ISLAMABAD: If Thursday was tense and even nail biting, Friday in Islamabad was cool and refreshing and for me as a Pakistani it was satisfying too. One may ridicule and or mimic him but Qadri carried the day.
He did not bring about a revolution, he did not bring about the fall of the government, and he did not even get a firm date for elections. Those were neither possible nor expected. However, at the end of four days and nights of an unprecedented sit in, the government agreed to talk and to negotiate. Why? Because Qadri had stirred the passions and the conscience of a nation that had given up all hope and had lost confidence, if there was any left, in the system. He successfully rekindled their aspirations and their confidence both in them and in their country. That, to my mind, is what Pakistan has gained from the Qadri inspired long march. He succeeded in giving vent to the sentiments of many millions while the mainstream players preferred silence and the status quo, Imran Khan included. And here, the “street smart” president once again outsmarted the other galaxy of stalwarts who had gathered elsewhere only a day earlier.
To his detractors, Qadri would appear to have given in and betrayed his followers. But to an average Pakistani he would appear as a new and refreshing voice of moderation and change, of clean politics, of peaceful democratic dissent. Nobody wanted violence. Nobody wanted blood to be spilt on Islamabad’s Jinnah Avenue. No one wanted the brave women and their children to die of the biting cold and chilling winds that were sweeping the vast avenue. And nobody wanted the Constitution to be violated. And Qadri knew it too. It was patience and prudence that won. But that patience and prudence was propelled by the patience and resolve of the thousands of men, women and children who braved all odds and discomforts and indeed the harsh weather.
What did Allama achieve? In concrete terms, a 30-day period to scrutinise the eligibility of the candidates for elections in light of Article 62 and 63 of the Constitution, up from the normal two to three days that the ECP took previously and which enabled fake degree holders, tax evaders and even convicts to get to the Parliament and the provincial legislatures. In Pakistani democracy this is an important first step towards political cleansing. Allama also extracted an assurance for implementation of the June 8, 2012 verdict of the Supreme Court seeking strict implementation of the code of conduct for the elections.
The more significant concession that Qadri extracted and which has not received the attention it deserved is the government’s willingness to dissolve the assemblies a few days ahead of their term, in particular, the National Assembly. That would give 90 days instead of 60 days constitutional cover to the caretaker administration to facilitate the 30-day scrutiny of nomination papers and also, to a limited extent, do a little cleansing of the governance system. This, to my mind, is a major concession that he has extracted even if it coincidentally suits the ruling coalition. And hence he shows readiness to accept the dissolution few days ahead of March 16. It gives them more space to reorganise and regroup and benefit politically from the bitter economic decisions that the caretaker administration will, no doubt, have to take to provide much-needed oxygen to an economy that is now almost on a ventilator.
Equally important is the government’s categorical assurance to Allama to enable him to finalise two names for the caretaker prime minister in complete consensus with the PPP and its allies which will then be forwarded to the leader of the opposition for his consent as required by the constitution.
Appointment of a caretaker prime minister through ‘mukmuka’ which Qadri had declared as unacceptable has thus also been done away with. One is not aware of how this will rest with the PML-N but the fact is that Allama has achieved not just media glare and national recognition but has, within weeks, created a visible and potent niche for himself in Pakistani politics. And this obviously costs many others, both old and new political aspirants. And lest one should believe the maverick’s departure from the Constitution Avenue is the end of his story, let me advise him or her a little caution. He is not about to go away. He is here to stay for some time to the distaste of many. And I say this despite my strong reservations about some of the thoughts he pronounces.
(The writer is a former Federal Secretary)