Pakistani religious leader Tahir-ul Qadri talks with media representatives before the start of protest march in Lahore on January 13, 2013. - Photo by AFP
Pakistani religious leader Tahir-ul Qadri talks with media representatives before the start of protest march in Lahore on January 13, 2013. - Photo by AFP

LAHORE: A month ago, Muhammad Tahirul Qadri was living quietly in Canada, immersed in the affairs of his Islamic charity and seemingly far removed from the pre-election power games shaping the fate of politicians in Pakistan.

In the past three weeks, he has returned home to lead a call for electoral reforms that sent a stab of anxiety through Islamabad and raised fears of trouble at a planned rally in the capital.

“Our agenda is just democratic electoral reforms,” Qadri told Reuters in Lahore, the headquarters of his Minhajul Quran religious foundation. “We don't want the law-breakers to become our lawmakers.”

Qadri's platform hinges on a demand that the judiciary bars corrupt politicians from running for office and that the army plays a possible role in the formation of a caretaker government which is due to manage the run-up to elections this spring.

But his sudden ascent has prompted speculation that the military, which ruled Pakistan for decades, may be using him as a proxy to delay the polls and install a compliant interim administration to serve at the generals' pleasure.

Television channels broadcast images of several thousand supporters gathering outside Qadri's walled complex on Sunday as they prepared to board a convoy of buses for Islamabad.

The cleric's overnight transformation from a scholar-philanthropist into a media sensation commanding huge crowds has thrust a new wild card into the fraught run-up to the polls.

The elections, if they proceed on time, could cement Pakistan's transition from military rule by marking the first time a civilian-led government has completed a five-year term and handed over power at the ballot box.

Western allies believe a smooth vote will bolster democracy in a country beset by challenges from a Taliban insurgency and an economy struggling to employ a youthful population of 180 million.

That Qadri should have chosen such a delicate moment to launch his protests - which take place against a backdrop of a wave of bombings last week that killed more than 100 people - have led many to question his timing and motives.

Suspicions that Qadri may be acting at the behest of generals has been sharpened by his praise for the army's fight against the Taliban and his insistence that the military might play a useful consultative role in the formation of a caretaker government which will oversee the pre-election period.

Qadri, who champions religious tolerance and once issued a fatwa against the Taliban, denies any relationship with the army and stressed his march would be peaceful. The military issued a statement this month denying speculation it was backing Qadri.

“I am one of the biggest staunch believers and ambassadors and propagators of democracy in the whole world,” Qadri said. “I have no link with any military institution.”

Memories linger, however, of Qadri's prominent role in supporting former army chief and president Pervez Musharraf after he seized power in a coup in 1999. Qadri served in the national assembly under Musharraf before moving to Canada in 2006.

SHOWDOWN WITH DOMINANT PARTIES

Qadri has sought to tap a deep well of contempt for the government of President Asif Ali Zardari, dismissing Pakistan's evolving democracy as a sham that perpetuates the rule of self-serving dynasties.

A lavishly-funded publicity blitz has seen him figure regularly in newspapers and television shows, where he is invariably portrayed wearing a crown-like Islamic scholar's hat and holding his arm aloft in a victory salute.

Qadri's core demand is that the government implement a set of electoral reforms ahead of the polls - raising the prospect of protracted wrangling that could potentially delay the vote, currently projected to take place as early as April.

Among the measures Qadri is demanding is that the judiciary rigorously enforce an existing provision in the constitution that bars politicians suspected of corruption from running for office - a rule which he says would bar many lawmakers.

Zardari's ruling PPP and its main rival, the PML-N, are united in the belief that the polls should go ahead on schedule and seem unlikely to embrace Qadri's agenda, which some experts say jars with provisions in Pakistan's constitution.

Qadri exploited the reach of his Islamic foundation, which is active across Pakistan and in dozens of countries, by mobilising some 200,000 followers in Lahore on Dec. 23, but he has yet to win solid support beyond his religious base.

His limits were exposed last week when the MQM, a secular party which dominates the commercial capital Karachi, said it had pulled out of initial plans to back his long march to Islamabad.

Not averse to a touch of theatre, Qadri told Reuters he had summoned his children to his home in Lahore to hand them his will in case his opponents attempted to bomb the rally.

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Comments are closed.

Comments (62)

M Saleem chaudhry
January 14, 2013 5:56 pm
The agents of statusquo and stooges of the vested interest will coin all kinds of alibi and work out all kind of ugly rationalization to make last attempt to save their skins.
ali abbas
January 14, 2013 7:29 pm
its funny, people like yourself have no patience for elected govt and never talk about "stay back and see the result" of what they do. Right wingers keep running to the courts or the military when it comes to democracy but have all patience for phony Imam.
Does not matter
January 14, 2013 7:25 pm
Of course you could be the first such country.
Does not matter
January 14, 2013 7:28 pm
So who is going to head the Islamic government? Are you sure the Islamic government will not turn a Taliban type rulers? Are people of Pakistan ready for that?
Cyrus Howell
January 13, 2013 10:17 pm
"He has returned home to lead a call for electoral reforms that sent a stab of anxiety through Islamabad and raised fears of trouble at a planned rally in the capital." Fears of trouble? I would say trouble will be the reality and anxiety will be removed by activism.
Does not matter
January 14, 2013 7:24 pm
How many countries, do you know, are a democracy by following Islamic laws?
noor
January 14, 2013 4:55 pm
Wish there was a constitutional way of addressing all the ills of this shame democracy which he is highlighting.
Cyrus Howell
January 13, 2013 10:08 pm
You do have to admit they have good taste in hats.
shirin
January 14, 2013 2:21 pm
why doesn't he march for hazara? I don't a single banner even calling for the government to act against terrorist.
G.A.
January 13, 2013 7:17 pm
This unhealthy obsession with the clergy must end if the Muslim world wants to become progressive and forward thinking.
Mustafa Razavi
January 15, 2013 6:09 am
Very few indeed, but the ones we do have are the best democracies, Turkey, Malaysia and Egypt. They are not like India's sham democracy. They are also economically far more successful societies. Turkey's per capita GDP is five times India's. Malaysia is even higher
Mustafa Razavi
January 15, 2013 6:02 am
"Next 5 years are going to be really decisive for the country." Next 5 days are going to be really decisive for the country. Time for action is now.
watson
January 13, 2013 6:23 pm
The QADRI fiasco is taking place as the government failed to perform and made democracy fail as such giving a chance to Qadri to put this demand of having the army and the judiciary to be part of the team that will run the daily affairs of the country,had this government performed this would not have taken place.
Cyrus Howell
January 13, 2013 9:59 pm
His function is that of a visionary and not of a president.
Indusonian
January 15, 2013 2:56 am
This drone mullah needs to be contained asap.
irfan
January 15, 2013 2:07 am
He walks like, talks like, and act like a stooge - so he must be a stooge.
M A Hussain
January 13, 2013 9:30 pm
Pakistanis already have had enough of healthy military rules and secular civilian democracies and progressed beyond imagination. Thank you so much
muhammad
January 14, 2013 4:11 pm
Dear Ijaz, God himself says in his holy book Quran that he will not change the condition of those nations who do not want change themselves
Abdul Malik
January 13, 2013 5:43 pm
Why can't this so called scholar turned problem creator holds a long march against the killings of Hazaras in Balochistan; and why he does not hold rallies against killings and kidnappings in Karachi. There should not be an iota of doubt in any sane mind that he is a front man, sent to create chaos and uncertainty in the country. If he is that loyal and concerned about democracy why he left Pakistan and settled in Canada?
Kabeer das
January 14, 2013 4:08 pm
Mr. Ijaz,, Mr. Raza said "god'', not Allah.
muhammad
January 14, 2013 4:02 pm
I don't know whether Dr. Qadri a military stooge or not but I know definitely that he is a catalyst for change. If we cannot support him atleast we should stay back and see the results because in no way we can support the present day politicians they are all relatives and corrupt to the core
Agha Ata (USA)
January 15, 2013 12:49 am
Spiritual efforts are needed for spiritual benefits, and material efforts are needed for material benefits. Anyone doing it the other way around is bound to fail. And . . . I don’t expect any religious scholar to do it. In Pakistan we can't afford to have have another Zia ul Haque or even a Khomini.
abbastoronto
January 14, 2013 2:25 pm
Pakistan living in interesting times.
MSH
January 13, 2013 5:07 pm
The time has come when this government must be removed, by any means, if Pakistan is to be saved. Lets not fool ourself, democracy is not a religious obligation, over and above our self preservation. It is time for ALL other institutions to shoulder their responsibility, otherwise the country will self destruct. Bring to account all those who are responsible.for bringing us to this stage. God save Pakistan.
raza
January 14, 2013 7:55 am
His message is right on regardless of the implications of his probable affiliations. He is not running in the elections himself so he definitely has nothing to gain from this. We cant really afford to have lawbreakers become the lawmakers. Next 5 years are going to be really decisive for the country. If we chose the same people that we had for the last 20 years then even god wouldnt be able to get us out of the imminent mess we are gonna be in.
Ahmed
January 15, 2013 10:45 am
We have been patient for four years with the PPP and exactly what did we get in return ? corruption, poverty, power shortages and overall bad governance. This is the end result of being patient with an incompetent, inept government who choses to ignore the people and serve its own objectives, yet we continue to insist that we must uphold democratic values.If this is democracy then by all means bring back military rule.
Bilal
January 14, 2013 7:52 am
Although things do not appear to be improving and that is because all the institutions have shattered foundations, and the people have lived in decades of darkness which has led to them, feeling hopeless as they are like sheep. They can feel terrified by and approaching lion, but has neither the strength to fight, nor to run. Our problems will take years and decades to solve. Qadri sahib do not have the character or the intellect to do what he is proclaiming to be able to plan and execute. He is a shallow person. (Sorry for offending his followers but unfortunately thats the reality).
g.a.shirazi
January 13, 2013 8:53 pm
We tried civilian government, we tried military government, nothing worked. Let us now try islamic government and see if it will work. What we have to lose.
Aqil Siddiqi
January 13, 2013 9:01 pm
It's not about siding a Clergy or any other outfit for that matter. It is all about bringing the sanity and a calm in a place where there is no law and order, where almost very one is corrupt to the core, where there is no safety for any one and where there is no hope for tomorrow.
roquefort
January 14, 2013 2:52 pm
We never had a secular democracy.Every single person wears religion on his sleeve.N the present situation is the result of that because religion is not left as a personal matter.
Ali
January 14, 2013 7:25 am
The "Evil" that we think there is in the society is not what we think it is. It is actually the lust of "Money" which is all the evil there is. Kill this evil and there will be none left leaving a pure Pakistan with so much to offer through its resources whether it is of nature or the people living in it. Help Pakistan by helping yourselves by putting an end to this evil. Lets start with ourselves first.
Agha Ata (USA)
January 13, 2013 8:34 pm
Be aware of uniforms and robes that resemble any Khomeini (of Iran)
Azi
January 13, 2013 4:25 pm
All the best to Mr Qadri.......Allah help him in his endeavours. Ameen
Ijaz
January 14, 2013 11:06 am
I suggest you should be more respectful in using words about 'God'. Be sure if "He Wills" anything nothing is far, better say then 'He' will not get us out of this mess, its not about Allah's ability but His Will to grant us pardon
gangadin
January 14, 2013 11:03 am
Just a stooge for 15 minutes of fame.
Stranger
January 14, 2013 2:48 pm
Why import some 'leader' from Canada. The locals can do much better.
Optimist
January 14, 2013 1:20 pm
why dont you come and join the politics ... at least be positive
Sami
January 14, 2013 7:12 am
Military stooge based on past history and association with General Mussharraf. We need moderates, not those who bow to each other either military or sufis.......
myview
January 14, 2013 8:23 am
Looks like BRR you are more opposed the messenger then the message. Whats the harm in asking better environment for election
BRR
January 14, 2013 6:38 am
You don't save Pakistan by having yet another knight in shining armor walk into power.
BRR
January 14, 2013 6:37 am
You will loose any shred of sanity that might still be with you.
Muhammad Arshad
January 14, 2013 6:31 am
Yes but who will, "Bring to account all those who are responsible.for bringing us to this stage"? No matter, who is at the helm, the very same people rule. Look at the present lot and see how many of them were with Musharraf regime. We must let the process of ballot continue, we have not choice. Even though it is hopeless, let us still not give up hope.
Rashid
January 13, 2013 4:24 pm
Qadri for next President.
asghar ali chappar
January 14, 2013 5:48 am
I voted on 18 Feb. 2008, in an election for National & Provincial assemblies of State of Pakistan. I would like to vote on 18 Feb., 2013 as my democratic right as citizen of Pakistan. Further, I would like to see an end to those politition who have failed to hold my Union Council election of August 2009. It is my plea to the President of Pakistan and Governers of all provinces to announce dates of election immediatly as well as Local Union Council elections. This will help the nation move forward in the democratic process & ease the nation.
Farooq Ali
January 14, 2013 5:52 am
Change is needed no doubt but by elections Not Qadri .
Shahid S.Engg
January 14, 2013 5:25 am
Islam is the complete code of life. We need to form a just and democratic society by following Islamic Law.
shafiq chughtai (@shafiqchughtai)
January 14, 2013 4:39 am
its like playing with fire there is a difference between trying the islamic gov and imposing the same.doing the latter will make people hate us and hate religion.i do not agree at all.if this has to be done, alot of homework is required and all factions are to be taken on board and once it is sure the right time has come, it can be done democratically.
shafiq chughtai (@shafiqchughtai)
January 14, 2013 4:41 am
don t hate things blindly
IA
January 14, 2013 3:05 pm
He is just asking for electoral reforms - why people have to think that he has a hidden agenda? Lets ask for the right changes as we see it and not persume there is a hidden agenda behind everything.
shafiq chughtai (@shafiqchughtai)
January 14, 2013 4:43 am
amen.amen amen.God save our home land.but a major surgery is definitely needed.is he the right surgeon? time will tell but we do need one!!!
Wake up Dude !
January 14, 2013 1:23 pm
Yes if people like you and me who are educated and do not think of doing anything not even supporting those who have raised their voice then yes pakistan will suffer the same for the next 200 years.
Optimist
January 14, 2013 1:24 pm
Absolutely agreed !
Ali
January 14, 2013 3:58 am
His demands make sense as we all want the corrupt people not to be allowed to run again for elections. Media and intellectuals should discuss the change that these demands can bring or guide Dr Qadri to be more effective. Instead media and intellectuals are on a spree to defame a person demanding something for nation. I can sense fishy behaviour of media and I am sure political parties whose interests are hit by Dr Qadri's demands have spent enough money to persuade media and intellectuals. By the way I am no fan of Dr Qadri but I like to see sensible logics especially from intellectuals.
pathanoo
January 14, 2013 3:43 am
Here comes another "self claimed" Messiah to save Pakistan. Qadri is the same guy who supported the Dictator Pervez Musharraf and worked in his cabinet. When Qadri saw Musharraf's star dimnishing he high-tailed it to Canada for safety. Now that the coast seems to be clear and less dangerous for him; he comes back as the Holy man divinely ordained to save Pakistan. What a charalatan?
Arun
January 15, 2013 7:28 am
Nice hat he has. What's it made of?
Pahalwan
January 14, 2013 1:27 am
everything that is left!
Abdur Razzaque
January 14, 2013 10:03 am
Oh the Pakistanis please be aware from all the fake ,corrupted money and power greedy major and to be a major political leaders!
sattar
January 13, 2013 10:20 pm
And you think this long march will accomplish that? You are either totally naive or are dreaming.
Capt C M Khan
January 13, 2013 10:20 pm
A Canadian...telling Pakistan what to do?????...Pakistan is being destroying brick by brick...No solution for the next hundred years.
sattar
January 13, 2013 11:06 pm
You have apparently forgotten the "Islamic Government" of Gen Zia ul Haq. If I remember it correctly, he is the one who gave us the Talibans, and now the nation is reaping the fruits of his Islamic Government.
Ram
January 13, 2013 10:28 pm
why call STOOGE? No better words?
Cyrus Howell
January 13, 2013 10:27 pm
"Bring to account all those who are responsible.for bringing us to this stage." "It's not what you know. It's what you can prove." Unless of course they have rigged all the judges and courtrooms. Then there can be no accountability. They can only then be tried by a revolutionary court. Only there is a difference between a revolution and a "reign of terror".
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