Long march into oblivion

Mehmal Sarfraz

General elections in Pakistan are months away. While all political parties are gearing up for a new democratic government, the anti-democratic forces are back to their old tricks.

Fixated with the idea of a technocratic government, the military establishment is trying to derail the democratic process. On top of that, the judiciary is out to discredit the government.

Our current parliament has evolved an electoral process for foolproof transition with bipartisan consensus in order to stop the mighty military from influencing the elections as it has done in the past.

Supporters of Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri chant slogans at a protest rally in Islamabad. Qadri with his followers are demanding for all corrupt officials to step down. Pic/AFP

A consensus had emerged across all political divides on holding the elections on time with the induction of a unanimously nominated chief election commissioner and to agree on a caretaker setup that does not go beyond its mandatory limits. Against this backdrop, Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri made his grand entry in the country last month and since then has created quite a stir in the political circles.

Bunked in a bullet-proof container, the self-declared ‘Shaykh-ul-Islam’ and head of the Tehrik-i-Minhajul Quran (TMQ) has addressed the people of Pakistan for hours on end during the past few days. Declaring himself as the ‘caretaker of the entire [Pakistani] nation’, he has vowed to bring a revolution in the country.

Dr Qadri sees himself as a messiah who has come to rescue the people of Pakistan from the evils of the electoral process. He has not only challenged the election commissioner of Pakistan, but also wants the judiciary and the army to be on board during the formation of a caretaker setup.

Exploiting people’s dissatisfaction with bad governance, emphasising accountability and cleansing of the political class, he has tried to demonise the political class; something our powerful military establishment has been doing for decades.

According to some analysts, the establishment first launched Imran Khan to damage the two mainstream political parties - the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) - but Khan has lost some of his steam and failed considerably.

With his dramatic performance and demagoguery, his speeches overloaded with rhetoric and long arguments, observers now view Dr Qadri as the second spoiler propped up by the establishment. He raised the favourite slogan of our military dictators, ‘Siyasat nahin, Riyasat bachao’ (save the state, not politics) to bring down democracy.

Mobilising his diehard followers, who see in him a spiritual healer, Dr Qadri stormed Islamabad with a mob of 40,000 people dancing to his tunes for an onslaught against a government reeling under the weight of incumbency.

High on the turnout at his mammoth rally on December 23 in Lahore, Dr Qadri’s first shock came when he could not even gather a hundred thousand people in the capital despite his claims that the ‘long march’ would pull a crowd of four million people.

Such a low turnout showed that cult leaders who have cadre-based following cannot mobilise the masses like popular political leaders do. His ‘long march’ would have marched into oblivion had the government not sent a delegation to negotiate with Dr Qadri. Instead of negotiating with him, it would have been better had the government exposed him for what he was, ie a stooge of the military establishment.

On the positive side, Dr Qadri was able to shake the whole political system, with leading political parties realising who had thrown this political drone in the way of a smooth democratic transition.

PML-N chief Mian Nawaz Sharif and leaders of major opposition parties gathered in Lahore in support of saving the democratic system. The government and its coalition partners also vowed to do the same. Democracy has won in Pakistan, at least for the moment.

The writer is a Pakistani journalist. Reach her at

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