Cold Wind Blows
By Shahzad Raza
20 Dec 2013
Tahirul Qadri is planning street protests this winter, and so is Imran Khan
As winter sets in, it is time once again for Canadian national Dr Tahirul Qadri to come back and hold street protests.
But this time, Imran Khan has decided to outshine the veteran cleric with his own series of protests against the PML-N government starting from its stronghold of Lahore.
So no winter holidays for the government. And if the processions are successful they may spoil the new-year festivities as well.
Last winter, Dr Qadri returned with the slogan “Siyasat Nahi Riyasat Bachao” (save the state, not the politics). He asked the government to postpone the general elections, and presented a charter of demands. And after making a number of speeches in his centrally-heated container outside the Parliament while his supporters shivered outside, he struck a deal with the government, called off his protest, and returned to Canada.
Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar smells a conspiracy, and warns against any move to topple the government
“He came here last year, showed his power, and went back. Where was he during the last 10 months? He is coming back again to create another Tamasha,” political analyst Mohammad Maalick said.
“He is a Canadian national. He took an oath of allegiance to the Queen of England. He is just making fun of us. I just don’t understand this man,” he said about Tahirul Qadri, who is the chairman of Pakistan Awami Tehrik (PAT).
Dr Qadri won the only National Assembly seat for his party in the 2002 general elections, and used to claim that General Pervez Musharraf had promised him the slot of Prime Minister. In less than a year, he resigned and quit politics.
In 2008, he sought asylum in Canada, claiming he was facing threats to his life from Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. He got the asylum, and later Canadian nationality, but violated his agreement with his new country’s government that he would not visit Pakistan owing to the threats.
“The constitution of Pakistan doesn’t bar any Pakistani citizen from obtaining the nationality of another country. We have explained it time and again,” said Dr Qadri’s spokesman Riaz Abbasi.
He said the PAT would not hold a sit-in like it did last year in Islamabad, but organises protest rallies against inflation. Asked how protests would solve the problem, he said the PAT chairman would present a complete framework on how to control the rising prices of food and essentials.
Analyst Dr Atta ul Haq Qasmi said someone who was not ready to become part of Pakistani politics did not have a right to “hold the nation hostage”. He said holding dual nationality was hypocrisy, because a person could not be loyal to two states simultaneously.
A few weeks ago, Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) organized a large rally on Peshawar Ring Road. The PTI elite, Sheikh Rashid of Awami Muslim League and Liaquat Baloch of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) vowed to block NATO supplies in protest against drone attacks.
Since then, PTI workers have resorted to breaking the law and forcefully stopping NATO and other Afghanistan-bound trucks. The KPK police arrested some of them and registered cases, but nothing happened to those who incited them in the first place.
PTI leader Asad Umer said his party had already presented a seven-point agenda a month ago to improve the economy and control inflation, but the government had ignored it.
“Four of those seven points can only be implemented by the federal government,” he said. “The other three, including curtailing non-development budget, fall within the domain of provincial governments as well.”
He said the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chief minister had already cut the non-development budget of his secretariat by 50 percent.
Asad Umer rejected the argument that his party was starting street agitation to destabilize the federal government. “I delivered two speeches in the National Assembly. So we are using the platform of the Parliament. Besides, holding protest rallies is our constitutional right.” He promised that PTI rallies would remain peaceful, “as in the past.”
Both PTI and PAT believe the protests would help hold the government accountable, forcing it to make corrective measures.
But Information Minister Pervez Rashid said Imran Khan was playing in the hands of Asif Zardari and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar said he smelled a conspiracy, and warned against “mid-term elections” or any other attempts to bring down the government before it completed its tenure.
Shahzad Raza is a journalist based in Islamabad.