Minhaj-ul-Quran International (MQI) chief Tahirul Qadri, who led tens of thousands of people into the federal capital, demanded dissolution of all assemblies before 11am on Tuesday (today) or else the people will take their own decisions on Tuesday.
“The long march has ended. Now, it’s the beginning of revolution,” Dr Qadri told his supporters at Jinnah Avenue in Islamabad late Monday. “I give you until 11am to dissolve all assemblies, including the National Assembly and provincial assemblies,” he said.
Hitting out at the critics who disputed Dr Qadri’s claim of leading a “million-man march”, the MQI chief said, “I invite all political leaders, including Asif Ali Zardari, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf and Asfandyar Wali to see with their eyes this surging sea of people.”
Dr Qadri sought an oath from his supporters that they would stay put till the success of the revolution. MQI activists, including men, women and even children, promised that they would not move from outside the Parliament House.
Accusing Interior Minister Rehman Malik of backing out on his promise, Dr Qadri convinced his supporters to move the stage to D-Chowk outside the Parliament House.
How it all began
A historic freezing Monday night saw a scholar, accused of trying to sow political chaos ahead of elections, enter in the capital territory, with tens of thousands behind him in a long march — a demonstration that reeked of revolution.
Thousands of fluttering green and white national flags blanked the Jinnah Avenue. The long marchers’ leader, Dr Tahirul Qadri, in a twitter statement and later while talking to the media, asserted, “The time for negotiations is over”. He then pledged that he and his followers will continue the sit-in till the incumbent government leaves.
“People themselves will devise their decision, announce it before Parliament and then get it implemented,” said Dr Qadri. He declared that Islamabad will inevitably turn into a “Pakistani Tahrir Square”.
Meanwhile, thousands of protesters poured into Islamabad late Monday night demanding sweeping reforms from the government.
In overwhelming anticipation, several men, women and children received Dr Qadri and his “million-man march” at Jinnah Avenue.
The crowd at the long march destination swelled over at least two kilometres when the rally coming from Lahore, after travelling for over 36 hours, joined them.
Travelling from as far as Multan and Jhang districts in southern Punjab and Mirpurkhas district in Sindh, the charged-up participants waited for Dr Qadri’s speech for hours in Islamabad’s merciless winter.
Once there, they were anxious to know the “future plan of action”. They said they were determined to hold a sit-in for as long as their leader wills.
Most of the participants said they were fully aware of Dr Qadri’s demands and they believed that the demands were not only implementable, but to bring about “real change”, they were “inevitable”.
“We will not leave this place until this corrupt system and its produced government goes. We are done with poverty, injustice and corruption in this country,” said Zohra Bibi, a resident of G-7, Islamabad and the mother of toddler Fatima. She said her whole family was out at Jinnah Avenue to support Dr Qadri in his demands for “change of system”.
“I am here for change,” said nine-year-old Minahil from Islamabad’s Margalla Town.
A record number of women for any rally in Islamabad, coming from the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad and their adjoining areas, participated in the long march. They were joined by an even bigger number of women who accompanied Dr Qadri from Lahore in the long march. Men, women and children were seen piled onto rooftops of buses, flashing victory signs in a five-kilometre convoy of vehicles.
Anthems blasted out of loudspeakers as protesters danced to drumbeats and residents showered the passing convoy with rose petals.
So thick was the entourage at one point in time that when Dr Qadri’s vehicle crossed Faizabad Bridge in Islamabad, the march’s last vehicle could not be visible. It took 350 busses, trucks, cars and motorcycles about an hour to cross the bridge. “They are over 200,000 in number,” said a supporter of Dr Qadri.
Local observers, however, put the number at over 50,000.
Coupled with the determination to stay for an indefinite period of time, majority of participants brought with them warm clothes, blankets, stocks of dry fruit and sleeping bags. Volunteers provided tea and food to the people.
A bullet-proof rostrum was set up for Qadri surrounded by dozens of volunteers who guarded the venue entrances. The city administration deployed contingents of riot police around the venue of the sit-in. People were allowed to enter after a thorough identity check and proper frisking.
Hundreds of policemen in riot gear and equipped with tear gas shells were deployed between Constitution Avenue and the venue over the stretch of almost four kilometres. The red zone, host to all government buildings and the diplomatic enclave, was completely sealed with cargo containers.
(WITH ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM AGENCIES)
Published in The Express Tribune, January 15th, 2013.