Pakistanis remained glued to their TV for nine hours on Monday to watch a dramatic situation as authorities disallowed an Emirates Airlines aircraft carrying firebrand cleric Dr. Tahirul Qadri to land at capital Islamabad airport from where he was scheduled to lead a mass movement against the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Instead, the authorities diverted the plane to Lahore airport, capital of largest province of Punjab, 300km south of where Dr. Qadri lives, to the central secretariat of his party, Minhajul Quran International (MQI). Accompanied by dozens of party leaders and workers traveling with him from Dubai and London, where he briefly stayed after beginning his journey from Toronto, Dr. Qadri, enraged over diversion, refused to come out of the aircraft and termed the act as ‘state terrorism.’
Dr. Qadri expressed fears for his life from the Punjab police which six days earlier shot dead 12 MQI workers and wounded 85 who were resisting a bid to remove illegal barricades blocking seven roads around the MQI secretariat and his residence. Residents of the area had been facing serious inconvenience from the barricades for the last five years, and had filed cases before the High Court, including a contempt of court plea against Dr. Qadri which was pending for the past four years challenging the re-erecting of the iron and cement barricades after those were removed by the court.
At the start of over six-hour standoff at Lahore airport, he refused to get off the plane until authorities fulfilled his demand that the army should provide him security in a bullet-proof vehicle before the eyes of live media coverage from the tarmac to his home. Later, he increased his demands that the army commander of Lahore Corps Garrison should come to the plane to negotiate with him. But his demands were rejected after several rounds of negotiations failed. He insisted that he was not calling for the army to impose military rule in the country but for his personal security as he no longer trusted the civilian authorities.
Dr. Qadri, who also has held the Canadian nationality for the past decade, had planned to launch the anti-government movement from Islamabad, by leading a motorcade of party workers to Lahore to bring the much-promised revolution. But the government, already facing huge criticism for last week’s deaths, pre-empted his move by diverting his plane to Lahore citing security reasons.
As the political drama unfolded, Emirates Airlines began protesting against the seizure of their plane and cited inconvenience to the passengers. Later, the airline threatened to lodge a case against the local aviation and political authorities for ‘hijacking their plane.’ The threat made airport authorities issue warning of shutting down the aircraft’s air-conditioning system, which forced Dr. Qadri to lessen his demands. He then demanded that his personal guards be allowed access to the tarmac for his security and that the Governor of Punjab, Chaudhry Muhammad Sarwar, should come to negotiate the details of his coming out.
In the meantime, Governor Punjab reached there and finally he and Dr. Qadri disembarked from the plane to bring the six-hour drama to a climax. But it did not end there. Dr. Qadri demanded that governor and his political ally, Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, former chief minister of Punjab should accompany him first to a hospital where wounded MQI workers were being treated.
Dr. Qadri expressed fears for his life from the Punjab police which six days earlier shot dead 12 MQI workers and wounded 85 who were resistingMansoor Jafar
Hectic security arrangements were made for the high profile, VIP visit to the hospital, creating immense problems for hundreds of patients and their attendants, before Dr. Qadri finally reached home under unusual security cover as his guards kept blanketing him with 3x4 feet bullet proof sheets from all sides and on the top.
Dr. Qadri’s demand for calling Army protection seemed odd at this juncture where army was engaged in the most-dangerous clean-up operation against the Taliban militants in their last strong hold in tribal area, North Waziristan. To me it seemed Dr. Qadri, who called himself an army-backed contender for power, was creating problems for calling out the army while it was fighting the toughest of the battles against local Taliban.
Not only that, all of Dr. Qadri’s demands were self-contradictory and defeating the cause Dr. Qadri had been advocating against the PML-N government. One may question why a Canadian national, residing in cool, serene environment for about a decade, was demanding security from the Pakistani army for overthrowing an elected government for the sake of bringing a vaguely defined revolution.
Despite that Dr. Qadri contemptuously expressed distrust over Nawaz Sharif government, accused it of planning to assassinate him and threatened to overthrow the rulers, he sought help of Punjab Governor who was a trusted friend of Nawaz Sharif. In an attempt to thwart this criticism, Dr. Qadri mentioned he sought Governor’s help not as the constitutional representative but as his ‘personal friend.’
One wonders if both Qadri and Chaudhry Sarwar enjoy a similarity that they both had taken oath of allegiance to Queen of England. Before becoming Governor of Punjab, Chaudhry Sarwar was a British citizen and MP.
Hitler and Mussolini
Talking to media, Dr. Qadri dubbed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as ‘Hitler’ and Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif as ‘Mussolini,’ and vowed to avenge the deaths and wounds to his workers from them. But one wonders how a deeply terrified crusader who was crying for Army security could avenge the rulers, especially when he was kept under extreme security, and escorted by armed guards blanketing him with bullet proof sheets on all directions.
Except for MQI workers, 99 percent of whom comprise the students dropping out of MQI schools, colleges and university, the rest of the Pakistanis consider Dr. Qadri an ‘opportunist’ and ‘self-seeker politician’ enjoying the luxuries of life in a foreign land at the expense of money from donations by his followers for the cause of Islam.
Last time, Dr. Qadri led a mass movement in 2012 for his much-promised revolution; he remained inside a specially designed bomb-proof and weather-proof container while nearly four thousand workers remained suffering harsh January winter for four days in Islamabad. The crusaders of revolution returned after Dr. Qadri had a deal with the then prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani.
No wonder the latest drama was aimed at a similar deal. Who knows?
Mansoor Jafar is Editor of Al Arabiya Urdu based in Islamabad. He can be reached via Twitter: @mansoorjafar