Pakistans dramatic Islamic scholar challenges political dynasties

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The Pakistani political scene has been shaken by the highly controversial Islamic scholar, Dr. Mohammad Tahirul Qadri.

The scholar and political activist resigned from retired General Pervez Musharraf’s parliament. Qadri proceeded to obtain Canadian nationality for his entire family and has lived in Toronto for the past six years.

The activist is known for his dramatic measures to win political support and sympathy, for example he insists that the Prophet Mohammed appeared in his dream two decades ago with the message that Qadri would lead Pakistan out of its crisis and assume a position in the country’s highest political office.

He is considered the darling of the West among Pakistani clerics due to his issuance of a religious edict (Fatwa) declaring suicide attacks by the Taliban on armed forces as forbidden (Haram).

Qadri recently held a massive public meeting in Lahore which was dubbed the most expensive rally in the country’s history. He publicly demanded quick and drastic reforms in the electoral system to end the monopoly held by corrupt capitalists in the country. He also called for equal chances for the poor to contest polls without any fear or pressure.

Besides challenging the capitalists, and their political dynasties, that have ruled the country for the last six decades, the religious scholar-turned politician had other demands. He called on the government to develop a reform system aimed at implementing constitutional provisions guaranteeing equality, justice, honesty and fairness to everyone in the election process.

Qadri also called for an interim national government comprising representatives from all sections of society.

If the government fails to react positively he threatened to storm the capital Islamabad on Jan. 14. along with four million of his followers. The activist further proposed a sit-in if the constitutional rights of the masses were not realized.

The sitting PPP-led coalition government is in a fix over how to deal with Qadri’s threats. One false move by the government could invite further public support for the activist.

Badly riddled with charges of corruption and bad governance, the PPP government, whose 5-year term is expiring early February, looks quite unprepared to survive this threat to their waning credibility.

Whether or not the threat is realized will become clear within the next few days. However, Interior Minister Rehman Malik has already incited public support for Qadri by blocking the streets to parliament house and president house in Islamabad one week before the proposed march.

Fraying nerves

In addition to the PPP party, many other mainstream opposition politicians have been unnerved by Qadri who is otherwise a political dwarf. Apprehensive politicians include the PML-N chief and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and the emerging leader Imran Khan.

Their immediate response was to accuse Qadri of attempting to delay nation-wide elections so as to continue Pakistan’s close relationship with Washington. The aim, according to these politicians, is to help the U.S. achieve its objectives in the war on terror and allow the American army an uninterrupted return to Afghanistan.

This theory is bolstered by the fact that Qadri has recently been joined by two political parties that are allies to the present ruling coalition which favors the U.S.; the Altaf Hussain-led MQM and Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain-led PML-Q.

The leadership of these parties brazenly dodged the media when asked why they would rally against their own government and why they failed to protest the corruption and bad governance of their own government during the last five years.

Newly emerged Shiite organization Majlis Wahdat Muslemin (MWM), which is considered to be backed by the establishment and funded by Iran, also jumped on the Qadri bandwagon.

Some politicians view the unfolding situation as an attempt by exiled politicians to remotely control the country. They cite the case of MQM chief Altaf Hussain who has been commanding the commercial hub of the country and the only port city, Karachi, whilst living in London for the last two decades.

Former military dictator and hero of the U.S. war on terror, retired General Musharraf, also commandeers his faction of the PML from London and has done so for the last five years.