Except, she’s dead. If alive, we could have asked her about ‘Dr Deadline’ a.k.a Tahir-ul-Qadri. Long before pop psychologists cropped up with cheesy counsel on how to be happy, fulfilled and cheerful, a Californian housewife named Pauline Phillips launched a column ‘Dear Abby’ syndicated in hundreds of newspapers drawing tens of thousands readers across the world. Long before the internet’s firm grip girdled our lives, the only forum available to thousands was her advice column.
For 50 years we read her punchy responses to hundreds of probing questions on sex, humans, home and politics. She advised us on just about anything under our skin.
On Friday last, when I opened my papers to read that Qadri had retreated without bringing the heavens down, except pouring rain, the New York Times announced on its front page that Abby was no more. Six years short of a century, Mrs Phillips died after battling a decade of dementia. In 2000, her daughter Jeanne Phillips took over the mantle. The column continues: Abby is dead, long live Abby. “My mother leaves very big high heels to fill with a legacy of compassion, commitment and positive social change. I will honour her memory every day by continuing this legacy,” said Jeanne.
Pauline was the daughter of a Russian immigrant chicken peddler. She had an equally famous twin sister Esther, who many will recall wrote advice columns under the name of Ann Landers. The twins competed for fame, money and celebrity status. Both earned a place in journalism. Landers died in 2002 of cancer.
So what’s the deal with Qadri? Is it ‘business’ as usual? A friend from Peshawar seems to think so: “Tahir-ul- Qadri enters the ‘Elite Club of Crooks and Corrupt’. The selection /election was held in the Papal Cabin parked on the Avenue named after the founder of the country. The smoke from the chimney was seen late in the evening and his membership was later endorsed by the Master Crook. Negotiations took some time because there being no vacancy, therefore one had to be created. In fact the problem arose when the proceeds portions were difficult to determine”.
Two snapshots put into focus the faces of our leaders — in government and in the opposition. The first is a group photo of swollen-faced, potbellied, ragtag opposition leaders standing outside Nawaz Sharif’s Raiwind Palace and the second, equally repellent, is the photo of the government ‘delegation’ holding talks with Qadri. Grinning from ear to ear are Messrs Farooq Naek, Kaira, Babar Ghauri, whose mirth is uncontrollable when ‘Dr Deadline’ tells his crowds that he’s giving the government 45 minutes.
Who in his right mind takes the motley crowd called the ‘opposition’ and the ‘government’ seriously? One man does. He is Tahir-ul-Qadri.
It was not Zardari’s hobbits, but the Divine deadline that bowled out Dr Deadline by a duck. Had the skies not opened and power-washed the crowds; had the air not fanned freezing winds, Qadri would still be in his container doling out more inane deadlines. And the crowds would still be standing their ground chanting change.
“Qadri got away with having saved some of his face. But “those who want to save face have no face to save”, says a Pakistan watcher in America. “His great show is over and done with. In biological terms, he will become extinct”. According to him, the party most damaged is PML-N who slavishly did the government’s bidding. The first political feed our friend got was from his home province Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on Imran Khan’s decision not to join with Qadri.
“PTI has lost its overwhelming popularity due to its vacillation on the dharna.
“The pashtuns in the villages and streets are disgusted and words are being thrown around that Imran does not have the belly to be decisive.”
We can then safely conclude that the only winners are the TV channels who pulled in whopping viewer-ship thereby earning dollops of dough.
Clerics of every stripe, including Qadri control the hearts and minds of masses. “They are like hypnotists holding a loaded gun that can go off any second should they want their followers to go berserk and destroy anything in sight,” says the Pakistan watcher. The dharna may be over, but the mass mindset is still there waiting for the next great orator. “If people follow the next Pied Piper... then it is not his pipe but our ears and our brains that are defective.”
An Islamabad analyst’s sharp words realistically sum up the sham that describes thousands and thousands of shivering protestors in Blue Area, with their “courage, peaceful resolve, discipline and moral authority” highlighting the “political and human impotency, intellectual poverty, moral degradation and sheer criminality of Pakistani politics,” while few hundred yards away Supreme Court demands record of the Rental Power Case from NAB, as yet unavailable to SC. The farce betrays a “criminal collusion and ‘muk mukka’ that lies in the heart of the Pakistani political system” favouring a few powerful families and their hired mouthpieces in media. Politicians are united like a “stone wall,” while the whole spectacle has exposed the weakness of Imran Khan’s politics and has demonstrated that the “media has no ability to shape opinion beyond what politicians desire.”
Let me give a colleague whom I respect the last word. His message is one of hope and optimism: When you are worried about something, ask yourself if you will be worried about it six months from now. Most probably not. So why worry now? My advice: Think of Libya and Syria and relax.
But I still wish, had Pauline Phillips been alive, I would have penned a note ‘Dear Abby, can street power blossom into a Pakistani spring?’ I am sure the ‘pioneering queen of salty advice’ would have quipped: ‘a nation gets the leader it deserves’.
Ouch! That would hurt.