ISLAMABAD, Jan 16: Altaf Hussain may have threatened a drone attack but it was Tahirul Qadri who actually carried it out by droning on for three hours on Wednesday.
In his ramblings, Dr Tahirul Qadri unveiled four demands, though he didn’t really see the completion of the work that he said had been half done on Tuesday when the Supreme Court ordered the arrest of the prime minister.
But undeterred by the absence of similar miraculous developments, the doctor announced yet another deadline, Wednesday night, which is when he expected the government to deliver on his four demands.
His four demands which he has already mentioned at some time or the other are: pre-poll electoral reforms based on Articles 62, 63 and 218 of the Constitution; revamp of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP); impartial and apolitical selection of a caretaker government to oversee the general election; and an immediate dissolution of the national and provincial assemblies.
The reaction of Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira in a press conference later in the day made it evident that the government was blithely going to ignore this deadline, the way it had ignored Dr Qadri’s earlier deadline when he sought dissolution of the assemblies by 11am on Tuesday.
But for the rest of three very long hours, Dr Qadri held forth on ‘corrupt rulers and their collusion with each other’ and how he was going to change it all.
There were threats and ultimatums galore hurled at Interior Minister Rehman Malik and the local administration, endless talk of Tuesday’s ‘attempt’ at his (Qadri’s) life, praise for his devoted ‘children’ whose devotion he demonstrated by making the crowds sit and stand on whim, and much wagging of his finger.
Neither did he bother to provide any details on how his sweeping demands could be implemented. For instance, how the election commission can be dissolved by the government as it is protected by the Constitution.
Similarly, he didn’t go into the details of what or who would fill the executive and legislative vacuum once the “president, prime minister and federal ministers have become ex-officials”.
Perhaps he had the judiciary and the military in mind, though he didn’t name them. He gave the speech from his glass-encased box which was surrounded by workers of Tehrik-i-Minhajul Quran and black SUVs. Rows of women formed the next cordon of security, a fact the doctor confirmed in his speech.
The media was provided the front row experience, though the doctor again spent long minutes complaining about the coverage of his march and agenda in the media.
He chastised unnamed anchorpersons and media experts, who have not bought the number he provides of the people present at the sit-in.
He claimed that four million people were already there and that another million were on the way to Islamabad. “They (journalists) need to get their eyes checked because they cannot see the sea of people,” he said, alleging that talk show hosts had taken bribe to spread negative news about his ‘million march’.
Religious sloganeering and all other themes were there — by now quite familiar to those who have been hearing the doctor in person or on television.
Although he kept exhorting his followers to remain peaceful, his language was rather bloodthirsty. There were dire predictions of mayhem and deaths he and his workers were willing to suffer to carry out the revolution.
From behind his bullet-proof box, he promised that he would take the first bullet in his chest. He was brave enough to keep predicting that the government was going to fall in a day or two. While he kept saying his followers could leave, he told them categorically that if they left, they would be subjected to even worse governance in the future.
Clearly Dr Qadri is aware of his isolation because he excitedly welcomed Ahmed Raza Kasuri and others who turned up during his speech; he told them to stand in front. And perhaps it was in this mood that he said that this was the right time for Imran Khan to join him.
The revolution is here to stay
Whether or not the doctor can get rid of the government is not clear, but he and his followers are in no mood to go anywhere soon — or so they would like everyone to believe.
Tents appeared overnight on the green belts and by Wednesday afternoon women and quilts were ensconced inside.
The men too had made themselves as comfortable as could be. The lucky ones had spread their bedding on the covered corridors of the nearby buildings in which no shop or business has opened its door since Monday.
Food and food
The only business doing well in the Blue Area these days is food. Carts of street food have taken over the service lanes that are usually brimming with parked cars. From fruit and Chat to doughnuts, everything is available.
And all the nearby streets are littered with the remains of the food that has been eaten since Monday night.
The doctor’s organisation — like the proverbial camel — is also spreading itself. It has already replaced police in terms of providing ‘security’.
Young workers with batons in their hands were crawling all over the venue, frisking all those who wanted to enter the place. The entry/exit points were gender-specific and women and men were not allowed to disobey the rules.
Many workers were also covered in plastic. Apparently they feared police may use water hoses to break up the protest.
Another lot of workers manned security cordons around the groups sitting on the road and listening to the doctor’s speech. Of course they also orchestrated sloganeering and cheering once the cue was given by the orator.
The policemen deployed have retreated and were barely visible. But once outside the ‘venue’ they were everywhere — sleeping on green patches, exhaustion writ large on their faces.
The government is sitting pretty: At five o clock, Information Minister Kaira held a press conference and dismissed Dr Qadri’s demands as unconstitutional.
With confidence oozing from his words and his body language, he made it clear that this was not a government worried and besieged.
Mr Kaira told the doctor that if he was worried about the system, he should opt for the constitutional course and take part in elections.
Ripping apart Dr Qadri’s rhetoric, he said for the second time that if the doctor wanted the implementation of Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution, he should realise that electoral candidates could always be taken to court to scrutinise their characters under these articles.
He also poked fun at Dr Qadri by mimicking his oratory and anger when the latter lashed out at the government in general and Pemra for the closure of unnamed TV channels.
It is to the minister’s credit that he gave a performance entertaining enough to have overshadowed the doctor’s long speech.