Dangerous admixture of polemics and pledges
Dr Tahirul Qadari's programme to summon 'people's parliament' opposite an elected parliament of Pakistan and turn the Nation's Capital into the biggest-ever 'Al-Tahrir Square' is quite an enterprise, if not a risky adventure of portents so grim that should not be speculated. He insists that he would bring in some four million supporters, and stay on at the D-Square till a caretaker government of his choice takes over.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2013
It's certainly a tall order, particularly at this time of the year when Islamabad is forbiddingly cold and inhospitable given early rains and heavy snowfall in the surrounding hills. Having lived in Canada for many years and having watched protestors ensconced in makeshift tents, Dr Qadri's visualisation of occupying the capital city at this time of the year may be a bit out of focus.
In India and Pakistan, it is quite normal that the participants ferried in by political parties to fatten their public meetings lose patience rather quickly and often before their leader's speech is over lunge at the food tables. But by no means this is said to discourage and dishearten Qadri's spirited supporters, but even then it would be appropriate to caution the members of the 'people's parliament' to come prepared for a longer stay, because as of now we see no chance of elected parliament surrendering to the crowd pressure, or the Pakistan Army coming to the rescue of self-proclaimed revolutionaries.
The Army through a press release by ISPR has made it quite clear that it is 'not behind Dr Qadri's quest, and to derail the system at this crucial juncture is not its objective.' The ISPR chief, Major General Asim Saleem Bajwa, says the 'Army's track record during the last five years under General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani itself speaks of the institution's support for democracy.' He also underlined the recent assurance of Army Chief to the Chief Election Commissioner in holding 'fair, free and independent elections in the country'. That puts paid the calls of Dr Qadri and his allies who want the army 'not to use the occasion to impose military rule', but 'this time they (the generals) should support their movement for sake of the country, instead of obstructing its path'.
But that said, the ISPR chief also made it clear that 'it is for the federal and provincial governments to decide how to tackle the issue' of Qadri-led four-million people march onto the capital. So far neither of the two governments has sought military help; on the other hand there are commitments, albeit being quite feeble, by Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and Interior Minister Rehman Malik that Dr Qadri and everyone else would be in his right to hold rallies and address public meetings. Rehman Malik has even identified the F-9 Park as the venue where marchers can stay. Is it possible? The recent past suggests just the opposite. Recall how firmly the army high command acted to foil the lawyers' march to Islamabad while 'advising' the government to resolve the issue without any loss of time; and it was resolved.
Consider when Imran Khan's pro-Taliban caravan was about to enter the tribal area the local military commander put his foot down saying no further than this, and the PTI supporters returned without making any fuss. The constitutional position is that while the military is expected to uphold the Constitution by hermetically staying away from political activities it is also under constitutional obligation to help the government to restore law and order when asked to do so in line with the Emergency Provisions spelt out in the Constitution. But what's all the more critical is Dr Qadri and his allies' pressure to become part of the constitutional process to nominate the caretaker set-up of their choice.
How that can happen without violating the Constitution, which leaves this issue confined to four walls of the National Assembly. Can the Pakistan Army remain indifferent and not take notice of this clear violation of the Constitution - it's for Doctor Sahib to figure out. Of course, there is no quarrel whatsoever with Dr Qadri's vision of a modern Muslim state; many others too think along the same lines. But the way forward is only one and that's laid down in the Constitution of Pakistan.
This basic document has no place for a revolution he is talking about. And if - as claimed by his detractors - he is here to derail the electoral process the chance of his success is heavily outweighed by the possibility of his failure. No wonder the PML-Q's support for Qadri's game-plan hasn't lasted a day, and Dr AQ Khan has sternly asked him to stay the constitutional course. However, time is on his side; he should bide for his turn and stay on in Pakistan for another day.