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Thirst for change at the heart of Qadri's long march


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Supporters of Tahir-ul Qadri wave Pakistani national flags on the third day of a protest rally in Islamabad. -Photo by AFP

ISLAMABAD: Tears roll down Mohammad Zubair's cheeks as he speaks about the misery of being jobless in Pakistan, cursing the ruling elite and pinning his hopes for a better future on a populist cleric.

“I have travelled to Islamabad from a far-flung village, with empty pockets in the hope that the bad days are over,” Zubair told AFP, shivering without warm winter clothing in the capital, set in the foothills of the Himalayas.

An estimated 25,000 to 50,000 people have poured into Islamabad from across the country, devoted followers of moderate preacher Tahir-ul Qadri who is calling for the government to step down and radical reforms.

It is the largest protest in the capital since the Pakistan People's Party won elections in 2008, ending a decade of military rule and forming what in March will be the country's first civilian government to complete a term in office.

But the protesters see that as no achievement. In the last five years the economy has flagged, the energy crisis has deteriorated, a Taliban-led insurgency has killed thousands and sectarian violence has worsened.

Coming from all walks of life, but mostly the disenfranchised, they bat aside conspiracy theories that Qadri is a pawn of the military to wrest back power and believe wholeheartedly that the government is to blame for the problems.

“I see a ray of hope in Qadri...he can wipe my tears and put balm on the nation's wounds,” said Zubair, sipping a hot cup of tea, given to him by one of his fellow protestors.

Like millions in Pakistan's emerging middle class, he graduated from college but has struggled to find a job.

He says corruption is so blatant that when he applied for a job in the police, they openly demanded 800,000 rupees ($8,000) as a bribe.

When the Supreme Court ordered the arrest of Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf on allegations of corruption in energy deals, the news was met with jubilation.

“This is great news and we hope to get rid of the monsters and vampires, who have been sucking our blood for ages,” said Mohammad Tariq, who travelled with Qadri on a 38-hour journey from the eastern city of Lahore.

Islamabad is a purpose-built city created only in the late 1960s. Most of its residents are wealthy diplomats, mandarins and foreigners, who leave at the weekends and consider their true homes to be elsewhere. “It is the first time in my life this kind of gathering has reached this place,” said Saeed Faisal Naqvi, wearing a leather jacket.

Qadri addresses the crowd from a transparent, bullet-proof box and uses a trailer to rest. There are ambulances from his charity on hand, water trucks and public toilets housed in shipping containers.

As security forces have relaxed their presence, vendors have done a roaring trade in spicy crackers, peanuts, corn on the cob and sweets. Other stalls sell aromatic lentils to demonstrators at subsidised rates.

Mini dispensaries have also been set up in vehicles from Qadri's religious and education movement, handing out free medicines.

Men, women and even some children seem undeterred about spending two nights, camped out on the hard tarmac of Jinnah Avenue that leads to parliament – men on one side; women and children on the other.

Carpets, rugs and blankets have been laid out for protestors to catch up on sleep, snuggled up in quilts and blankets, using their bags as pillows and doing their best to shake off the cold.

“We have a cause to fight for and inhospitable weather will not shake our resolve. We will stay here in the open as long as our leader wants,” said Fatima Firdous, a science student from Lahore.

“I am more concerned about our rights and the right to education, which have been denied to us by the feudals and the elite class. It is time to throw them out of the corridors of power and devolve powers to the grass roots' level,” she said.

Comments (14) Closed

Inqalab Jan 17, 2013 07:14am
God this make me cry, sitting in my warm and cozy mansion in the outskirt of large American city. How can I feel the cold and misery of children of Pakistan. I want to do something for this movement. Can anyone tell me how to support that soft revolution. This is Pakistan's only chance. I am very disappointed in Imran Khan. The march has provided an opportunity to bring real change but he is not going to make change instead keep running the hamster wheel. Love live Inqalab.
G.A. Jan 16, 2013 06:03pm
We can all make fun of Qadri sitting in our comfortable living rooms but for these protesters life is a real struggle. They are desperate for change and they will follow anyone who promises to end their miseries.
Inqalab Jan 17, 2013 07:16am
There is no system to strengthen. When a building become hazardous it must be demolished and rebuild. That is what the so called political system of Pakistan.
Stranger Jan 17, 2013 12:52pm
You must be in it to win it. Please go to your home country and do something on the field if you really wish to do something - like starting a new company to give employment etc., He was sitting in an AC car and giving speech after speech . Thats hilarious.
shahid Jan 16, 2013 01:03pm
Qadri is a big hope to fix the corruption and to bring the country on the track we have been awaiting last 65 years
shahid Jan 16, 2013 01:06pm
why Dawn is trying to let Qadri down?
raika45 Jan 16, 2013 01:31pm
It is a game of waiting out between the protesters and those in power.It happened in India when an ex army truck driver stood up against the government to protest the corruption and abuse of power.He had his day and has now faded to oblivion.Until and unless those in power in your country are willing to listen to the people, no amount of protests will work.Unless there is a massive national uprising.Even this is not a good thing as seen in the middle east and the havoc it is causing in these countries.Some how Pakistan has to find a way out and come to a compromise. Good governance is vital for your country.Your future lies in this.You have the necessary raw products in Baluchistan in the form of minerals,gas and oil.All Pakistan needs is to get rid of this killings and bombings in the name of religion or culture. Once that is done a good efficient, honest government can bring glory to Pakistan.
G.A. Jan 16, 2013 10:10pm
How can he fix corruption? What is his qualification as a leader capable of transforming Pakistan?
Rizman Jan 16, 2013 08:16pm
T.Q..... IS OK
Atta ur Rehman Jan 16, 2013 08:25pm
Yes Dr Qadri is right. To get rid of the these corrupt leaders and give chance to more educated middle classes of good Pakistanis. I am dissapointed more about Imran Khan who should have joined hands with Qadri as he seems a ray of hope for the nation... Alas these corrupt politicians have won today.. Sorry true patriotic people of is just one example and pray that a true revolution comes in Pakistan.. inshallah.
Atta ur Rehman Jan 16, 2013 08:26pm
Yes he is a ray of hope for millions of Pakistanis watching him on TV all around the world and in Pakistan.
BRR Jan 16, 2013 08:28pm
It took 65 years to screwup Pakistan, and now in 1 month you expect Qadri to clean it up?
Gerry D'Cunha Jan 16, 2013 02:17pm
Have one noticed, all the evil forces have stood against the just and honest man Dr Qadri - even the bitter enemies 'PPP & PML' have joined hand against Dr Qadri - God is with this just and honest man,who is fighting for the right of its poor people of pakistan
Thinker Jan 16, 2013 07:31pm
Qadri should work for strengthening Democratic system not dissolving it. Complete overhaul in the system is needed he should contest election, lead country and make changes. Marches will help him to gain faith but by dissolving parliament he would undermine the very institution which strengthens constitution. I don't think anyone is against democracy.