By Asha’ar Rehman
January 22, 2013
WHERE on earth did all these people come from? The question is being asked following the winding up of Dr Qadri’s long march.
And this is where the story had begun on Dec 23, the day the leader of the latest revolution had held a huge gathering at the Minar-i-Pakistan. Everyone was curious about his resources and ability to build the raw material into a cohesive whole committed to go the whole hog.
Subsequently, the focus of the search shifted to Dr Qadri’s possible backers. Since he had been presumed to have been tasked to do a job, his own ability and resources were of secondary importance. Those believed to be pulling the strings were to ensure numbers by his side.
For many days, this is how the equation was, or was widely perceived to be. The march, as it kicked off from Lahore on Jan 13, was large enough. Its size was to swell and its breadth enlarged by the joining of various political groupings on the way.
Bar a few habitual fun-makers and brash foretellers, even media commentators were by and large careful with their take on the Qadri thrust — not knowing where the alley would lead this country. Before things started to unravel rather fast on Wednesday, there was plenty to worry about.
The ending did have a synchronised look about it, Wednesday’s timeline offering Pakistani democracy its busiest hour ever. Just before sunset that day the government finally discovered its voice. Qamar Zaman Kaira took on Dr Qadri directly, pointing out the flaws in his reading of constitutional law. The wrap-up had begun in earnest.
Within minutes, Mian Nawaz Sharif emerged as a statesman of Pakistani democracy, acting as a spokesman for the opposition parties he had gathered under one flag at Raiwind. The opposition meeting rejected any extra-constitutional steps.
That was the operational part even though an effort was made to balance it with a reiteration of the old demand about an election date. Not too far behind in time, it was Imran Khan’s turn to play the true democrat. He won himself praise and instant entry into the club of mature politicians by turning down Dr Qadri’s invitation to join the sit-in in Islamabad.
Now what had changed between the start of the march, or when Dr Qadri had first announced his intentions on Dec 23, and the afternoon of Jan 16? The politicians were for sure finally behaving differently than they had over the previous few days, but what had stopped them from coming up with their principled stands at the outset of the Qadri march?
Indeed, most of these politicians had chosen to at least not appear adversarial to the Qadri campaign. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) had publicly pledged support for the long march as had the Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q). Imran Khan had gradually warmed up to Dr Qadri after initially ‘failing to understand’ what his demands were all about.
Nawaz Sharif and his party had chosen not to come in the way of the marchers, even when the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) was for once under severe attack by a group of protesters, for its alleged promotion of terrorists, and even when the marchers had first collected in Lahore.
If Dr Qadri was a threat to the system he had been a threat all along. But clearly, the politicians had been waiting and not willing to commit themselves otherwise until the Wednesday afternoon flurry, as if making doubly sure about the army’s disinterest before gallantly standing by democracy.
The MQM had distanced itself from the march earlier on, but not from Dr Qadri. The PML-Q’s compulsions, of first supporting Dr Qadri and then acting as government mediators in the affair were also never discussed by its leaders. These mysteries remain unsolved as also this small matter in which a respected news organisation was alleged to have fallen for someone impersonating as a resigned National Accountability Bureau chief.
The number of optimists who say the time of outside interventions in politics has passed has increased. But their argument is yet to be fully formed. Their assurances in this case were met with upsetting clues similar to those that had in the past ended in a coup.
Now the prophecies about the end of the era where interventions were possible have been revived to their strongest point, and to make things easier, in Qadri, their makers have a major example to back their predictions. The belief will take time to spread.
As for the relatively easier question about the ability of individual impact-makers to conjure up numbers on the street, an answer lies in a study beginning with how space left vacant by the state is filled by the private enterprise.
The reform undertaken in any backward area is invariably followed by a situation where the reformer, buoyed by the support base he has built, aims for a larger political role. Of this at least four examples can be quoted from Lahore alone.
Dr Tahirul Qadri and his followers have their origins in the Minhaj ul Quran education system that began in Lahore some three decades ago, in an area that was once considered to be the state’s domain. Imran Khan made his reputation with his work in the health sector while Mian Amir, Lahore’s mayor in Gen Musharraf’s period, is another one who entered politics after success in the education sector.
Not to forget, Hafiz Saeed, an old friend of the state who has since given the latter competition when it comes to welfare work, especially in the wake of disasters such as earthquakes and floods.
All these men have gathered followers and resources along the way and are looking to assert themselves politically. In a non-dynastical political system, some could perhaps have been drawn into the major political parties. Alternately, they work on their own or by entering alliances where they can retain their individuality.
Asha’ar Rehman is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.