ISLAMABAD: He came, he talked and he talked and then he left with little more than a few promises that fell far short of most of the demands he had been making since Dec 23.
Dr Tahirul Qadri had asked for a clean-up of the system, consultation with the army and judiciary and dissolution of the assemblies and the Election Commission of Pakistan.
He went back with a vague date for the dissolution of the assemblies and a promise that he would be consulted again by the government and that he would suggest two names for a caretaker prime minister.
But admittedly, his about-turn was caused more by the heavens above and not mere mortals.
When on Thursday morning the skies brought down rain on the protesting thousands, Dr Qadri, who had threatened deadlines, declared the government corrupt and unfeeling and predicted a revolution, finally ran out of steam and demanded that the government which he had declared dismissed a few days ago negotiate with him.
Luckily for him, the ruling alliance behaved as maturely as had the opposition a day earlier. Instead of ignoring the doctor, the government immediately dispatched a heavyweight team to talk to him. This gave the doctor a face-saving option as by his demand for negotiation it was quite clear that Dr Qadri had failed to achieve anything and that the government was willing to let the capital be paralysed as it waited for the protesters to exhaust themselves.
The government team reached D-Chowk within the 45-minute deadline set by Dr Qadri.
From the PPP to the PML-Q to the MQM and the ANP, every party sent its representatives to greet the doctor, who embraced warmly those he had been calling Yazid and corrupt earlier.
Afrasiab Khattak, Farooq Sattar, Qamar Zaman Kaira, Amin Fahim, Mushahid Hussain Syed, Babar Ghauri, Syed Khursheed Shah and Farooq H. Naek, led by Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, negotiated with the protesting doctor for about five hours which for once was carried out in the windowed container and in the glare of television cameras.
This was not a revolution that happened, but it was still televised.
The cold and wet but bravely enthusiastic crowds waiting outside saw phone calls being made and papers being read and discussed – for five long hours.
Once they finally came out at 8.50pm, the doctor announced: “We have reached an agreement to be known as Islamabad Long March Declaration. Give them space, a government team is going to the Prime Minister’s House for signatures on the document and then it will be signed by all of us and read out before you.”
The suspense was still to continue.
The agreement was rushed to the prime minister for him to sign and then brought back.
Then all the politicians and the doctor took their turns on the mike before the un-earth-shattering declaration was released – to the media and not by the doctor.
But by then the end was a foregone conclusion.
The crowd burst into celebrations as soon as federal ministers Khurshid Shah and Qamar Zaman Kaira and PML-Q secretary general Mushahid Hussain left the venue to get the signatures of the prime minister on the declaration. Dancing to the beat of drums, the young boys and girls kept on raising slogans “Inqilab, Inqilab”.
Relief was writ large on the faces of everyone present there – particularly the participants who had braved three cold nights in Islamabad and the rain on Thursday. Policemen looked no less relieved as they too had been stuck there.
Dr Qadri himself looked no less happy than the dancing and cheering crowds outside.
In fact, as he thanked all the politicians crowded around him, he was the gracious elder rather than the angry, finger-wagging orator who had held the nation needlessly hostage for four days.
The five-point declaration may have allowed him and the ruling alliance to sleep comfortably on Thursday night, but it also provided much food to the critics and opposition leaders.
Most opposition leaders questioned what this spectacle achieved and what the declaration signified with its vague wording though on the positive side, no-one had any objection to the agreement, so harmless it was.
Unfolding details of the five-point declaration in the presence of the 10-member government team, Dr Qadri announced that the government had also agreed that “the treasury benches in complete consensus” with his political party -- registered as Pakistan Awami Tehrik (PAT) in the Election Commission of Pakistan – would “propose the names of two honest and impartial persons for appointment as caretaker prime minister”.
It said: “The National Assembly shall be dissolved at any time before March 16, 2013 (due date), so that the elections may take place within 90 days.
“One month will be given for scrutiny of nomination papers for the purpose of pre-clearance of the candidates under Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution so that the eligibility of the candidates is determined by the Election Commission of Pakistan.
“No candidate will be allowed to start the election campaign until pre-clearance on his/her eligibility is given by the ECP.” Dr Qadri further announced that he would continue to hold meetings with the government and the next such meeting would take place at the Tehrik-i-Minhajul Quran’s Secretariat in Lahore on Jan 27.
Though the doctor agreed for the time being to withdraw his demand for ECP’s dissolution, he said it had been agreed that the issue would be resolved with consensus after more meetings. He said the issue of composition of the ECP would be discussed at the meeting on Jan 27. Reading out the declaration, Dr Qadri said the law minister would convene a meeting of a team of lawyers comprising S.M. Zafar, Wasim Sajjad, Aitzaz Ahsan, Farogh Nasim, Latif Afridi, Dr Khalid Ranjha and Humayun Ahsan to discus the issue.
The declaration also calls for implementation of the June 8, 2012, SC verdict on constitutional petitions seeking strict implementation of the code of conduct during the elections.
It says that with the end of the sit-in, all cases registered against each other shall be withdrawn immediately and there will be no act of victimisation and vendetta against either party for the participants of the march.
This declaration has been entered into in a cordial atmosphere and reconciliatory spirit.
Sources said it was after Law Minister Farooq Naek had explained to Dr Qadri about the constitutional and legal hitches in the implementation of his demand to remove the CEC and other members of the ECP that the TMQ chief agreed not to press for it.
The sources said that Dr Qadri’s demand to dissolve the assemblies before time remained the sticking point between the two sides. However, Dr Qadri remained adamant that he would not sign the declaration until the government agreed to it.
Dr Qadri also appealed to his supporters to participate in the next elections and caste their votes. “Every person should get himself registered as voter because we will decide future line of action after few days regarding the elections,” he added, hinting that his party might take part in the polls.
Soon after the announcement of the declaration, the jubilant participants of the sit-in started leaving for their respective cities, making victory signs and raising slogans.
“We will go back home and educate others how to fight for the rights in a peaceful manner,” said Muhammad Idrees, who had come from Mandi Bahauddin to participate in the sit-in.
Terming the signing of the declaration a great victory, Zahoor Ahmed, from Faisalabad, said that everyone should consciously caste his vote to elect honest and eligible persons.