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An unlikely avenger in a winter of shortages


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For years, armchair analysts have spoken of an Islamist takeover in Islamabad but not a single one predicted that the onslaught would be led by an English-speaking Barelvi who had been marked by the militants for his fatwa condemning terrorist attacks and suicide blasts as un-Islamic.

Dr Tahirul Qadri, who does not like to be  called a maulana, has emerged as an unlikely avenger of the people’s discontent in this winter of shortages.

Inexplicably he has managed to capture the airwaves and the crowd’s imagination and the analysts’ horrors.

Dressed in his untraditional attire (for local clerics) but with a cleric’s traditional mastery over oratory and demagoguery, he has kept the nation hostage through television channels since he returned in December.

After all, it is a universally acknowledged truth that not even the best politician can compare to a religious orator when it comes to public speaking. Thus when he spoke late at night at Islamabad, not only did he keep his audience spellbound, some felt that the angry unyoung man had overshadowed Imran Khan and emerged as the performer of change and revolution.

Intriguingly this is one figure who has won nothing but criticism from the credible media even though this did not discredit him in the eyes of his (captive) fans.

He is a Teflon leader in other words -- nothing sticks to him.

Columnists and anchors and politicians have brought up murky details from his past -- the skeletons that were pulled out of his closet included his once closeness to the Sharif family and controversies about how he was once a protégé of the family.

When the attacks became more serious, a judicial inquiry was dusted off and made public -- ordered when Dr Qadri, who had by then lost his closeness to Sharif, accused the latter of having tried to get him killed.

The judicial commission, working in the days before the judiciary became truly independent in 2009, discovered less than flattering facts about the doctor such his involvement in petty crimes and how the forensic evidence of blood collected from the attempted murder site was of an animal -- no human blood means no attempted murder attempt on a human.

And then there are his recorded interviews and speeches – where he writes the account and concept of Blasphemy law and then re-writes it again. Or where he narrates his dream about the Prophet (Pbuh) and his message specifically for the doctor -- the scepticism is no less than when messengers were sent from the heavens.

His political career is no less controversial.

Journalists remember his first big rally in Lahore in 1989, which was no less impressive than the one held a few weeks ago -- “It was back then being compared to the 1986 rally of Benazir Bhutto,” remembers Amir Mateen, who has covered politics for two decades.

It should not be forgotten that back then the military establishment was trying to send an elected parliament home -- a year later elections had been called, which were rigged and manipulated, and yet the doctor lost them.

His next appearance was in 2002 when another military-led dispensation held elections. His critics allege that the “ambitious doctor who is not averse to short cuts” lived happily with a dictator till he realised that he was not going to get much beyond a seat in the parliament.

Hence, eight years ago in October the insider turned ‘revolutionary’ and stormed out of the National Assembly after handing in his resignation.

In parliament as a representative of the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (his political party which is not mentioned much these days as the focus remains on Minhajul Quran), he called it a black day -- the parliament had just passed a law allowing General (retd) Pervez Musharraf to hold the office of president and chief of army staff -- and said goodbye.

Calling the parliament a rubber stamp, he said he was insulted to sit “with those who have cut off their hands”.

As an aside, one of the opposition parliamentarians who tried to stop Dr Qadri from storming out was the man he now wants out -- Raja Pervez Ashraf.

His departure from the parliament then also translated into his departure from Pakistan for the snowy and affluent shores of Canada.

But apparently this was a self-imposed exile which could end whenever he felt there was an opportune moment -- once again shortly before elections are due.

But this time around, there are a few new factors at play.

Thanks to the international context, he has won some credibility as a moderate religious leader -- always in short supply in Pakistan where political and religious leaders are always widely available.

His big fat and detailed Fatwa declaring terrorist attacks un-Islamic was celebrated by some quarters -- though still unidentified. His was never the only such Fatwa to have been delivered in the post-9/11 world.

He also flaunts his tolerant credentials by constantly using Shiite references as he whips up ‘revolutionary’ fervour -- Karbala has always been the preferred slogan for the ‘revolutionaries’ in the Muslim world, but for those worried about the extremist drift in Pakistan where Muslims with a difference are branded wajibul qatal, his references are said to be music for some ears.

Take Murtaza Poya, former publisher and politician, who says that Qadri is the best option for the country -- provided that one assumes that “Pakistan’s destiny is Islamic”.

This is a sweeping statement that sounds impressive but does not stand up to scrutiny.

Tolerance or religious credentials are not enough to win elections in Pakistan. If Musharraf is a good example of the electoral unattractiveness of the first value, the Jamaat-i-Islami is an example of the second.

And those who are in awe of the people’s power that Qadri has harnessed and brought to Islamabad, then they need to remember he has done this before without getting very far.

People can be carted from his vast empire for a jalsa but will they follow suit with their votes?

A politician points out that in Shakargarh alone, there are over 20 schools run by his Tehreek Minhajul Quran and these can easily send 20 buses full to a venue. The passengers will stay put for as many days as they have been paid but not more.

The oratory on its own is not pulling in crowds independent of the buses sent under a plan -- D-Chowk is proof of this.

In fact, his rhetoric is not much different from what the mainstream politicians say even if he says it better.

From thundering demands for change, to hard-nosed political demands such as a neutral caretaker set-up formed under the tutelage of the army and the judiciary to third world staples such as his promise to put “feeders” in the mouths of infants, Qadri’s rhetoric has been as varied and as uniform as his outfits from Lahore to Islamabad. He changed clothes more than once but they all looked the same.

By Tuesday morning, there were flashbacks to his younger days preserved in black and white videos about his earlier, profitable dreams. He burst into tears while assuring his followers that he would not blame them if they decided to slink away in the darkness of the night -- as convincing as the tears he has shed while recounting his sleepy wonders.

Is he really the next great hope?

For whom?

The people who have never voted for him? The Western powers who are said to have given up on mainstream parties after the PPP failed to deliver on extremism? The military which is now said to need a new partner in crime? Or will he simply fizzle out like he did twice in the past.

No-one knows for sure but history has a bad habit of repeating itself in Pakistan.

Comments (50) Closed

Immad Jan 16, 2013 09:19am
I am surprised why our intellectual and apparently unbiased media (thats what I always thought) has just began a smearing war against a person who is demanding free and fair elections, unbiased government and scrutiny of election candidates. I can understand the anxiety of political parties especially PMLN as these things good things will hurt their dirty practices, but why media and intellectuals are against these demands.
Abdul Waheed Jan 16, 2013 02:09pm
Moulvi TUQ has hijacked the Headquarters of Islamabad which is creating chaos, instability and huge economic loss to our country besides defaming the already defamed country. This selfish, pathetic, cleric has put his devouted followers, and employees / students of his NGO (Minhajul Quran) to severe Islamabad cold nights in open. We hope that this time efforts of anti democratic forces will not suceed and democratic rule will flourish.
Jawed Reza Sheikh Jan 16, 2013 10:25am
Very well written and very informative.
serfaraz Jan 17, 2013 06:10am
Energence of Qadri proves two points, 1- there is anger in the public and anyone can harness that 2- there are many uneducated poeple in pakistan who are with Qadri which is benefiting him. We have seen similar waves in India with Anna taking limelight for a month and then disappearing.....
Irfan - Dubai Jan 17, 2013 05:51am
I wish now Imran should join Mr. Qadri. Qadri's efforts are appreciable and people are supporting him and we want some support from Imran Khan as well. Please help Pakistani's by removing all these corrupt leaders (PMLN & PPP).
Amir Iftikhar Warraich Jan 16, 2013 06:24pm
Whatever the opinon on Qadri, but fact remains that people are tired of this "democracy" and the scourge of economic and social problems which have mounted to new height in the last 4-5 years. Qadri may have to pack up his demo very soon, but his message is clear that people want real changes and that the system needs to become more accountable and less corrupt! Thanks Qadri-shb for your efforts, now lets move on!
Hasnain Jan 16, 2013 11:19am
Dear can you give any proper reports and newsupdates instead of these typical cynical remarks about how Dr Qadri has a separate agenda? What do you want? Why do you believe that Pakistan is destined to be a place of misery and failure???? Try and keep a neutral stance and stop portraying this defeatist, negative attitude!!!
shado Jan 16, 2013 03:23pm
Husnain, you are correct, i think someone is feeding the media not to speak truth or hold off; more likely these political parties (they are more powerful Aaam aadmi). I am not a big fan of dr. Qadri but I am impressed because he is on the absolute right approach. People of pakistan should rise up and make sure dont support these corrupt politician, and read the translatation of Surah Yaseen(atleast just until the first rukooh), and apply if we are same kind of nation. He is holding Pakistani flag rather than any single party, which brings my heart out. I think this is the time when we break our shakles of bad governance and corruption on the top. Faisal - Chicago
KKRoberts Jan 17, 2013 05:29am
The forthcoming election in Pakistan is going to be very very interesting.Probably much more interesting than the last American election.Be ready for that.This man Qadri will play an important role in it.
Capt C M Khan Jan 16, 2013 10:46am
So true ...NO ONE KNOWS....for once I am Opinonless......the next few weeks will be important for Pakistan.
Cyrus Howell Jan 16, 2013 10:59am
An unlikely avenger in a winter of shortages? Or will that be a decade of shortages? Pakistan will first be busy paying off it's international debt under any government, or it's credit card will be taken away. "Petrol Station Closed". Army needs petrol.
sahib Jan 17, 2013 04:58am
Musharaf is not tried and tested? Who are you kidding?
Schabboo Khan Jan 16, 2013 05:45pm
As there is no answer to the question: who created the Creator, there is no way one can get someone free and fair to supervise free and fair elections, someone beyond scrutiny to scrutinize election candidates, and someone unbiased to select an unbiased caretaker government. Stop being wishful and work with what you have. We have a constitution. let's make sure that it is followed and we will get what we deserve from among our people.
Arif Jan 16, 2013 05:35pm
We as Pakistanis have always welcomed corruption in our parliaments, so what bothers us this time.?? We need to be fair, just & honest. If PPP, Muslim League, and all these 9 do 11 islamic parties can be allowed to enter parliament and destroy the future of Pakistan, we need to give this chnace to others as well afterall we want democracy/freedom. Freedom to steal, freedom to uneducate, freedom to bribe, freedom to destroy, freedom to punish people, freedom to slavery.
Usman Jan 17, 2013 04:43am
Why the author brings the sect into this?
gangadin Jan 16, 2013 12:11pm
FIR has been registered against him. This is just the beginning. He will run to Canada soon.
hariharan Jan 16, 2013 11:42am
Anybody who has plans to promote peace and friendship among INdia,Pakistan and Afganistan is welcome.Please be on the lookout for such a person and give him your whole hearted support
Abu zoha Jan 17, 2013 07:49am
We need to rise above religious groupings, and abstain calling people based on it. We all are Muslims, we believe in oneness of Allah and Prophet Muhammad is His last Messenger. full stop. Breli and deoband are just names of two Muslim schools in India.
Masood Jan 16, 2013 12:05pm
The starting para is just outstanding. I, being a barelvi by sect, an still least-bothered about this so-called Inqilaab.
Rahman Jan 16, 2013 03:25pm
The military which is now said to need a new partner in crime? that seems to suit or more apt to describe this so called cleric. It is better for Pakistan and its people to start separating religion and politics. and start voting secular credential people not based on religion and hatred over minorities and other religion
pakistani Jan 16, 2013 11:52am
Mr Arifa Noor ?ould you or anyone like you explain to me what is "Islamist", i have herd this term a lot on CNN , BBC and western media but never understood the meaning of it. Please be kind and explain to me Regrads
Akram Jan 16, 2013 04:58pm
Islamist is someone who believes the state should be run strictly by a religious interpretation of Islam. Its the opposite of a secular view, it does not differentiate between any particular version of Islam e.g barelvi or wahaabi. This may seem enticing to the ordinary man, but in the context of 1400 years of sectarian hatred and constant in fighting, I firmly hold the secular, as did the people who created Pakistan.
wordyspread Jan 16, 2013 04:46pm
It's only causing hardship to the citizen of islamabad.
Muhammad Farooq, ON Canada Jan 16, 2013 04:30pm
yes i heard it also and tried to find the meaning: earlier western media were using the term Islamic fundamentalist, now the term Islamic fundamentalist has been replaced by Islamist. So to day say it has negative connotation.
sja Jan 17, 2013 01:15am
He will not run to Canada, he will take refuge in the Canadian High Commissioner, did not you read that the Canadian High Commissioner went to talk to the Minister of STATE, Rehman Malik, and asked for Maulana Fazil Tahirul Quadri safety, as his noble duty under BRITISH CROWN To protect the BRITISH COMMONWEALTH subjects.
Muhammad Farooq, ON Canada Jan 16, 2013 04:28pm
we all know who is behind this fuss over changes; those who bring revolution do not come in temperature controlled transport, and they do not care for their own lives. I know CEC Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim has spotless record ( I fondly recall the days when he was my law professor at a College in Karachi) and if he is given free hand I am sure he will be able to hold free and fair elections in the country. If one has to prove one's popularity, one should prove through the ballot papers; if one has to be a revolutionary leader, then one has to behave like a revolutionary leader. Dr Qadri should understand that there is a trust deficit because of his past records so he cannot attain the status of Ayotallah Khomeni, nor he can bring a French like revolution because it is a different ball game here. It may come eventually if the rulers continue to do what they are doing but not here and now.
Arryan Chudhary Jan 16, 2013 12:14pm
Pakistan is facing very critical situation in these days. I think this long march shoukd be stable, this should not be minimize now. Thousands of people together now for the same purpose after a long time with true pains and difficulties. So upcoming days InshAllah come with positive result for our beloved Pakistan.
UNITED STATES OF INDIA Jan 16, 2013 12:59pm
He is really HANDSOME guy......I hope his heart too..yea ..pakistan needs changes...but dont put down democrati system..
Qadeer Jan 16, 2013 12:53pm
Dear Editor at Dawn, We read your news looking for an unbiased neutral perspective and analysis. Your journalist, Arifa Noor, is delivering anything but. I am not a supporter of Dr. Tahirul Qadri, but this article was an absolute waste of my time. The journalist should learn maybe by going back to basics that critical thinking is not necessarily negative/cynical thinking. If you present an opinion - say it's yours. Do not portray that it is the absolute reality or mood of the general public without giving evidence. Not yours anymore, One reader you've lost.
A Sheikh Jan 16, 2013 12:50pm
Dawn's regular reporting against Qadri is actually having the oppsite effect. Anybody, including Army, Qadri and Sharifs are better than the corrupt PPP government. Yet the Media including Dawn haven't been unkind to current setup. Obviously there are dealings behind closed doors that a common reader cannot find out about. Enough of so called democracy - it has never worked for Pakistan.
Abu zoha Jan 17, 2013 07:41am
No one has argued over CEC Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim spotless record. question is over his capabilities to run the election commission. I like to refer to Imran Khan press conference yesterday, he said CEC is a honest man but election commission is not able to perform his duties despite their various complaints.
Salim Jan 16, 2013 05:48pm
Salim I am agreed with Immad views only thing i want to add If media began a smearing war against a person who is demanding free and fair elections , I am corncern that our media is really unbiased or they also have something to hide.Hope some better outcome will happen for his effort, join him encourage him for pakistan and our children future.
ali Jan 16, 2013 01:34pm
its strange he doesnt refer anything about the western countries especially america! they are the actually the one responsible for the political crisis and turmoil in pakistan and everyone here knows it!!!!. Then why is this guy silent about the west and america???.
Khalid Jan 16, 2013 01:32pm
Though the article is well written and informative. But my question is, why are we digging up the history of TuQ? Compared to the people in government, he is still very much clear. Can you compare him with the President of Pakistan who spent Almost all of his middle age in jail? can we compare him with Mr. Gilani who had a NAB corruption case against him and his wife and he used his influence as PM to get out clear? Can we compare him with Pervez Ashraf, who got commissions in rental power projects most of which have not even started yet? Who do you trust? I don't like him personally but whatever he is asking for (constitutional or unconstitutional) is what we need. If the interim caretaker government is not impartial, PPP will win again and I don?t think Pakistan will be able to survive another 5 year term of PPP It would take atleast 6-8 years to undone what this Government has done to our country. Let?s hope for the best and pray for our country. Long live Pakistan!
Mahmood Jan 16, 2013 01:31pm
Simple Bring Army back, Political system has being failure for a while. Sorry, a country with best resources still we are seen as failure.
Fahad Bashir (@fahadbr) Jan 16, 2013 12:43pm
If Dr. Qadri was really the stand-up guy he is portraying to be why is he trying to delay the election? Reforming the ECP is no joke... You can't expect it to happen in 90 days with all the major changes he is proposing. If he would have come earlier this would be a feasible option (lets say a year ago when Imran Khan was beating this drum). He could have even come after the up-coming election when the alleged rigging would be fresh for everyone to see. Holding a long march right now defies all logic.
Prof L. H. Zaidi Jan 16, 2013 03:48pm
It is really a misfortune that entire media and particularly papers like Dawn are busy in character assassination of Dr Tahirul Qadri. Pakistani public is being treated and indeed is guided by characterless people, indeed by the remnants of Jaffers of Bangals and Sadiq of Hydeabad. In fact struggle of creation of Pakistan is still going on. I doubt it will complete in my life time.
dev Jan 16, 2013 10:02pm
It is a scientific fact that in a country when the population of Muslims exceeds a certain threshold value the chaos develops. All the Muslim majority countries and unfortunately parts of india muslim dominated, are the live laboratories affirming this scientific fact. This gentleman lived seven years in Canada and no body even knew who he was. As soon as he landed in Pakistan, where the threshold value is far exceeding the required minimum for fasaad, he was able to accomplish his task. Good luck to Pakistanis. Your country was not created for the welfare of Muslims, it was created to accommodate the egoistic ambition of Mr. Jinnah which set the precedence for future politicians. Your politicians need Pakistan to fill their pockets with corruption and your military needs Pakistan to ensure their privileges. Politicians in India are no better than your politicians but fortunately military and other institutions are not as degraded as yours. If you want to redeem yourself, ban all your madarsas, stop misinterpreating Quran and get rid of sharia. In short wake up and smell the coffee.Jinnah's lifestyle resembled that of the upper-class English professional he used to drink too.he was not a religious bigot as ur mullas are.
a shah Jan 16, 2013 03:08pm
I've never read such a biased and one sided report.
Malik Ahmad Jan 16, 2013 09:23pm
Amir Sahib: I agreed with your views. The reverend Mullas has highlighted the issues which were not hidden in the first place but everyone was avoiding discussing them. Who had the courage to go and spend his own money against these corrupt politicians. Did you see they all assembled in Rai Wind and came with a joint communique. All these odd ball leaders and parties never unified before. Thanks Allama Sahib, even a secularist like me praises your work. End to this Bhutto saga, their kids who were born in front of our eyes (remember when BB delivered them in mysterious circumstances), these Gouhar Ayubs of their time, Hamza Sharif, Asifa and all kinds of Bilawal. Their parents brought us to this miserable conditions and please good riddance from us. You may have heard that apples do not fall too far from the tree.
Malik Ahmad Jan 16, 2013 09:26pm
Qadeer: How much time did you waste? I think you wasted my time also. Arifa Noor wrote an excellent piece. I am not familiar with her writing before, but seems she is like a pro. Welcome aboard Arifa. Write more on our politics. Happy writing.
Malik Ahmad Jan 16, 2013 09:28pm
This question is not directed to me, but still can I answer it? The terms Islamist means the bearded Mullas who shouts all the time, (you see their picture on Dawn, one is Salahuding and the other our beloved Hafiz Saeed) who regularly dyes their beards jet black, and annoys us with their duplicity and hypocrisy. Because this is a newly invented word, the meaning can be deeper than what I am writing at this time. Have a nice day.
raza Jan 16, 2013 02:52pm
We have tired, with Nawaz ,Zardari and Military Take Over? Give chance to Imran Khan or Qadari Qadari as President and Imran as Prime Misinster ?. This is Change, and We want Change?..
Imtiaz Hussain Jan 17, 2013 05:07am
People find a hope in Dr. Qadri for genuine reforms and their empowerment. As all corrupt politicians seems united they are being exposed before public.
Immad Jan 16, 2013 09:24am
Free and fair election process, more scrutiny of election candidates and unbiased caretaker government; why media and intellectuals are afarid of this, why are they just running a defaming campaign against him. The fear of political parties is understandable as these good things will hurt their dirty practices, but now it seems like these politicians with their money have persuaded intellectuals to do their job.
Jawwad Jan 17, 2013 06:29am
Is this the same Dawn Newspaper our Quaid Jinnah had been at the helm? He would have none of this garbage. What Pakistan needs are land reforms. When you will have only [This] much of the acres to yourself, you will get only [That] much of the votes. Take their lands away and you'd do yourselves the first favor since your birth. Right now we are a country, may be we'll become a Nation.
Shahpur Jan 16, 2013 02:14pm
Or you can say he is sent by the GOD ALMIGHTY.
Shah Jan 16, 2013 07:42pm
Why we weigh skepticism more than simplism, who gave us the right to protect the bad goverance, why can't we think straight, is it in our subcontinent genetics, I guess, not, since most of us are simple and straight, skeptics are more grown in people who doesn't have knoweldge
Agha Ata (USA) Jan 16, 2013 02:30pm
If Imran Khan joins him and takes support for his Tsunami, everything will be clear. Fog will disappear.
sali Jan 16, 2013 02:26pm
Combine the forces of Imran, Qadri and Mussharraf and get rid of all other tried and tested parties. They are taking Pakistan in only one direction....down.