A BARELVI mullah seems to have taken Pakistan by storm, threatening all political stakeholders of dire consequences if they hamper his long march on 14 January. The ostensible objective of Tahir-ul-Qadri, who has the backing of establishment forces such as the Mohajir Quami Movement (MQM) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q), is to bring safe and clean politics to Pakistan.
Given that the world today is a global village where societies get easily and quickly influenced by each other, the Anna Hazare movement is being replicated in many places with communal or right-wing forces generating their own moral logic to destabilise existing political systems and using the opportunity to launch themselves into power. Although it is not known who exactly is behind Pakistan’s version of Hazare, much work has gone into doctoring Qadri’s résumé and presenting him as a great scholar who has obtained knowledge from all over the Muslim world.
Glancing at his CV, I was reminded of how the Deep State has become a past master in doctoring résumés and personal profiles. If it can create femme fatales with fake PhDs and tout them as defence analysts, it can also make a great scholar out of a mullah from south Punjab, who was initially promoted by the Sharif family in the early 1990s.
Qadri’s religious education was from a madrassa in Jhang rather than the Arab world, which his résumé claims. He subsequently went abroad and got Canadian citizenship. He also established a support network under the umbrella of his outfit, Minhaj-ul-Quran, which claims to be a recipient of funding from expatriate Pakistanis in 90 countries. However, there is no accountability of his organisation or source of funding.
Intriguingly, Qadri landed in Pakistan after a few years to intervene in politics rather than expound his 600-page fatwa against terrorism and suicide bombings, which, incidentally, suffers from its own problems. He promises to take Islamabad by storm with his slogan “intikhab sey pehley inqilab” (revolution before elections). His claim is that the political system is flawed and only the most honest and sagacious should be elected to Parliament. This is exactly the perception of the military establishment, which has grown deeper than the State itself and has acquired more than nine lives.
While army chief Pervez Ashfaq Kayani has made all efforts to present himself to the public as a democracy-loving general who has nothing but support to offer to the politicians, it is a fact that the current political dispensation is not favoured by him, his generals or his men in general. The army is highly suspicious of the PPP’s federal government and PMLN’s provincial government in Punjab due to the covert positions these two parties took for undermining the power of the armed forces. Nawaz Sharif was sacked in 1999 for trying to get rid of an army chief. The PPP government, on the other hand, is not trusted for using external stakeholders to cut the army to size. Most military personnel consider Benazir Bhutto a traitor for handing over the list of Sikh militants to India during her first government (1988-90). The generals are also suspicious of her husband Asif Ali Zardari for using the US to kill the military’s power. They cite the Kerry- Lugar Bill and Memogate as two examples. The former aimed at linking US aid to Pakistan with the army’s subservience to civilian authorities and the latter was about Hussain Haqqani, the PPPappointed ambassador, prodding Washington to take action against the army.
Qadri insists that a caretaker government, which is a constitutional requirement before the general elections, should include the military and judiciary as well. This demand would have a lot of traction among generals and judges, both of whom consider themselves as guardians of the State and its ideology. While the military used to think of itself as a supra-institution, the judiciary has been elevated to a similar self-perception after the restoration of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry in 2008 as a result of the popular lawyers’ movement.
SO WHAT Pakistan is about to experience possibly on 14 January, when Qadri proposes to lead his long march to Islamabad or even Lahore, is a confluence of right-wing, non-elected forces trying to bring change through extra-constitutional methods. In the light of his own fatwa, such an activity falls in the realm of fitna (chaos) that Qadri believes is highly condemnable. Although the emphasis of his religious opinion is against the use of violence in a Muslim State, there is actually a very thin line between legal and illegal protest against a ruler. The fatwa uses verse after verse and hadith after hadith to claim that instability should not be created in a State even if the ruler is oppressive. Despite Qadri’s argument that religious law allows for a peaceful demonstration, he has not addressed the possibility of a mass mobilisation turning violent, especially in a society where a cocktail of jihadists reign supreme. It was not too long ago that Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi witnessed loot and arson in the name of celebrating love for the prophet.
Be it Hazare or Qadri, these forces represent an unconstitutional challenge to the constitutional and political system of the respective States. We are talking about men who claim higher moral authority to determine what is good for their States and to question the efficacy of the electoral system. Qadri’s partners include the MQM, PML-Q and PTI. These are establishment-created parties, two of which are part of the existing ruling coalition and thus have no leg to stand on for protesting corruption.
At best, Qadri is part of the same extra-constitutional process that hidden hands initiated a couple of years ago through the launch of Imran Khan with a big bang in Lahore. The demand is for bringing a system that is dominated by the middle class, which hopes to replace the existing political actors, presumed to be from the landowning feudals. Such calculation does not take into account the fact that the debate regarding dominance of the feudal system is skewed. Barring Sindh, feudalism has diminished in most other provinces. However, the urban middle class considers almost everyone from a rural background as feudal. Today, there is no party in Pakistan whose top leadership has a feudal background. Even Zardari, who can be criticised for other things, does not represent a feudal family. Personally, he represents the rural middle class. It is the structure of the State that allows for kleptocratic distribution of resources and accumulation of power, capital and opportunities through the manipulation of State power. Thus, the seemingly middle- class military suffers from the same feudal attitude that it accuses others of.
Qadri insists that a caretaker government before the general election should include the military and judiciary
Forces like Qadri or Imran actually represent the new elements who want to dominate the political process in the name of good governance. This is not to argue that Pakistan does not suffer from problems of bad governance. However, the new forces are as authoritarian and feudal in their attitude as those they hope to replace. Moreover, both Qadri and Imran denote the culmination of a psy-ops process in which hidden hands were involved in negative propaganda against political parties and the political system, especially after the 2008 polls.
A perception was generated systematically to show that the incumbent government is highly corrupt and inept. As there is no available research to measure comparative corruption of previous versus existing governments, it is hard to argue that this one has been more corrupt than military regimes led by Zia-ul-Haq, Pervez Musharraf or other dictators.
This is certainly not making a case for the current political stakeholders, but certainly a refutation of the use of any methodology that brings a change unconstitutionally and through undermining the electoral process. Perhaps, it is time for all stakeholders to debate, review and revise the social contract in a manner that changes don’t occur through the backdoor. Unless done the proper way, there is no good Hazare or Qadri.
Siddiqa is an Islamabad-based columnist and the author of Military Inc