Who is leading this sit-in?

Published March 29, 2016
The damaged interior of a metro station which was ransacked by protesters on Sunday night in Islamabad. — Photo by Tanveer Shahzad
The damaged interior of a metro station which was ransacked by protesters on Sunday night in Islamabad. — Photo by Tanveer Shahzad

ISLAMABAD: Despite a reputation for being comparatively docile in their street agitation, followers of various groups belonging to the Barelvi school of thought seem to have taken the authorities by surprise.

The last time these groups took to the streets of Islamabad was during the trial of Mumtaz Qadri. Even then, their lack of organisation was evident from the fact that most of their numbers were arrested and bundled off to prison, leaving the agitation in tatters.

Sunday’s march on D-Chowk from Liaquat Bagh was also not led by any established party, but rather proceeded under the banner of the Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah, which is a coalition of several, mostly unknown Barelvi groups.

Among these, the most active is the Sunni Tehreek, led by Sarwat Ijaz Qadri. Then come the Aalmi Tanzeem Ahle Sunnat, led by Pir Muhammad Afzal Qadri and the Fidayeen-i-Khatam-i-Nabuwat, led by Allama Khadim Hussain Rizvi.


Sunni Tehreek, other Barelvi groups new to street agitation make up bulk of demonstrators


Allama Rizvi is also the movement’s patron-in-chief, while Pir Afzal Qadri is its patron with Dr Muhammad Ashraf Asif Jalali as chairman.

Dr Jalali, who is the leader of the Pakistan Ahle Sunnah Wal Jamaat, is a known advocate of Barelvi traditions and the secretary of the Sunni Ittehad Council.

Incidentally, his party is on the opposite end of the ideological spectrum as the similarly-named Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) – formerly known as the Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan – which belongs to the Deobandi school of thought.

But when asked what their motivation was, several participants of the sit-in at D-Chowk claimed they had been ‘deceived’ by the authorities, which forced them to march on parliament.

“Our leaders wanted to present a charter of demands to the authorities and there was enormous public pressure that we do something, so we gave them two hours. Later, the deadline was extended by another two hours but there was still no reply,” Mohammad Hussain Qadri, who came from Gujrat, told Dawn on Monday evening.

Another group that came down from AJK and walked all the way from Liaquat Bagh to D-Chowk said the plan was simply to hold Mumtaz Qadri’s chehlum in Liaquat Bagh and disperse.

“But when the authorities detained the leaders who wanted to present our demands, we all began running towards Islamabad,” said Poonch-resident Raiq.

Their sudden change of plan not only took authorities in Rawalpindi by surprise, it also rendered the security plan of Islamabad police useless.

A visit to D-Chowk on Monday revealed that the participants of the sit-in were undisciplined and lacked coordination, indicating that there may not be a single chain of command or authority who is calling the shots.

But Dr Jalali, who is one of the main leaders of the sit-in, told Dawn that the participants were “guided by their love and affection for the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him)”.

But he declined to respond when asked to reveal who had come up with the idea to march on Islamabad and when the decision was taken. “We’d like to keep that a mystery,” he said, when pressed for comment.

Sunni Tehreek leader Sarwat Ijaz Qadri had called for an army operation in Punjab while speaking to reporters on Monday. In a separate press statement , he said that the government had launched a drive to shift the country towards secularism.

He decried the judiciary, saying that justice could be brought and sold in the country, adding that the Mumtaz Qadri case was an instance of “judicial murder”.

He also opposed the Protection of Women against Violence bill, which was recently approved by the Punjab Assembly, saying that a committee consisting of Ahle Sunnat clerics be formed immediately to address the concerns of religious parties.

Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2016

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