Tahirul Qadri and the Islamabad Long March Declaration

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Since the return of the Tehreek-ul-Minhaj-ul-Quran (TMQ) chief, TahhirulQadri to Pakistan, strange things have happened in unexpected ways.

Qadri has sworn by all that is sacred that he will set in motion the wheels of irreversible change that will crush the old, corrupt and decrepit order and replace it with the rule of the righteous.  He cannot be faulted for ranting and raving against corruption in high places but his critics say that there are skeletons in his cupboard as well, referring , in particular, to a scandal in 1990 when he claimed that he had narrowly survived an assassination attempt.  A one-man commission of the Lahore High Court did not find any corroborative evidence which generated an impression that this incident had been stage-managed by Qadri himself.  Qadri, however, never expected justice from the commission and boycotted the proceedings.  Its findings are equally suspect because the judiciary of those times was far from independent.

In his address to a huge rally at Lahore on December 23 he pledged that he would descend on Islamabad with four million of his supporters on January 14 if the government did not carry out the sweeping electoral reforms in 18 days (January 10).

Though the actual number of people that Qadri was able to muster for the long march was only a fraction of what he had said it would be, its impact proved to be consequential.  On arriving at Islamabad at 2am on January 15, he declared with a flourish that the march had ended, the revolution had begun and the corrupt government would crumble within days.

On Tuesday afternoon, Qadri was already two hours into his speech when the Supreme Court ordered the arrest of Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf and fifteen other officials on the rental power plant case.  Qadri asserted that the Prime Minister and his government had lost all moral authority to remain in office.  He abruptly adjourned the rally to the next day and said that he would spell out and explain his “charter of demands” which would pull the country out of the quicksand into which it was rapidly sinking.

On Wednesday, in the course of a lengthy speech, he declared that his objective was to instill awareness among the multitudes of their constitutional rights.  A peaceful revolution, unparalleled in human history, had been launched.  It was founded on three basic demands, the fourth being a mechanism to achieve these objectives.

The first, and most important, was that reforms must precede elections or else the same corrupt breed of politicians would win seats in parliament.  This did not require an amendment to the constitution.  All that was needed was the faithful implementation of Articles 62, 63 & 218 (3) of the basic law, sections 77 to 82 of the Representation of the Peoples’ Act 1976, and the Supreme Court judgement of June 8, 2012.

The TMQ chief cannot be faulted for insisting that the coming elections must not yield the same poisonous harvest of corrupt parliamentarians.  In his address, he implied that all laws are rooted in the rights of men but existed in vain, as Macaulay believed, for those who did not have the courage to stand up for them.

The second element in Qadri’s charter of demands was the dissolution of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).  Four of its five members were nominees of the provincial governments and were therefore unlikely to be impartial.  The only exception was the Chief Election Commissioner, who was a man of unimpeachable probity, but was not empowered to reverse majority decisions of the ECP no matter how unjust these may be.  Qadri, who claims to be a constitutional expert, was surely aware that a restructuring of the ECP required an amendment of the constitution.

The third demand was the formation of a caretaker setup through consensus among the stakeholders rather than through the restrictive mechanism involving only the parliamentary leader of the opposition and the prime minister.  Though the existing procedure is in accord with the Constitution, it does not preclude taking other relevant parties on board.

The fourth and last plank on which Qadri had formulated his agenda for change was a mechanism for the implementation of his first three demands.  The distillate was the preclearance of election candidates as per the stipulations of the Constitution and the relevant laws.  This was achievable within thirty days, and the rationale, as he explained, was “we don’t want law breakers to become law makers.”

He gave the government till Wednesday night to accept these demands.  The next day the political firmament was overcast with dreadful foreboding.  In the pouring rain he told tens of thousands of his supporters, who, for four consecutive days and nights had braved near freezing temperatures with astoundingly dignified stoicism, that President Zardari had a mere ninety minutes to authorize negotiations.  If this timeline was not met, there would be consequences.

A 10 member composite delegation consisting of coalition partners was cobbled together by the government.  Five hours of intensive negotiations yielded the Islamabad Long March  Declaration which conceded Qadri’s four-point charter of Demands.  The notable features are: 1) the National Assembly will be dissolved “at any time before March 16, 2013” to enable elections within 90 days; 2) the caretaker prime minister will be appointed through “complete consensus”  between “the treasury benches” and Qadri’s Pakistan AwamiTehreek; and 3) the difficulties arising over the composition of the ECP will be sorted out through discussions among legal experts.

Thus the TMQ chief’s objectives have been achieved and the democratic process has not been derailed.  He has emerged as a kingmaker, as the caretaker prime minister, despite the stipulations of the 20th Amendment, cannot be appointed without his approval.  Qadri lavished praise on the composite delegation, yet barely a few hours earlier he had described most of them as the scum of the earth.