The following article is published in the Sunday edition (DNA) of Pakistan Today, dated 10th August 2014
(For online version: http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2014/08/09/featured/azadi-and-inqilab-marches/ )
(For published version: Page 8 at: http://issuu.com/abidoon/docs/dna_issue_36/9?e=3820687/8887323 )
Azadi & Inqilab Marches
By: Omer Zaheer Meer
The author is a Director of the think-tank “Millat Thinkers’ Forum”. He is a leading economist, qualified accountant and anti-money laundering expert with international exposure who can be reached on Twitter and www.myMFB.com @OmerZaheerMeer or firstname.lastname@example.org
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) announced its million march towards Islamabad for 14th August calling it the “Azadi” or freedom March whereas “Shiekh-ul-Islam”, “Allama”, Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri’s Minhaj-ul-Quran (MUQ ) cum Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) is yet to announce a date for its “Inqilab” or revolution march towards federal capital. A lot has been written over the past few days about both these marches and hence I’ll focus more on the lesser explored aspects.
While PMLN ministers and supporters are arguing the marches to be unconstitutional, one wonders whether the same would apply to Mian Nawaz Sharif’s long-marches including the one in recent past against the Zardari government on the issue of restoring judiciary which returned from Gujranwala. If they were constitutional, and they were than how can these marches be termed unconstitutional just because they’re against PMLN?
Settling that question, let us examine the two marches. Mr. Qadri’s march has a precedent from the dying days of Zardari rule when hundreds if not thousands of women, children and elderly were kept waiting in dire cold while Qadri was leading from the comforts of what some termed as a “five-star” container. It ended in a non-conclusive and long-forgotten agreement with “Yazeedi” government amidst chants of “Mubarak Ho” “Mubarak Ho” meaning congratulations by “Hussaini” Qadri. Word within sensitive circles has been that a gift from Zardari government amounting to tens of millions of Rupees was awarded to Qadri for “service” of the country via Minhaj ul Quran. It is not too surprising than that during the early hours of Thursday, 7th August while blockade of Model Town was underway, the ex-Interior Minister of PPP, Mr. Abdul Rehman Malik tweeted whether this was a consented action providing face-saving to Mr. Qadri. It may not be so but history has left serious doubts about the intentions, capabilities and persistence of Tahir-ul-Qadri. Perhaps this is one of the main reasons that despite PMLN’s unprecedented blunder of the infamous model town massacre, PAT has not been able to garner the kind of support PTI would have in a similar situation.
Contrary to Dr. Qadri’s controversial image, PTI’s chairman Mr. Imran Khan enjoys a formidable reputation of being honest, upright and steadfast. Though there is a section within PTI as well as some allies including Shiekh Rashid who argue that an alliance should be forged to direct united force towards the incumbent government of PMLN for the sake of achieving political goals. This, however ignore the questionable repute of Tahir-ul-Qadri often criticized for hypocrisy in his statements on religious issues while in Pakistan and 180 degree opposite ones when in west particularly Canada, amongst other things. A lot of the educated and rational populace which forms the core support base of PTI has a very negative view of Qadri and any such alliance would definitely benefit him at the cost of PTI.
Whether PTI and PAT will overcome their differences and eventually forge a united front is something time will tell but for now PTI has played its cards quite right. It has been successful in mounting pressure on PMLN, has united party workers for a common cause, garnered public support and made its position of “stolen mandate” re 2013 elections widely accepted. The government has now approached PTI showing willingness to not only open four constituencies but reform the electoral process too should PTI call-off its “Azadi” march. All of this seems pretty impressive for a party reeling from a huge psychological setback just about a year ago. The problem, however, is that PMLN has made and not kept similar promises before. Hence not many in PTI and certainly not Imran Khan are too willing to take the bait this time.
Seeing that Khan is in no mood to budge or even listen to his old friend Chaudhary Nisar, hawks within PMLN proposed plan B. There were no offers for Tahir-ul-Qadri before either but an FIR for inciting violence and uprising against the state followed by encirclement of his house cum headquarters were a far cry from the response expected from a government still reeling from the infamous Model Town fiasco. But PMLN’s blunders continue with arrests and harassment of not only PAT workers but those from the much bigger threat of PTI.
Infact the crackdown has been harder on PTI whose workers are rounded up in huge numbers while those harassed numbers even more. As if that wasn’t sufficient, thousands of motorcycles including those belonging to ordinary citizens were locked up following an announcement by PTI that 100,000 bicycles will form the vanguard of its march. Add to that PMLN’s plan of closing down fuel supplies close to the march and you have a very scared and immature reaction at hand. As if that’s not enough Islamabad and Model Town Lahore (having both the secretariats of PTI and PAT) are besieged with containers, some of them sand filled.
What these strictures are actually doing is not only motivating the workers of PTI and PAT but also ensuring the incumbent Government is fast losing its moral authority. Arrest of workers and blockades may actually serve to fuel the fire of rebellious passions of the aggrieved masses already reeling with rising inflation and a stifling power crisis. Even if these measures results in a prevention of the marches, that may be a temporary success for the government, not only setting a dangerous precedent for its future but ensuring another future assault on its rule with more vigor and consensus among the opposition. If you remember the underlying just demand of election reforms by PTI, the PMLN’s response in allowing the situation to reach this stage exposes the bewildering state of mind of its decision makers.