The difference between D Chowk and Lal Masjid is the difference between democracy and a military dictatorship. In a democratic setup, compromise is victory, violence is defeat.
In a dictatorship, there’s no victory without violence.
Those holed inside the Lal Masjid were no democrats. They were armed, well-trained and battle hardened. They were not demanding electoral reforms. They wanted to enforce their views on the rest of the nation and depended only on their guns to achieve this.
And the Musharraf government, which initially showed some patience in dealing with the Lal Masjid crisis, ultimately proved that a military dictator is a military dictator. A military officer is not trained to compromise, so when confronted with a difficult situation, he loses his nerves and resorts to the only option he is trained to use, the gun.
When the militants and the military clashed, those with bigger guns won but the nation was a loser, which had to pay a heavy price for the mistakes it did not make.
Those who responded to Qadri’s call were no militants. They did not come to Islamabad with guns, explosives and suicide jackets. They came with blankets, food, and water, bringing their babies with them.
And the way the PPP government dealt with the situation shows that it definitely has the political insight to defuse a potentially explosive situation and is matured enough to keep national interests before its pride.
President Asif Ali Zardari made it very clear in the beginning that his government will not use force against the protesters and that it’s their right to protest.
Except for some irresponsible and ridiculous statements from two of its ministers, the government behaved responsibility and handled the situation as it should have: with political acumen and an open mind.
And by accepting the compromise, Tahirul Qadri also proved that he too is a politician, besides being a pir and a cleric.
“This is the beauty of democracy; a win, win situation for all parties and the ultimate winner is the people of Pakistan,” wrote an Islamabad resident, Kahar Zalmay, on his Facebook page soon after the compromise was announced.
“Just a farce enacted on us, what did he achieve is beyond me,” wrote Shafat Shafi, a Peshawar resident.
“It’s not what he achieved,” responded Zalmay, explaining that the people of Pakistan were the ultimate victors as “their representatives avoided a (potentially dangerous) situation” and resolved it “peacefully and politically.”
M Arshad Khan, a Pakistani living in London, argued that opinions could differ on what Qadri achieved but it cannot be denied that “democracy and the people of Pakistan won yet another battle” in the on-going struggle between democratic and non-democratic forces.
The democratic process, he noted, “achieved a lot and took a step further in ensuring that the Law of the Land is enforced in its true letter and spirit.”
“Lesson for Imran Khan: a long march never goes from Islamabad to Waziristan. It’s the other way round,” wrote Sabir Nazar, a Lahore blogger.
Not all were happy with the way the crisis ended, particularly those who view everything, even a cricket match, as a battle between Husain and Yazid.
“Strange is this politics, stranger the system; you claim ties to Husain and salute Yazid as well,” wrote Asma Mahmoud, a Toronto-based Pakistani.
This was the much quoted Urdu couplet on the internet on Thursday and started appearing on various sites as soon as it was announced that a government delegation was negotiating with Qadri in his bunker.
Aziz Narejo, a known Pakistani political activist, compared Qadri to Don Quixote, a character from Miguel de Cervantes’ novel El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha, who sets out to revive chivalry. He recruits a simple farmer, Sancho Panza, as his squire, who frequently deals with Don Quixote's rhetorical orations with a unique, earthy wit.
Narejo said that like Don Quixote, Qadri also has two Sancho Panzas, Pervez Musharraf and Altaf Husain.
“So what you get after spending billions & putting thousands of people, including infants, young children, women & old folks, in trouble? A 3-page agreement that is not worth the ink on it,” wrote Narejo.
“I appreciate the democratic minds of this country that they consider agreements as only ink,” retorted Shahid Soomro, a Pakistani living in Aachen, Germany.
Dozens of bloggers and Facebook lovers also praised President Zardari for dealing with the situation with calm and firmness, unlike his predecessors who often lost nerves when confronted with similar situations.
Mian Aamer: Islamabad-based lawyer, wrote: “Millions salaams to those who participated in the march and the sit-in, braving a hard and hostile weather … we fully support the outcome … democracy has been given another chance to deliver its fruits.”
“I congratulate Qadri and the government for showing to the world that we also can resolve a crisis in a peaceful and democratic manner,” wrote another blogger.
“The declaration shows a growing political maturity in the country,” wrote Fakhar Abbas from the Northern Areas of Pakistan. “It is a heartening picture, and one hopes that all future governments would learn from it.”
He added: “It is the peoples' right to protest and governments are obligated to protect the protesters even when the protests are targeted against them.”
Another blogger noted that some dismissed the crowd as only 20-30,000 hired mercenaries, others estimate it as 10 times as much and consisting of highly motivated volunteers. Some dismissed Qadri as a charlatan and a stooge of the military. Others praised him as honest, charismatic, and moderate.
“No matter who is right, it was quite a phenomenon: a peaceful and reasonably well organized protest. Coming on top of the peaceful protests of the traumatized populations in Quetta and Peshawar, this is a new stage in the political development of the country,” he wrote.
‘It is time for the civil society to think constructively and coherently about an agenda for strengthening democracy and good governance and demanding that all political parties subscribe to it.”