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A grand spectacle in Islamabad

January 15, 2013

Supporters of Pakistani cleric Tahir-ul Qadri gather at a protest rally in Islamabad on January 15, 2013.
Supporters of Pakistani cleric Tahir-ul Qadri gather at a protest rally in Islamabad on January 15, 2013. — Photo by AFP

ISLAMABAD: The grand spectacle continued to entertain all through Tuesday.

The first scene took place shortly around two in the morning on Tuesday when Dr Tahirul Qadri finally drove on to the T with his juggernaut of vehicles and workers.

And as soon as he set foot on the makeshift podium he threw the first (and last) bombshell. With as much anger as he could muster he gave the silent government a deadline of 11am to dissolve the federal and provincial governments and begin revamping the ECP as he had demanded.

“I give all cabinet members till 11am on Tuesday morning to resign.”

Otherwise, he said, he would announce his plan of action. His speech was short because it was not his speech, he said. That, he added, he would give when the dais was set at D-Chowk as agreed upon with Interior Minister Rehman Malik during their meeting in Lahore.

“I will give my address when I am facing the parliament,” he said.

For the rest of his short speech, he insisted that all government officials like the prime minister and the president had become former. “Yeh sab ex ho gaye,” he pronounced.

His ultimatum did not end there.

Dr Qadri then told his excited audience that within five minutes of his departure, they should remove containers and move to the D-Chowk.

He then stepped aside as his young followers went to work.

A large number of them easily removed two containers that blocked the avenue in front of Saudi-Pak Tower even though Dr Qadri had announced that they had brought a crane to do this job.

They didn’t take long to move the containers the local administration had set up to block the path to the D-Chowk.

The protectors of the government and its buildings gave way — under the instructions of Mr Malik. He appeared on the scene after four to say it didn’t take him long to decide that the crowds would not be stopped.

The crowds moved ahead along with their paraphernalia of mattresses, blankets and bags.

This move ahead continued the next morning as well.

This was no ‘long march’ in the face of hostile conditions or angry and charging policemen. Instead, it was a casual walk forward against a scenic background provided by the Margalla Hills.

There was one incident of firing and violence when, according to Dr Qadri, the security personnel tried to kidnap him, but the police claim that they went to rescue him because they thought some suspicious-looking men were trying to kidnap him.

But for the rest of the day, the only hardship was lack of sleep — for the crowds and for the policemen.

The police withdrew closer to Constitution Avenue and made space for the TMQ chief and the people.

The 11 O’clock speech started at 2 in the afternoon. But to the surprise of many, his speech said nothing.

He neither repeated his main demand of dissolution of the Election Commission nor did he focus on election reforms.

He went back and forth and then round and round.

Alhough he praised the armed forces, he didn’t reiterate his earlier call for their direct role in formation of a caretaker set-up.

Instead, he held forth about corrupt politicians for their lack of performance in parliament and their unrelenting greed.

He also touched upon the lack of electricity, gas, as well as the absence of jobs, housing and food.

“What kind of government. What kind of law. What kind of democracy. You say you we are democratic. This parliament is no more a democratic parliament,” he declared.

There were no new ultimatums or deadlines or plan of action.

The only real excitement was caused by the Supreme Court when it announced its verdict in the RPP case.

The crowds were charged so much by the Supreme Court order that they began to whisper among themselves that their leader had caused a miracle.

Dr Qadri too fell for it – for he wrapped up his speech abruptly by saying that halfway through his speech, half his work had been done.

The rest could wait till the next day.

As does the nation – wait for the next scene to be unveiled on Wednesday.

The ever-changing demands of Dr Qadri:

* In his speech, on Dec 23 in Lahore, Dr Qadri called for setting up an independent interim government to hold fair and transparent elections within 90 days or more to ensure an honest, sincere and trustworthy leadership.

* He also asked the government to include the judiciary, military and all other stakeholders in the process of constituting an honest, interim set-up.

* During the speech, he repeatedly said elections could be deferred, for the sake of necessary electoral reforms.

* On Dec 26, while talking to Dawn in Lahore, the TMQ chief reiterated that the military, judiciary and other stakeholders should be included in talks for the caretaker set-up.

* He said that duration of his proposed rally in Islamabad would be decided by participants.

* In his speech on Jan 1 in Karachi, Dr Qadri only vaguely talked about election reforms. He, however, made it clear that he was not in favour of elections being postponed or derailment of democracy.

* He also avoided naming the army and the judiciary when he said that a caretaker government should be considered suitable by all stakeholders, including those whose primary responsibility was to defend sovereignty of the country.

* On Jan 11 at a press conference in Lahore, he had declared that he would not return from Islamabad unless the government accepted his demands.

* A day later on Jan 12, Dr Qadri sought the dissolution of the Election Commission of Pakistan, saying “its five members, including the chief election commissioner, will not hold transparent general elections in accordance with the Constitution and the Representation of People Act, 1976”.

He said the general elections must be held in line with Articles 62, 63 and 218 of the Constitution and Sections 77 to 82 of the Representation of People’s Act, 1976.

* Before leaving for Islamabad on Jan 13, Dr Qadri gave his march a new name -- `Democratic march for change’.