LAHORE: Dr Tahirul Qadri’s huge public meeting last Sunday in Lahore, the cradle of political careers, is like a fresh draught of air in political arena muddied by misrule and corruption. It also signifies new political trends in the stagnant and hackneyed political culture.
Qadri’s show of people’s power bears some semblances with Imran Khan as a comeback kid. Both have had a second rising. Imran Khan’s first wave of popularity trumpeting ‘goodbye West’ noose-dived when he had to go back to the West to find a (mis)match, which caused his large fair sex appeal to dissipate.
Dr Tahirul Qadri first rose in 1980s as a religious scholar and orator. With a doctorate degree tucked under his arm and having taught at the Punjab University briefly, Dr Qadri made pulpit his forte. For the religiously inclined Muslims, Dr Qadri appealed as a middle-of-the-road Muslim scholar against the backdrop of hardliner clerics educated and trained in seminaries. By comparison Dr Qadri was far more enlightened Islamic scholar than his counterparts in the religion-dominated politics of Pakistan.
Deeply revered as a modern-day interpreter of Islam, he was hired for sermons at a mosque built and owned by Mian Mohammad Sharif. Situated opposite to Sharifs’ bungalows in Model Town’s H-block, the mosque was thronged by people to listen to Maulana Tahirul Qadri on various issues of the Muslim society and Islam. He carried an aura of a modernist Muslim unlike his peers especially Dr Israr Ahmed, the theologian. The Sharifs deeply adored and respected Allama Tahirul Qadri.
It is said that former hockey hero and a Muslim Leaguer, Akhtar Rasool, piggybacked him for Haj because of Maulana’s backache problem. However, during Gen Ziaul Haq’s era when Nawaz Sharif was ushered in as chief minister of Punjab, the latter allocated a huge piece of land at a throwaway price and donations for building Minhajul Quran headquarters in Lahore. Soon after, Dr Tahirul Qadri said goodbye to the Ittefaq Mosque, as family was known till then before the seven-member family had the division of assets.
It is alleged that the Sharifs wanted to exploit his appeal to the religious voter for their politics as the reason for his separation but Allama Tahirul Qadri, as he was known then, had his political ambitions, too. As he had benefited greatly from the patronage by the Sharif family, Qadri became controversial and lost much of his public appeal. But despite that, Allama Qadri tested the political waters in 1989 when he launched his political party, Pakistan Awami Tehrik (PAT).
Announcing his party at a local five-star hotel which this scribe had attended, Dr Qadri couldn’t plead his political credentials and gave no roadmap. He was asked if he had fought and won any election as a candidate for national, provincial or local election, he was obviously blank as he had had no experience in the rickety and tumultuous political arena. His political party couldn’t have more than “tonga riders” as it is known in the political jargon. After making some ripples in the All Parties Conferences (APCs) orchestrated by late veteran leader Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan, Qadri went into political wilderness.
Dr Qadri became active again when General Pervez Musharraf usurped power in 1998. Like Imran Khan, he also initially supported Musharraf, for being anti-Nawaz Sharif. But he was too careful to jump into his bandwagon. In the political vacuum of 2002’s general elections he won a seat as an MNA with Musharraf’s backing. But Dr Qadri dreamt of being inducted as prime minister.
According to his close associates who were in contact with the scribe, he was offered the slot of a federal minister for religious affairs but the self-styled scholar rejected the offer. He was not ready to accept any office less than that of the premiership. Realising that it wasn’t his ‘cuppa tea’, he resigned as MNA.
During that period Dr Tahirul Qadri not only widened his international image, lecturing and writing books on Islam and social themes, he also prepared a crop of students who studied at his Minhajul Quran University. His international stature was enhanced when he strongly identified himself with the West in condemning self-destructive path of militancy and extremism. Indeed, he wielded authority on Islamic jurisprudence and Islam’s place as the world’s second biggest and thriving religion in a broader spectrum than nation states.
He was paid accolades worldwide for being a true religious leader who professed peace and love against hardliners like Imam Khomeini and Egypt’s Islamic Brotherhood leaders. As a matter of fact, Tahirul Qadri is more respected by Muslims living in Western countries and even moderates of the Middle East as he raised his stature much above Shia and Sunni sectarian divide.
It is with such credentials that Dr Allama Tahirul Qadri has staged a comeback in Pakistan, thinking that it is the right moment and perhaps the ripe moment. Imran Khan had already set the precedent as a revivalist comeback candidate to launch the third force in the wake of people’s frustration from the main political parties. But as Imran Khan is found inching away from his original plans of socio-economic change, inducting politically viable and electable candidates and losing some of the diehard original party office bearers due to tectonic shifts, the situation has remained vacant for alternate/third force leadership in the foreseeable future.
But the problem in political arena in Pakistan is that there are too many candidates to lead the religious right whereas the liberal wicket, traditionally held by the PPP, remains empty if it is presumed that the party is left out of steam due to its own suicidal track record of corruption and mismanagement.
Interestingly, it is not only MQM or other smaller parties that supported Qadri’s Jalsa-e-Aam. The PPP clandestinely facilitated Dr Qadri in many ways for being an anti-Nawaz force in the making. The rank and file of the PPP had the orders to provide Dr Qadri full support. On the other hand, the PML-N just hoped that Dr Qadri’s balloon will soon be punctured by an aggressive media as he might be taken to task for lacking coherence, political structure and organisation prerequisite for win in a tables-turning general election.
Despite that, Dr Qadri’s speech and ideas are music to many ears but his modus operandi to reach the higher echelons of power seems a bit convoluted. If he believes that the Constitution as it stands today is not being fully implemented in letter and spirit and there has to be a caretaker setup comprising all stakeholders, how Dr Qadri will get the coveted slot as their leader? A caretaker set-up, if at all brought in by holding the Constitution in abeyance, will be a rule of the technocrats, including mostly economists and experts in various fields of education, health, energy, sciences, defense and law so that they are able to rise above all political expediencies and don’t let anyone pull strings and seek concessions as political creatures, elected and unelected, often do. Only by the rule of the technocrats, as Dr Qadri compared the state of affairs to present Italian government, or a prior Bangladesh model, the slogan of “save Pakistan first” can be realised.
But where does Dr Qadri stand in such a scenario? The mustering of his pressure can indeed lead many to think of it more convincingly against raising another democratic skeleton but for him to come to power will still be a far cry. Even if the Constitution is grossly amended for a new mode to go to electorate by introducing direct election of the president or a system of proportional representation, Dr Qadri will have to contest election to come to power. There won’t be any shortcut.
His appeal to woo Taliban is also not going to be well reciprocated as the agenda of the diehard extremists to weak Pakistan and usurp power is entirely in contrast with Dr Qadri’s. Neither has he the omnipotent appeal like that of Iranian revolution nor political structure like that of Turkish Justice and Development Party which elected Recep Tayyip Erdogan to power or Islamic Brotherhood of Egypt which provided pedestal for Mohamed Morsi to be elected as Egypt’s President.
Pakistan may be ripe for a pro-Islamic party to capture power but Dr Allama Tahir ul Qadri will have to go miles and miles to make his dream come true.