Early in November, 2012 Dr. Tahir Ul Qadri started appearing in TV interviews from Canada wherein he declared his plan to come back to Pakistan and rid this country of everything that is wrong with it. The country then began to see hoardings and flexes publicising the return of the Maulana. On the 23rd of December Dr. Tahir came to Lahore, addressed a large crowd and declared that he would lead a ‘million man march’ to Islamabad on the 14th of January, IF the government does not adhere to his demands. It is interesting to note that no demands were laid out clearly in his address on the 23rd. Thus began the movement against corrupt, inept, unqualified politicians; a ‘revolutionary movement’ for electoral reforms in Pakistan. This movement culminated with an agreement between Dr. Tahir and a group of representatives from different political parties that are part of the coalition government in Pakistan. This entire movement, the march and the sit-in was peculiar in so many ways.
First off Dr. Tahir called it a ‘million man march’ whereas even by the most lenient of estimates the actual number of people that marched with him or were part of the sit-in in Islamabad never crossed one hundred thousand. Dr. Tahir, who has claimed on more than one occasion that he never lies, kept referring to the crowd as a crowd of millions.
Then it wasn’t a long march, but more of a long drive since no one was actually marching but only driving to Islamabad. The term long march inherently includes the act of marching, one may read about the famous long march of Mao Zedong to know what exactly can qualify as a revolutionary long march. Nevertheless Dr. Qadri believed that by calling this drive a march he may be able to get better results.
For me, the most noticeable irregularity of this entire movement was the fact that Dr. Tahir gave the government a clear dead line, 10th of January, for adhering to his demands, yet he did not make the demands clear till after that deadline had passed and presented the charter of demands for the first time on the 12th of January. He might as well have announced the long march without pretending to have been forced to take that course.
Dr. Tahir gave long sermons which were given full and live coverage by our media, raising serious questions about our media’s ability to tell newsworthy from unworthy. These sermons had harsh criticism and statements against political parties and politicians and praises for the Army and Judiciary. Dr. Tahir went quite far and at times questioned even the faith of ruling politicians, same people he was glad to exchange greetings with on the last day of the march. At one point Dr. Tahir even called the sit-in in Islamabad a present day version of Karbala, and the government and politicians therein as ‘Yazeedi forces’. This was offensive, disturbing and insulting for there was no agreement in Karbala, no one gave in to Yazeed and especially for the leaders in Karbala stood with their followers, suffered the heat and thirst equal to that suffered by their followers. Dr. Tahir however chose to go on with his sit-in in a bullet proof container with ample food and water supplies and protection from cold and rain while his innocent and gullible followers stood in excruciating cold exposed to any and every threat from terrorists.
The sit-in eventually ended with a 5 hour long session of negotiations and a consequent agreement on the fifth day. When the agreement was made public it was astonishing to see that Dr. Tahir’s demands, which were impracticable, were not met at all yet he decided to end the sit-in. Dr. Tahir wanted instant dissolution of assemblies which wasn’t done, instead it was agreed that the assemblies would be dissolved at any time before the 16th of March. Same was the fate of all other vague and unconstitutional demands that Dr. Tahir had been making throughout this episode.
For me this so called long march and sit-in was a joke. It was a joke on the gullible poor followers who stood their ground despite all obstacles in hope of change; a revolution that would change the fate of Pakistan overnight. It was a joke on any individual or institution that paid for this stunt. And it was a joke on the people of Pakistan who for a minute took Dr. Tahir seriously.
Nevertheless Dr. Tahir’s antics did bring some unintended good. It raised the awareness in masses of how crucial the continuation and sustenance of democracy is for Pakistan. Since many took this act as a conspiracy against democracy, it resulted in unification of political forces and civil society in defense of the democratic system. The meeting called by Mian Nawaz Sharif in Lahore was the final blow dealt to Dr. Tahir that made him desperate and search for a way to end the drama with some shred of self-respect hence his consent to the most hilarious of agreements.