Emergence of the ‘Qadri factor’ stuns out of touch political elite By Abbas Aziz (London UK)

The influential twentieth century political activist, Malcom X, once said “If you have no critics, you will likely have no success.”

If criticism is a marker by which to measure success, then it is fair to assume that Dr Tahir ul Qadri’s re-emergence in Pakistani politics can be viewed thus far, as having been hugely successful. Underestimated and largely ignored by politicians in the past few years, Dr Qadri recently shot to prominence after a public address in Lahore on 23rd December 2012. Addressing an estimated two million strong audience, Dr Qadri delivered a damning account of the current government’s failure to tackle the country’s increasing socio-political and socio-economic problems. In a speech that lasted approximately two hours, Dr Qadri announced an agenda for political reforms aimed at tackling the country’s crippling economic state, the breakdown of law and order, and the absence of basic provisions such as gas, electricity and healthcare.

Although the entire agenda is somewhat extensive, Dr Qadri has in principle demanded that forthcoming elections be conducted in accordance with the constitution, thus ensuring that only those eligible to nominate themselves as candidates are allowed to do so. According to Dr Qadri the issue of eligibility is central to his agenda because wealthy aristocrats, feudal landlords and corrupt individuals use the power of their wealth and influence, to gain entry into parliament. In order to achieve what Dr Qadri says is indispensable for the establishment of genuine democracy (i.e. eligibility based on merit and not money), he has called for the set up of an independent and representational interim caretaker government. The interim administration Dr Qadri argues, should be charged with the responsibility of ensuring elections are conducted in accordance with the constitution, hence guaranteeing they are free and fair by making certain that all previously known corrupt practices are prevented from delegitimising the process.

The sudden impact of the ‘Qadri factor’ on Pakistan’s political landscape has without doubt rattled the corridors of power and sent politicians and political parties into a state of panic. Not only has Dr Qadri been successful at galvanising popular sentiment by appealing to the disillusioned Pakistani electorate, he has also successfully managed to acquire the support of a key ally in the current coalition government i.e. MQM. It is worth noting that a number of other major political parties such as PTI and PML-Q agree in principle with Dr Qadri’s assessment and his agenda for political reforms. Whilst the huge public turnout on 23rd December 2012 has been a cause for serious concern among the largely redundant political elite, the alliance of MQI and MQM has left politicians and in particular the coalition government, dumbfounded and incapable of explaining how such an alliance was forged. What is certain however, is that the emergence of the ‘Qadri factor’ has altered what was generally a docile pre-election political environment, into a hotbed of political activity.

After a week-long mudslinging match in which representatives of the two main parties vented their dissatisfaction at the political developments of the past two weeks by making personal attacks against Dr Qadri, the respective leaders of the various parties were slow out the blocks, perhaps because they were unsure of how to react. Rumours and speculation were spread like wildfire in a bid to curtail the growing popularity of Dr Qadri’s message. He was initially described as a proxy of the establishment, something that was categorically rejected by Director General Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Major General Asim Saleem Bajwa. Thereafter Dr Qadri was accused of being a foreign agent, hell bent on destabilising the country. However this too, was unequivocally refuted by both America and Britain. Unable to engage with Dr Qadri’s proposals, politicians resorted to using diversionary tactics, as political posturing and the use of smokescreens were widely employed, in order to make obscure the main tenants of Dr Qadri’s reforms agenda.

Following the 23rd December public vote of no confidence, desperate politicians regularly appeared (and continue to do so), on media chat shows and initiated what can only be described as a vilification campaign. Perhaps politicians felt that personal attacks and stalling tactics would provide a way to diffuse Dr Qadri’s sudden impact, which many analysts predicted would wither or perhaps fizzle out.  However the opposite has proven to be true; as time passes, Dr Qadri’s prominence has grown and his importance increasingly felt by the day. Having realised albeit a little late, that Dr Qadri should be taken seriously, the main political leaders finally broke their silence. In an unlikely political union aimed at offsetting the effects of the ‘Qadri factor’, arch rivals PPP and PML-N decided to join forces in what seems to be a case of a forced marriage rather than a union of love. Dr Qadri has not only become the object of the political elite’s obsession, but the media too.

Daily reports about the possible ramifications of Dr Qadri’s planned long march to Islamabad (which he announced on 23rd December 2012) features as the main news item on most, if not all, Pakistani media channels. With the proposed long march/demonstration only a few days away, and reports emerging of the Punjab administration using its administrative machinery to create obstacles in the path of people who wish to partake in the forthcoming peaceful protest, a clash of the titans is heavily anticipated. Dr Qadri has resoundingly rejected any possibility of calling off the demonstration and the political elite stubbornly refuse to cooperate and allow democratic citizens their constitutional right to dissent by means of peaceful protest. Even after the Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik clearly stated during a press conference on 07th January 2013 that Dr Qadri’s agenda is neither undemocratic nor unconstitutional, it seems as though the out of touch political elite will do whatever it takes to safeguard the status quo and prevent Dr Qadri from bringing about the change that for decades, millions of average Pakistanis have longed for.