By Mehr F Husain
26 June 2014
The name Qadri seems to be a problematic one for Pakistan.
It has struck fear in people's hearts in the form of Mumtaz Qadri being gunned down by Governor Salmaan Taseer, adding a new dimension of terror with a "You die if you aren't an Islamist" attitude.
But this other Qadri is a respected religious figure with a group of dedicated and organised party workers, turning him into a dangerous political opponent of the government.
Before the elections, the Canada-based Tahirul-Qadri, chief of the Pakistan Awami Tehreek party, had staged a sit-in near Parliament in Islamabad demanding electoral reforms and end of corruption. This was the first time a non-political actor (he did not contest polls) had questioned the legitimacy of the elections.
Back then, not much had been made of this man – an Islamic scholar who founded an institution that aims to spread understanding and tolerance. The then government allowed him to have his say and after talks with senior politicians, everything then returned to normal and he went back to Canada.
Looking at this government's performance, it is clear that years under the military brought with it harsh lessons which they have been only too keen to learn and apply during its tenure.
These include uniting with rival parties while dealing with the same enemy (this time the enemy being the Taliban) by insisting on consensus and the All Parties Conference.
Respect for the media was the next lesson. In 1999, the PML N was tainted by its thuggish behaviour towards the media; but this time round, while the journalists fought against the generals, the government sided with the media.
But one area where the government has not learned any lesson is in the Tahir-ul-Qadri debacle.
Right now, there is so much to consider - including the military operation, outpouring of thousands of IDPs, building relations with Afghanistan, the rising awareness of the war in Balochistan, anti-government dharnas by PTI leader Imran Khan, and to top it all off, the recent arrival of Tahir-ul-Qadri.
Qadri returned on Monday amidst much ugliness where days before, the police and his party workers clashed over the removal of security barriers around his home in Lahore.
The government's initial violence towards his party leaders and panicked reaction to a figure who is apparently one third of an anti-government trio (along with PML Q and PTI) does add weight – and gives unnecessary attention – to his claims that the elections were not fair and aims to lead a "democratic revolution".
But if he wanted power, why didn't he stand for elections? Lahore is the heart of Punjab and it is where Prime Minister Sharif's home is. This particular province is extremely dear to the ruling PML N as it is where their vote base lies – most famously during the previous government's tenure, current Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif had asked the Taliban not to attack Punjab.
And during elections, they fought against arch-rival Imran Khan, sweeping the entire province and despite allegations of vote rigging in areas of Lahore; the PML N was relieved to know Punjab was still theirs.
Since he may be the acceptable voice of legitimate concerns surrounding the elections as he is a religious figure, two factors need to be considered.
First, the timing. The country is at war and focus needs to remain on the thousands who have fled their homes. More political excitement is not needed.
Secondly, Qadri's entry into the political arena indicates that while the PPP is still in a shambles and the MQM struggling against violence, the right wing is getting stronger while the Left languishes.
This shows the rise of religious figures in politics, and Qadri's call to remove this government is not good for democracy in Pakistan.
The way the government tried to diffuse his followers by redirecting the plane that carried him to Islamabad indicates one of two things: Either that the government is flexing its muscles as a means to prevent anti-government forces from pursuing the agenda to oust them.
Or, that it's trying to steer Pakistan towards stability without any more political clashes which could act as a catalyst in undermining their claim to power, and leave the country without leadership at a time when it needs it most.
Mehr F Husain is a columnist based in Lahore