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A review of the non-revolution


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When the sit in staged by Dr Tahir ul Qadri and the Minhaj-ul-Quran finally ended yesterday there was enough for everyone to celebrate. The followers of Dr.Qadri, drenched in rain, tired and exhausted from cold nights spent outdoors and stale food and smelly surroundings rejoiced by dancing in the streets, swaying some more to the patriotic songs that had kept them going through the mission they had come to accomplish. For the beleaguered PPP Government, whose capital city the protestors managed to close down and trash up with the rubbish of their makeshift camps; there was relief. At least, the 30, 40, 50 thousand strong scourge would be gone, leaving them to enjoy their placid, pretty capital city for a few months more. Everyone held hands, everyone said they had won, and started to go home.

To the world beyond Islamabad, the victors were harder to call and the revolution tough to locate. After all, the vehement Qadri was not able to get the National Assembly dissolved this week, nor accomplish a sending away of the President or his Ministers. They all stayed in place, many of the reviled waving from the same podium where they had been denounced so heartily by the man in the silver cap. To the angry revolution seeker, the end was an anti-climax, a hand holding that seemed in its neat reliance on the basis of an agreement, of future meetings and detailed delineations wholly unsatisfactory. To those seeking relief from theocratic overtures, the relief was just as mixed, coming after too many crowds and too much capitulation and without the decisive excision that would thwart future attacks.

Dr Tahirul Qadri was playing to neither constituency. His followers, stalwart and whetted on the rhetoric of Karbala and the tribulations of early Muslims, did not come for a political victory but for a moral one. As he has done for decades, Maulana Tahirul Qadri was appealing not to those who wish for one or another Government, an installation of their own leader as Prime Minister, or even their own rebirth as political workers. The thrust of their support for him and the movement in general has been on moral reform, and the use of theological principles as the moral basis for evaluating their own lives and the lives of the polity. Under their lens then; the celebration was warranted precisely in the details that may have seemed trivial to those evaluating them from a political weighing scale. In signing an agreement that gives him the role of suggesting two names for the caretaker Prime Minister and provide the terms of screening candidates for the next election, Tahirul Qadri has positioned himself as the moral check on politics, the scolding Maulana ready to spank the dirty, naughty, immoral politicians.

In the old days and under the well-worn theses of democracy and Islamist politics, the recipe used to be the successful cooption of Islamism into the electoral system. This move, political scientists and theorists argued, brought Islamist parties into the pragmatic realm of consensus and compromise and away from hard line positions. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and even the Refah Party of Turkey were offered as examples of those that brought Islamist constituencies into the system. It is this very recipe, trusted for so long, that has failed in Pakistan. Islamist parties like the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Jamaat Ulema Islam who function within the democratic system have failed to win over the constituency attracted to faith based spiritual and moral reformist movements or in the task of drawing them into the arena of democratic electoral politics.

The fallouts and turnaways from the political realm have instead chosen one of two parallel discourses, either the discourse of militancy or passive or active support of groups like Sunni Tehreek, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and even the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. The misgivings of these groups against the democratic political system that they denounce as Western influenced and inherently corrupt, are known to all, as are their virulent attacks against state power, the killing of Governors and Ministers and Prime Ministers all boastful notches on their belt. Democracy is dirty and they spare no qualms in their efforts to destroy it. In lesser acts, they want to shut women up in homes and ban music and all sorts of entertainment.

The supporters of Dr Tahirul Qadri are the other fallouts from the political system. Unlike the hardliners, they do not believe in violent aggression or agitation; but are just as disenchanted with the nefarious corruption they see in the bribe-filled, lies laden halls of Government. They like music and believe women, modestly dressed, should be part of the public sphere After some decades parsing of the idea of “moral and spiritual reform” as the basis for change in the individual self, the family and the social sphere, they are ready now to amend the political sphere. Not interested in being co-opted themselves, their leader Dr Tahirul Qadri is positioning himself as the moral arbiter of the Pakistani political realm, a denominator in the question of who is moral enough to be a leader, caretaker Prime Minister or election candidate.

In most democracies this job of screening for ethics is fulfilled not by moral forces but by legal institutions. In an irony that demonstrated the failure of just that in Pakistan, the very first day of Dr Qadri’s sit-in saw the Supreme Court issue an order to arrest the Prime Minister; one that was duly ignored even as the time limit it specified languished and lapsed. The argument was clear; in a country where legality has not been able to function as a check on political ethics, it is morality, and in Pakistan’s case, religious morality that will step in and complete the task. With the advent of thousands of such moral arbiters into Islamabad this past week, a new chapter has begun, that of the moral Maulana watching, checking and scolding the dirty politicians, into consensus and possibly submission.

Rafia Zakaria is a columnist for DAWN. She is a writer and PhD candidate in Political Philosophy whose work and views have been featured in the New York Times,  Dissent the Progressive, Guernica, and on Al Jazeera English, the BBC, and National Public Radio. She is the author of Silence in Karachi, forthcoming from Beacon Press.


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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Rafia Zakaria is an attorney and human rights activist. She is a columnist for DAWN Pakistan and a regular contributor for Al Jazeera America, Dissent, Guernica and many other publications.

She is the author of The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan (Beacon Press 2015). She tweets @rafiazakaria

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (62) Closed

Mustafa Razavi Jan 20, 2013 01:22am
The only thing honest in your posting is your name.
HNY2013 Jan 18, 2013 01:29pm
Hassan Nisar as president......hhhmmmm
Conflicted Jan 20, 2013 05:30am
Yes it is religious morality but with a political resonance that sells. At the outset, Mr. Qadri's use of the religious metaphor to push a political agenda was distasteful -- clearly he overdid it. But shorn of the fire and brimstone, his demands have a constitutional ring to them. Compliance with the selection criteria falls within within the pale. He may still be flexible on the reconstitution of the EC. We do know that its performance fell short during the recent by-elections. The Chief CE seems quite happy to concede the one month scrutiny period Mr. Qadri has demanded, and is redrafting the rules to accord the EC and returning officers with a stronger mandate. Even Imran Khan is in sync with him on this. On the dismissal of the assemblies, will Mr Qadri really quibble if they are turfed out on the designated date? Finally on the caretaker prime minister selection, the nominees will run the opposition gauntlet and, hopefully, a worthy candidate will emerge. Mr Qadris detractors are legion and continue to fuel our legendary paranoia. But one came away with the feeling that there was give on both sides -- signs of a democratic evolution perhaps. This is the kind of incrementalism we need more of and in large doses.
ali rizvi Jan 20, 2013 05:36am
very falsetto is all his stuff
DingDong Jan 18, 2013 11:40pm
Thats the point Pavez might be trying to make here. Qadri is nothing different that our elite class sitting in the assemblies.
Capt C M Khan Jan 18, 2013 02:14pm
It was great TV viewing enjoyed the show.....I suugest the Government DHARNA STADIUMS in every city so the people can urinate etc in proper toilets than on streets next time.
IbZZ Jan 18, 2013 09:45pm
That's what he is trying to say my dear. They all are the same where is the difference and where is the change. As some one rightly said the people of Pakistan loves to be fooled again again again and again.
Chanakya Jan 20, 2013 04:59am
"Qadri, go home( Canada).
V. C. Bhutani Jan 18, 2013 09:22pm
Dr Qadri should not have been allowed to begin his charade, much less go on with it for four days. It caused so much disturbance and dislocation and produced no result. In fact, the moment he came he should have been put on a return flight to Canada. He does not belong in Pakistan. There was basic unreality about his attempted march of a million from Lahore to Islamabad: we are told the most generous estimate puts the figure at no more than 50,000. This is not how a revolution is made. A revolution happens when people's anger gushes out uncontrollably and not even the half million Pakistan army would be able to stop them, let alone the police. No such event began. The people are not so angry. There are problems, there is corruption, there is nongovernance. But no one seems to be thinking in terms of devising another dispensation altogether. Did Dr Qadri really expect that the Federal and Provincial assemblies would have been dissolved and that the PM and the CMs would resign? This was some kind of an expectation which was destined to fail. This was an effort without result. V. C. Bhutani, Delhi, India, 19 Jan 2013, 0252 IST
BRR Jan 18, 2013 10:30pm
So much for the new Tahir-square. The D-square barely showed up on the seismograph.
sfomann Jan 18, 2013 07:52pm
@Jilia C. Agreed. Even they are not leaders. They all are only the leaders of their gang of thieves.
Ali Jan 18, 2013 07:52pm
Why the hell this writer is trying to turn a zero into hero? Qadri is a liar
Ali Jan 18, 2013 07:27pm
People like you cannot understand the difference. You people can be easily fooled by those who have made you almost bankrupt, still you have objections on voice raisers for petty issue.
Mustafa Razavi Jan 20, 2013 01:33am
He has never called himself a Maulana, this is a label given by dishonest propagandists.
BRR Jan 18, 2013 10:27pm
Such naivete
ummemuhammed Jan 20, 2013 01:24am
Please have your facts proper. They had many mobile washrooms...i visited the site and saw them myself.
ummemuhammed Jan 20, 2013 01:25am
Moral watch...why not?
ummemuhammed Jan 20, 2013 01:26am
i think Dawn is not making him a hero, infact it is downplaying him...
Mustafa Razavi Jan 20, 2013 01:18am
Dawn should stop praising Qadri and Hillary Clinton should stop praising Iran.
Mustafa Razavi Jan 20, 2013 01:16am
The corruption establishment was badly mauled by Dr. Qadri, now the corruption deep state is busy repairing the damage till the next round. Go corruption go.
Syed Jan 20, 2013 12:11am
Isn't it amazing that you think you are on a roll and than a Govt. whose nationality you carry knocks on the door and say, execuse me, but you have taken asylum against the country you so badly wants to save !!! ooops, sorry, yeah, my bad, I forgot to mention that in ANY of my interviews that I seeked Asylum to become a citizen, which is taken if you are a minority and are under threat of persecution or for your life. Yes, I said it before and I say again, clergy (not all of them) in Pakistan will always have hypocricy hidden in them, they can't help it and they will use awam cause the awam is too frustrated to think right now !!! if Jinnah wakes up today and ask to be briefed, he would go back to sleep before the briefing is over, oh and I will feel lucky if my comments are published. Thank you
Syed Jan 20, 2013 12:23am
btw, did someone picked up the story of a Pakistani business man who defrauded banks of 100 Millions Pound and is in on the run and in hiding in Pakistan?
Mohammed Yahya USA Jan 19, 2013 07:58am
I was very impressed with Mr. Qadris initial speeches for a while I thought there will be a change, what a joke he is no less than a madari. we all heard this saying: KHODA PAHAR NIKLA CHOOHA. Shame on him.
ytareen Jan 19, 2013 05:54am
You can fool all the people all of the time,but only in Pakistan!
abbastoronto Jan 18, 2013 08:19pm
To spank effectively you need a rod, and Qadri is no Musa, and moreover, Islam does not believe in spanking, especially the Sufi types. Wrong metaphor.
Chanakya Jan 18, 2013 08:17pm
Anna stuck his neck out.Qadri stayed in the comfort of heated cabin , while the poor followers had to all endure harsh cold weather, rains and what not.He fooled every body.And the Oscar for the best actor of 2014 goes toQadri.
Ghalib Khan Jan 19, 2013 10:40am
There are some Deals on paper and some which are not on paper, apparently the ones not on paper are more interesting, There was a remark by Kaira, that Bow will be Mr. Qadri's ad Arrows will be Ours, did it mean something or just fancy words Jan 19, 2013 08:54am
Thanks, A Pakistani
Abuzer Jan 19, 2013 09:30am
your writing is great
Husain Jan Jan 19, 2013 06:41am
Here, exactly here, lies the problem. We are likely to vote again for these thugs who remain entrenched in luxury suits leaving the masses to complain of bad governance. If we are not inclined to vote them out then who to blame ? The corrupt politicians or we - the masses ?
Waqas Jan 19, 2013 04:59am
Dawn should stop praising Qadri his praises can create more Qadris too.Have sympathy on our souls ,one threat of revolution has been enough.
Arif Jan 18, 2013 07:36pm
Aunty please don't give legitimacy to this topi drama. Had ho gaye hay :)
Sridhar Jan 18, 2013 06:39pm
Lot of people from India are comparing Qadri with Anna Yes both will achieve Nothing. They may be honest But they are no match for seasoned corrupt poltician
K. Jan 18, 2013 06:49pm
An angry looking lady journalist writing negatively about Dr. Qadri (who at least DOES something and the show is not over yet) and some also very bitter comments from additional readers who will never DO anything either. Time for such writers and people to stop complaining. Kudos to Dr. Qadri and all the people with the guts to participate in the protest!!! God bless Qadri and Pakistan. We in the world have been watching and supporting and Qadri is one of the FEW ever to STAND UP with this force and power against the bad. He also has done a whole lifetime of good work in helping people. No one is perfect. Let me examine the lives of the writers who are so vitriolic and the lives of the naysayer commentors and I am sure they will amount to little in comparison to the person they are criticizing. Ameen.
Ali Jan 18, 2013 07:50pm
If Qadri was in a law abiding civilised country he would have been jailed for lieing, using religion for his personal gains, emotionally blackmailing and thousand other indecent offences. Exactly same individuals that he was calling corrupt we're in his arms within minutes. Qadri has a recorded and documented history of lieing. He is fraud, he is lar, he is not even worth mentioning how on earth he compares himself with Imam Hussain? I feel sorry for his greedy supporters they will not get anything from this liar
Laeeq,NY Jan 18, 2013 01:06pm
Pakistan can change its destiny by electing honest and morally sound politicians. This is the only way out otherwise there is only downfall for this nation.
Yuresh Kumar Sinha Jan 18, 2013 12:44pm
All the best from India. qadri has done what Anna couldn't do. The Pakistani dream team would be primeminister -Imraan khan President-hasan nisar/ qadri. if you could do this you will jump ahead of India in five years.
Khalid Jan 18, 2013 06:14pm
Hasan Nisar as president!!!! then every second Pakistani will be punished.
hamid Shafiq Jan 18, 2013 12:38pm
this is first time in history of world, the revolution do not change anything just change some lines of mutual understanding and perosnal intrest. no change in common man no change in inflation no change in poor people. just dead lines and dead lines last nothing some happiness for theri perosnal life. thats it.
Dr. Nadeem Iqbal Jan 18, 2013 08:53pm
He also was a constitutional professor in Pakistan and taught 16 years. He is very qualified and does not want to be called "Maulana". He knows both side of the world and knows politics also. I think no one person in politics in Pakistan can claim to be even close to his qualifications in terms of academia, knowledge, and as a writer of many many books. We need to pay some respect to such people in Pakistan.
Indian Jan 18, 2013 09:36am
Good for pak...let some sense prevail, is he the hazare of from an Indian.
Julie C Jan 18, 2013 02:28pm
And how do you feel about the 'leaders' who sit in the Presidency and the Premier House, while the millions of masses suffer without power and gas?
Parvez Jan 18, 2013 11:05am
The issue with Qadri is that he says he talks for the people but the perception is that he talks for himself. You can't talk for the people sitting in a heated, bullet proof container in freezing weather with thousands outside in the open.........that's not leader material..........its opportunist material.
ahmad Jan 18, 2013 12:24pm
Tahir you know who you belong to and what you are upto, you are no 1 islamic scholor according to millions of muslims but things you dont know is what is coming, i feel pain whenever you speak, i feel the shame whenever momins cheer your words, you are on the track which was prescribed by your gods, but you are not counting on what you shud think about, Tahir let me remind you there is one perspective which is hurdle to your agenda & neither you can delay nor you can advance it an hour.. Once again it will start in a manner it shud have started long back... till then , till we meet....
Naila Jan 18, 2013 10:51am
Bad choice of words by the author for writing the blog. 'Maulana' already has a PhD and has written hundreds of books .. I bet you have good things to say about the corrupt 'maulanas' who sit in the parliament. Objectivity, please!
Immad Jan 18, 2013 07:14pm
These shameless people trust the corrupt more than those who raise voice against tyranny. These shameless people deserve to be ruled by those corrupt politicians who will destroy them and their coming generations. They deserve it.
Kazmis Jan 18, 2013 10:33am
The persons like highly qualified experience and learned fellows, who knows law Sharia and emotion of people, like Dr Tahir ul Qadri, come in front with the slogan of reforms especially moral, are always welcomed by educated people of Pakistan in the hope that their country now be a place to live with honor and peace, but when they use all their skill of exploiting to the simple innocent people for fulfillment of desires of some other big parties, it breaks the heart. Dr Qadri put the innocent people sitting in D square in exposing to life killing cold in the pretext that their will be regime change and reforms concluded his agitation on those conditions which are already their in constitution and never full filled by people who rule the country. Was it a failure of Dr Qadri's agitation?, or it was a pre-fabricated drama for fulfillment of some hidden tasks?
Ali Jan 18, 2013 04:33pm
I agree with Capt C. M. Khan. We actually should have designated stadiums for these activities. Let me suggest a name Tahrir Shaheed Jamhooriat Stadium. Someone please send Mr. Qadri a bill for the clean up as well. he is an honest man. He should pay.
asim Jan 19, 2013 02:42am
which Tahir you are addressing to and what are trying to say? P lease explain.
Raheel Shakeel Jan 18, 2013 05:19pm
Mr. Azar is very right! Just look at who gets the benefit - who has come out (after 5 years of corruption and all sorts of other crimes) as people loving (even to the point of bending in front of a Canadian citizen) caring and democratic party
Nasah (USA) Jan 18, 2013 03:50pm
There was no morality on display in Maulana Qadri's juvenile deadpan demands and in their equally juvenile shifting deadlines. If the writer expects morality in politics -- the shifty Maulana was not the one who provided it.
hamid Shafiq Jan 18, 2013 12:31pm
what is the difference between Maulana and Phd?
Jalaluddin S. Hussain Jan 18, 2013 04:40pm
With all due respect and for the sake of public accountability, Mr. please Qadri, give details to the Muslims of Canada, the funds you raised here to construct an Islamic Centre. Thanks.
Aamir Jan 18, 2013 06:37pm
Julie, No one is supporting Zardari or any other corrupt person but Qadri agenda was to get fame, nothing else. Also felt he is being controlled by some third force. Remember, no un-democratic change can bring about a change in any country, so better be wise and wait for elections, not too far though. You will get a fair chance to change the corrupt faces with good/nice faces, who you think will make difference in Pakistan for all of us.
Chanakya Jan 18, 2013 01:03pm
For at least 150 years, the muslims in the world in general, in the South Asia in particular, have been falling prey to unscrupulous leaders and preachers.
Julie C Jan 18, 2013 02:22pm
As you blame Qadri for the sit-in of mostly 'voluntary' people in bitter cold, please, don't forget to blame the government for around-the-clock misery of the 'involuntary' millions due to lack of electricity and gas.
Agha Ata (USA) Jan 18, 2013 01:56pm
He would have made more sense, if he were not a maulana, a Canadian, so unpredictable that becomes predictable, over confident and if he had not used a great number of synonyms in his speech!
Dr. Nadeem Iqbal Jan 18, 2013 08:07pm
This protest to stop corrupt politicians from participating in Pakistan's politics was one of a kind EVER in Pakistan's history. It has met its demands, partially though and hope it will start a confidence building among the people that they can make a difference. On the other hand, the credit goes to Zardi's govt. not to solve it through violence as all non-elected, dictatorial, governments have done in the past. So definitely we are moving forward with positive hope that the elected governments will try to solve issues through peaceful negotiations and that the people are learning about their enormous political power that can be used with peace to change things. Dr. Nadeem Iqbal USA
HNY2013 Jan 18, 2013 01:34pm
HNY2013 Jan 18, 2013 07:31pm
Julie the public voted them to power, unlike dictators ....they didnot snatch that seat. Vote for the right person, to make democrazy work. Donot grumble if you do not vote.
Azar Jan 18, 2013 01:17pm
Dr Tahir ul Qadri and the government staged this drama to fool the people. You people need to grow up.
HNY2013 Jan 18, 2013 01:27pm
0+0=0 Always