Qadri might have been taking directions from a force trying to derail democracy but his GPS went astray as soon as he landed in Pakistan. The publicity-hungry preacher was occupying the high moral ground after activists from his party were killed by the police in Lahore but he squandered this unlikely bit of goodwill by staging the hijacking show for no good reason.
He was miffed that the government didn’t allow him to land in Islamabad and then take a car ride to Lahore. Instead he was sent straight to Lahore and refused to disembark because he wanted to go back to Islamabad and have his precious motorway journey.
Qadri’s entitlement didn’t end there. He only got off the plane after convincing the governor of Punjab to pick him up from the airport and drive him around the city. This is like Che Guevara and Castro suspending their plans to overthrow Batista until he gave them a tour of Havana. And yet the man believes himself a revolutionary – using the word dozens of times in a speech to his supporters. What kind of revolution he wants to bring is unknown since he ends up supporting whatever the establishment wants.
At a time when the country is being whipped into frenzy over war in the tribal areas, Qadri is the biggest supporter around of Zarb-e-Azb and wants to hold a weekly prayer for our soldiers. His commitment to democracy in the abstract but distaste for every government we elect reflects the capricious impatience of the military and bureaucratic class. Let’s be honest here: Qadri doesn’t want a revolution; he just wants a return to the days when power wasn’t wielded by those who earned votes at the ballot box.
The Qadri agenda is perfect for those who profess themselves politicians but can only gain power when they have powerful uniformed patrons. The PML-Qs of the country only came into being because Musharraf needed to disguise his dictatorship in the garb of democracy.
Less clear is the involvement of the PTI, which had an opportunity to be a genuinely democratic grassroots party. Were Imran Khan endowed with patience, he would realise that railing against rigging in a landslide election and siding with a slick opportunist from Canada are not the way to take power. He needed only to wait for the PML-N government to falter and he would be next in line.
And the PML-N government has faltered and will continue to falter. Nawaz Sharif’s response to Tahirul Qadri shows just how insecure and incompetent his government is. Instead of depriving Qadri of the media oxygen that sustains him, the government contrived to turn him and his party into defiant heroes.
Everyone criticised how the PPP handled Qadri’s antics last year, only convincing him to leave his air-conditioned by promising to consult him on major decisions. That now looks like a masterstroke. Stroking Qadri’s ego to the point where he finally goes back home is preferable to draping him in the mantle of a martyr.
Nawaz is feeling the heat. Every popular elected civilian leader has to go through periods when their mettle is tested. Right now he is being blamed for everything by those who think they should be ruling the country. From keeping Musharraf in the country and ensuring he answers for his crimes against the constitution to refusing to get behind a permanent Geo ban, Nawaz has upset the true rulers. Qadri is their punishment for these crimes.
The only thing we have to be grateful for is how six years of democracy has eroded their power to such an extent that coups and co-opted politicians have been replaced by a Canadian cleric. Qadri represents not a threat but a slight irritant.
There are many who would argue that giving even this much attention to Qadri is unwarranted at a time when the war in North Waziristan has created a humanitarian crisis we are barely equipped to deal with. It is true that Qadri himself is an irritant and a sideshow.
Qadri’s talk of revolution is a bluff, designed to scare our perpetually insecure politicians but he can lay the groundwork for others to take advantage of later. Should the PML-N allow that we will know exactly how scared it is of Qadri’s patrons.
The writer is a journalist based in Karachi. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org