again forced on back foot and all what Tahirul Qadri wanted to achieve by a long travel from Islamabad to Lahore along with his followers, was dished out to him by the rulers with their mishandling of the issue.