Shaikhul Islam Dr Tahirul Qadri has made a comeback in Pakistani politics. And when he said he would gather a million people in Lahore for his first speech, people believed him. He has the money and he has the organisation — of the same scale that his Ahle Hadith counterpart Hafiz Saeed has.
Certain signs point to his ambition despite his assertion that he and his party will not take part in elections. And he can give up his Canadian citizenship to become the ruler of Pakistan.
He has the backing of the MQM. Since he is a Barelvi and in the crosshairs of the Taliban and al Qaeda, and since the Sunni Tehreek has gone radical and is no longer a Barelvi adjunct of the MQM, Tahirul Qadri (TQ) could be the substitute partner and a gateway to Punjab, his treasury.
On December 25, someone shot at and injured Maulana Aurangzeb Farooqui, a central leader of the Ahle Sunnat wal Jamaat, which is the banned Sipah Sahaba under a new inoffensive name taken as it were from the Barelvi nomenclature. The revenge will now likely be taken by the Taliban on the Shia community and the Barelvis.
This raises other dangerous queries.
Does TQ have Iran‘s backing, too? No one knows who the second-rung leaders in Pakistani Awami Tehreek (PAT) are, but an old ‘Iran connection’, Agha Murtaza Pooya, is a vice-chairman of PAT. Since Pakistan is killing its Shias, Iran would be beholden if Tahirul Qadri can spread some Sunni-Shia peace around. He makes moving speeches on Eid-e-Ghadir. The Ahle Sunnat Ittehad led by an aggressive Fazal Karim will not gravitate to TQ despite his wealth because of his change of heart on the blasphemy law while in the Christian West.
Imran Khan has carefully decided not to take him on but the fact is he can’t get too close because TQ is not well liked by the Taliban. Yet, TQ is more or less like Imran Khan, after staging his comeback at the Minar-e-Pakistan.
The army leadership is humbled by the killing spree of the Taliban. It must hate the killing of the Shia and might favour intimacy with Tehran in opposition to the more ‘realistic’ stance of the PPP and the PML-N who can’t afford to go against the Arab-American strategy in the region.
Tahirul Qadri has made public his dislike of the PPP and the PML-N, which is a sentiment close to what the army feels, too. Flying in the face of the Twentieth Amendment, he suggests that the caretaker government before the 2013 election be set up after ‘additional’ consultation with the Supreme Court and the army. He hints at postponing elections, too. He threatens the PPP government with a ‘Long March’ of four million (sic!) to Islamabad on January 14 if it doesn’t reform the electoral system in three weeks.
The PML-N is furious. According to one statement, which is appropriately right-wing-xenophobic, it prefers to connect TQ with world powers (alami taqatain) who “don’t want the PML-N to come to power”. TQ’s slogan ‘save the state, not politics’ has been interpreted to mean that elections must be set aside till the state is strong enough under a specially constructed caretaker government.
According to some, first the ISI fielded Imran Khan and has now brought in TQ. More alarmingly, it is fielding the Defence of Pakistan Council, too, to prevent the Pakistani change of mind about India. There are so many balls of confused strategy in the air that the wits of the ISI can be clinically challenged, that is, if it has done this.
However, it is not very fair to ask TQ to reveal his wealth and the way he has acquired it. If this is what is required, then other religious leaders whose madrassas are exempt from scrutiny will have to give accounts, too. Where does the ‘green turban’ Dawat Islami get its billions? Who is spending the big money behind the grand mobilisation of the Defence of Pakistan Council announcing jihad against India? Who was handing out cash during the last Long March of the Council to Islamabad?
President Asif Ali Zardari, ever nimble-footed when it comes to survival, has countered the ISI move by moving closer to Nawaz Sharif through the appointment of Makhdoom Ahmad Mehmood as governor of Punjab. No ‘pipliya’ will enter the Governor’s House now. The Makhdoom is out to take down the Tehreek-e-Insaf, the tormentor of both the PPP and the PML-N. He has been and continues to be a friend of the Sharifs; he is additionally a sworn ally of President Zardari.
The Makhdoom says he belongs to no party and probably will not live in the Governor’s House, and if he does, he will spend his own money there. This will facilitate better mixing with the PML-N leadership who would not like to be seen visiting the big place in public view.
It is interesting how the bipartisan system in Pakistan defends itself despite irrepressible hatred between the leaders of the two big parties. They must feel that their vote banks are being raided by the likes of Imran Khan and TQ.
Breaking the bipartisan system often doesn’t lead to good results. General (retd) Pervez Musharraf tried to do it; the army in Bangladesh tried to do it. In India, fragmentation has succeeded the bipartisan system developing between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, and it has made governance more difficult for the large ruling coalitions now routine in India.
You can’t keep big money in Canada without investing it and thus exposing it to risk. That could be a reason for TQ’s comeback. Also, after the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the West will retreat into its highly organised states to defend itself against al Qaeda ‘from the inside’. And migrant Muslims might face even tougher laws of surveillance after that.
Or, TQ might go quietly back to Canada, his home country.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 29th, 2012.