This article has been published in the Sunday edition (DNA) of Pakistan Today, dated 29th June 2014
(For online version: http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2014/06/28/comment/qadri-saga-who-won/ )
(For published version: Page 8 at http://issuu.com/abidoon/docs/dna_issue_30.compressed?e=3820687/8427707 )
Qadri Saga: Who Won?
More than meets the eye
By: Omer Zaheer Meer
The author is a leading economist, a qualified chartered accountant and anti-money laundering expert with international exposure who is helping reshape businesses at Millennium Law Company. He can be reached on Twitter and www.myMFB.com @OmerZaheerMeer or firstname.lastname@example.org
Pakistan is often said to be the most ‘happening’ country on the planet. The last couple of weeks have been remarkable even by Pakistan’s standards. There was a daring attack exploiting security failures at the Karachi Airport followed-up by valiant sacrifices to eliminate the attackers leading to a much awaited operation in North Waziristan, which seemed ill-planned for tackling the fall-out particularly the IDP’s. As if that was not enough, there was a brutal police assault on civilians at Minhaj-Ul-Quran headquarters in Lahore followed by Dr Tahir-Ul-Qadri’s return to Pakistan. The focus of this article is on the behind-the-scene story of the Minhaj assault and who gained the most from the fall-out.
Having announced the operation in North Waziristan a day after American Congress tied Pakistan’s aid to the same, the incumbent government was sitting pretty politically. The country was at war after-all and public sentiment was high following the Karachi airport assault. No political party could afford to agitate anymore and with Ramzan looming ahead it seemed at least a couple of months of total political stability were at hand. The impact of this “maneuver” was clear. PML-N government was able to satisfy both the army and America by supporting the North-Waziristan operation, while at the same time realizing that being bogged down there would mean the army would be less able to intervene. Similarly, public sentiment ensured that all parties had to rally behind the national armed forces that were in a war now. To agitate now or question would be perceived as an anti-state act.
Having announced the operation in North Waziristan a day after American Congress tied Pakistan’s aid to the same, the incumbent government was sitting pretty politically. The country was at war after-all and public sentiment was high following the Karachi airport assault.
The people’s opposition leader Imran Khan had to call off the 22nd June public gathering, while the lone ranger Shiekh Rasheed cancelled his train march. The pressure on Qadri to postpone his “revolution movement” and impending return on 22nd June was getting tougher by the day. PPP was already seen to be following the alleged agreement of taking full turns with PML-N in the name of saving the system. It seemed the incumbent government did not have a single serious political worry in the world and could concentrate fully on its business.
But it was not to be. PM Nawaz Sharif went on a short foreign tour. Meanwhile an operation, which with the benefit of hindsight can be termed as not only ill-planned and ill-timed but simply madness, was ordered to “remove illegal barricades outside Minhaj-Ul-Quran’s headquarter and Qadri’s residence”. The timing to remove the barricades, which had been there for five years per some accounts, raised questions. But what stunned the nation was the ferociousness of the assault, which ended up taking 11 lives to date with around a hundred injured. The now infamous icon “Gullu car smasher Butt” was also a by-product of the same operation.
CM Punjab, Shabaz Sharif, whose media team has crafted an image of a successful, hands-on and in-control chief minister, immediately announced about his ignorance of the operation. He went to the extent to claim that despite his orders twice, the police did not disengage. The question on everyone’s mind was and still is that how can such an operation be executed in Lahore and that too in the CM’s neighbourhood without his knowledge?
Not many people know that Shahbaz Sharif is not the person he used to be. Serious illnesses and a heart condition means he has to rely on a trusted troika comprising his son Hamza Shahbaz, Rana SanaUllah and Dr Tauqeer Shah (his ex-PS) to run Punjab. While it seems far-fetched that the police would dare to disobey his clear orders to disengage, it is possible that the orders may not have been communicated timely.
Not many people know that Shahbaz Sharif is not the person he used to be. Serious illnesses and a heart condition means he has to rely on a trusted troika comprising his son Hamza Shahbaz, Rana SanaUllah and Dr Tauqeer Shah (his ex-PS) to run Punjab.
The popular theory doing rounds is that Sharif was totally aware and in command of the whole operation undertaken to teach Qadri a “lesson” to avert his return to Pakistan. Moreover, it is believed that the “sacrifice” of Rana SanaUllah and Dr Tauqeer is a temporary measure to cool public sentiment while taking the heat off the CM. The basis of this is the same image created by CM’s PR team which has benefitted him and PML-N a lot over the years. The image effectively communicates that not a leaf can move without his knowledge and consent in Punjab, that he is always in control and that he’s there 24/7.
There is an alternate but lesser known version. As per this version the troika or at least two of them planned and authorised the operation at Minhaj to scare off Qadri and his supporters. The CM was not totally aware of the exact plan as it was masked as a “routine” operation against “encroachments”. The plan was for a quick assault to thrash and did not expect the kind of resistance experienced. The media factor was also discounted.
This alternate version is based on the fact that ever since his heart-treatments Mr. Shahbaz Sharif has relegated most of his duties to his trusted troika. Also he’s no more the 24/7 and always in control CM he used to be. Mr. SanaUllah and Mr. Tauqeer had before too strived for his pleasure and brownie points by taking initiatives on their own due to the trust earned over the years. This is also supported by the confidential reports that during the meeting of the PM with CM and IG Punjab the latter presented evidence including call logs implicating Dr. Tauqeer while Rana SanaUllah has been the public face of the operation.
What exactly happened that fateful day may never be known. But whatever the exact truth, two things are pretty clear. The first is that the PML-N government once against shot itself in the foot and undid the perfect maneuver of its leader PM Mian Nawaz Sharif. The second is that the army seemed to be the one who gained the most out of this as not only is the political government is on the defensive now but the public and media attention was taken off the unfortunate misery borne by hundreds of thousands of IDP’s who migrated from North Waziristan.
As the FIA directed to investigate money-laundering allegations against Qadri, the drop-scene of his much-hyped arrival makes it clear that he is on the losing side too, apparently having served his purpose for now. The important question to ponder for all is whether there could be more to this incident than meets the eye, perhaps pointing in the direction of the ongoing civil-military power tussle?