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Directionless: trapped in a vicious cycle

The image below is that of a painting by the amazing Pakistani artist Saira Wasim and it relates to the theme of my piece below published in Express Tribune recently.
We just celebrated our 67th independence anniversary amid a show of hard power and political maelstrom — a beleaguered prime minister, cacophonous calls for ‘change’ and civil-military wrangling. If anything, the current crisis is reminiscent of Pakistan’s self-perpetuating curse: directionlessness and endemic instability. It does require a major effort by the ruling elite and intelligentsia to keep recurring trends alive and scuttle potential for progress. And we seem adept at it.

A year ago, it was hoped that Pakistan’s democratic transition was proceeding in the ‘right’ direction: one elected government followed by another, a free media, an independent judiciary and a military reviewing its past policy of interventionism. Obviously, such a situation imparted hope for policy revisions and course correction. Most importantly, given the nature of Sharifs’ support base, the promise of economic revival seemed realistic.

Our structural constraints and the dwindling quality of leadership have come to haunt us again. So, within a year, the political future looks uncertain; and in such a situation, the scope for deliberated policy reform becomes even more limited. The federal government has been battling for its survival since June and its capacity for democratic negotiation is almost absent. While the apparent cause for instability is lack of consensus on election results and mythical charges of rigging, the underlying factors are deeper and more worrying.


Pakistan: Fuse lit for Independence Day fireworks

Tensions rise in Pakistan, as the country braces for protests.

AzadiMarch Imran Khan, the chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) political party, led an anti-government march to Islamabad.


Pakistan faces yet another challenge and this time it is not the terrorist groups but the opposition groups mounting pressure on its Prime Minister to resign from office. One of the main opposition parties in Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has been complaining of electoral rigging since the 2013. PTI’s charismatic leader – a sportsman-philanthropist turned politician – is leading a Long March to Islamabad on August 14, Pakistan’s Independence Day.

Moderate cleric Dr Tahir ul Qadri, who leads the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) and is in alliance with political factions supporting General Pervez Musharraf, has also called on his supporters to join the march.

Earlier he called for protests in the second largest city Lahore which turned deadly after local authorities tried to disperse them. Qadri came back after living in Canada to lead what he calls a movement for “inquilab” or revolution. In plain terms, Qadri seeks to overthrow what he says is a “corrupt and unjust system”.

At the same time, Khan’s PTI has led a vigorous campaign to delegimitsie Nawaz Sharif’s government. Sections of media have sided with Khan in building the popular narrative and the public opinion is deeply polarised.

In recent days, the government has been in a state of panic – blocking main roads, highways, suspending mobile telephone service and preventing people from attending the protest. Sharif’s government announced that it was going to set up a high level judicial commission to investigate the charges of rigging, but he was not willing to resign. […]

On the current political crisis in Pakistan

Raza Rumi on the current political crisis by razarumi1

July 20th, 2014|Pakistan, Politics, video|0 Comments

Challenges for the PML-N

In early June, the PML-N completed one year in office and presented its second budget before the Parliament. Both these events were overshadowed by the ghastly attack at Karachi airport and the vulnerability of the major installations to terrorism. Within days of this attack, the long-delayed operation in North Waziristan was launched. Nearly a week ago, the PML-N blundered by using excessive force against the workers of Paksitan Awami Tehreek (PAT), a political adversary in Lahore resulting in the deaths of eight PAT activists. Such use of brutal force has led to public outrage and nervousness in the PML-N camp is evident.

The succession of events comes in the wake of four major developments. Three are domestic and the fourth is regional. First, tensions between Pakistan’s powerful military and the prime minister have been building up. While the structure of Pakistan’s power relations is tilted towards the civil-military bureaucracy, the immediate cause for the recent tensions happens to the continued incarceration of former President Musharraf. Dozens of conspiracy theories are flying around but this was bound to happen. Sharif and his cabinet are doing what the law tells them to. After all, General Musharraf violated the Constitution for the second time in November 2007. The first violation — the 1999 coup — gained some measure of legal cover through the Supreme Court decision but the second one was not ratified by a judiciary which shifted its policy of siding with the military executive in early 2007. […]

The politics of Imran Khan and Dr Tahir ul Qadri

My latest column for Express Tribune published under the heading: “Imran Khan, Tahirul Qadri & a dharma”

Pakistan’s electoral system is far from perfect. Like most other state functions, electoral laws and practices need to be reformed. In a democracy, this is to be undertaken by the legislature and through a multiparty consensus. The allegations of rigging since May 2013 are all too familiar. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which garnered 19 per cent of the total votes(and fewer seats in the National Assembly) has been crying foul of ‘massive rigging’. Now exactly after a year of elections, and quite cynically exercising power in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), the party is launching a protest through a sit-in in Islamabad. Concurrently, another self-styled reformer, Dr Tahirul Qadri, is also launching a protest against the ‘system’. We all have serious reservations about the ‘system’ but the alternative provided by Dr Qadri is vague as well as populist.

These two protests come in the wake of recent tensions between the civilians and the military. Given Pakistan’s history, the PTI’s protest and the return of Dr Qadri from the safe environs of Canada are termed being ‘sponsored’. It is difficult to ascertain the veracity of this perception. However, the timing of these protests against the credibility of a parliament — of which the PTI and its leader, Imran Khan, are part of — is somewhat problematic. This time the responsibility of rigging is being termed a collusive project of the ruling PML-N, the judiciary and the largest television network, ie, Geo Tv. […]