Dr Tahirul Qadri undoubtedly moved me on December 23, especially with the sea of green and white flags and the passionate resonance of the national anthem. We may be far from where we want to be, or should be, as a nation, but the passion and dream lives on in so many of us. Dr Qadri’s message touched a chord and the instinct was to join up in his caravan for change. After all, this was what had attracted me to the PTI until the “electables” invasion, traditional manoeuvring and takeover. Imran’s commitment to change was not the issue, but the means – of the same “electables” somehow becoming harbingers of this change – did somehow undermine the belief, notwithstanding the passion of the youth!
So when Dr Qadri in his convincing manner offered yet another path to truly change the democratic political equation in Pakistan, it was difficult not to join in. But something held me back, and I can now identify three different levels of reasoning that made me decide to stay away. The first level was related to the assumptions underlying the march, regardless of the numbers! The idea of having a “people’s assembly” which would make decisions for the nation without itself having been selected by the people smacked of an arrogance that was discomfiting! After all, how could this “people’s assembly” represent the whole gamut of the Pakistani nation without having actually been given this mandate? Similarly, respected scholar though he is, Dr Qadri also has not been given a mandate to head such an assembly and make decisions on behalf of the people of Pakistan!
At a second and perhaps most crucial level, I feel that, given the chaos and violence Pakistan is already experiencing, the means of bringing change matter. There is absolutely no doubt that the demands for electoral reforms through proper enforcement of the constitution are the need of the hour for Pakistan to rid itself of the corrupt politicians’ coterie ruling us. But the questions that came to mind are: One, why not use the Supreme Court and challenges through the ECP to ensure enforcement of constitutional provisions with regard to electoral candidates? Here Imran Khan’s example stands out in connection with bogus voters’ lists, as well as his pending appeals against pre-poll rigging.
There is a system that works, if used properly. This usage also allows for strengthening of institutions like the judiciary and the ECP – thereby fortifying the roots of democracy. I feel Imran’s use of petitions to fight electoral corruption not only shows faith in the judiciary, thereby fortifying the institution, but has also borne positive results in the battle for electoral reform – although the war has yet to be won.
Two, how can one man and his followers decide who is clean or pious? At the end of the day, if we believe in democracy then we must fight the battle against corruption and lawbreakers at the ballot box. Yes, rigging is a plague, as are the traditional political norms, especially in the rural areas; but if enough voices stand up against these evils, I believe things will change. We have never given the democratic system, flawed as it may be, a chance to take root. Too many dictatorial interventions in the name of “reform” have already cost this country a smooth evolutionary developmental process. In fact, this is a major reason why the corrupt, inept traditional “electables” succeed time after time in elections – because they are allowed to embrace political martyrdom instead of being exposed for the criminals that they are.
Distasteful as it may be, we have to allow the system to continue and hope people will choose new faces, who will in turn bring reform to the electoral system through parliamentary legislation. We need a system of proportional representation; of unhinging the roots of support for corruption in politics such the misnomer “development funds,” and so on. But these changes need to come through letting the electoral system continue, which may make the task more daunting but it is the only legitimate way. Too many non-democratic interventions have already destroyed the fabric of this nation.
Three, I feel very strongly about the whole issue of dual nationality and had written a letter to the CJ on the issue also. No matter how committed to Pakistan, dual nationality implies dual loyalties, especially in the case of the US naturalisation oath. If one wants to lead a political movement in Pakistan then commitment to this cause requires a renunciation of the foreign nationality. Not everyone agrees on this, but it is a conviction with me.
At a third level, my misgivings are based on what I tend to call “connecting the dots.” The timing of Dr Qadri’s return; information flowing out from British sources that the UK High Commissioner to Pakistan visited Dr Qadri in Canada two or three times about six months ago; the growing belligerency of drones and Indian troops along the LoC, alongside an unprecedented increase in terrorism, especially in Quetta; the sheer money and organisational structure that suddenly became overt – just too many coincidences in terms of timeline. Some said the “establishment” was behind Dr Qadri, but I am not convinced on that count! However, external powers I suspect have a role, although I have no proof – simply an educated assessment of what is happening within Pakistan and in our region.
We know the US seeks a favourable dispensation in Islamabad up to 2014 so that its withdrawal from Afghanistan can be smooth and the post-withdrawal scenario to its liking. A long-term friendly caretaker setup would suit them more than an elected government, especially since they are not sure what will happen in the next elections when there is no NRO and no “guarantors”! We also know how the UK played a lead role in the whole NRO game, so the same linkage can be taken as a given again. Banking on someone they recognise as a “liberal religious leader,” who has even sought to justify drones before December 23, they feel will allow them to bring the Pakistani nation on board. These are dangerous and false assumptions but it will not be the first time such miscalculations have been made.
Too many questions to set the mind at ease over the agenda of Dr Qadri – a man to be respected for his scholarship. But if he is really concerned about the people of Pakistan then a march that would win support from all over the country would be a peace march to Quetta. Now, that would be a march I would join without hesitation. Till then elections and legal challenges to enforce constitutional provisions are the route to achieve change. The means do matter.