THE slogan is eerily similar. Tahirul Qadri’s refrain to save the state, not politics, is reminiscent of the one raised during Gen Ziaul Haq’s time, “pehle ehtesaab, phir intikhab”, which was used to delay a democratic change of government for over a decade. The context today may be different, but the political rhetoric is familiar. As the Qadri-MQM team asks the army to support its long march — and not to follow orders from a sitting government to prevent it — it is rightly raising fears about military intervention just as the country was preparing itself to vote out one government and vote in the next for the very first time. Despite the bitter lessons of Pakistan’s history, there are some who still seem to be clinging to the notion, despite their pro-people language, that this country’s citizens are not worthy of democracy.
What is most alarming is that the real agenda of Dr Qadri’s movement remains unclear, hidden behind claims that are self-contradictory and illogical. Why suggest a Tahrir Square-like revolution for a country that, far from being under one man’s dictatorship for 30 years, has finally managed to pull off a full democratic term? Why build such a movement on a one-point agenda of “electoral reform” — and what exactly does this consist of — when an independent chief election commissioner has been appointed and can be appealed to without drama and talk of revolution? Why the need to push for the immediate installation of a caretaker set-up when that is less than three months away? Why initially hint at postponing elections and then deny that was the intent? Why claim to be in favour of democracy while asking for the army not to follow the orders of an elected government? All that is clear is that behind this is an agenda — whether fully thought-out or not — that is not being revealed.
There is an entirely different path Dr Qadri could take. With the ability to draw large crowds that he has demonstrated at his rallies, the right thing to do would be to contest elections to prove widespread support for his cause and then work to improve the system from within. The same applies to the MQM, a party that has contested polls and come into power on the strength of public support but is choosing to go along with those with an unclear but worrying agenda. There is no doubt that Pakistan’s democracy is not just imperfect but flawed, built on nepotism, corruption and entrenched power rather than true representation of the people. But only letting the system continue, not interrupting it repeatedly, will allow it to improve.