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جمعہ، 18 جنوری، 2013

Tahirul Qadri ‘game’ is over

It is up to the people to read deeply into the Islamabad Declaration and see whether Dr Qadri achieved anything, or merely saved face behind an elaborate sham of perceived victory.

Finally on Thursday, the fifth day of the long march organised by Minhajul Quran chief Dr Tahirul Qadri, the standoff between the government and Dr Qadri came to an end, much to the relief of the people of Pakistan who had been worried for fear that some untoward incident might occur leading countrywide disturbances .

The political crisis triggered by Allama Tahirul Qadri’s long march that took women, children and elderly people, his hostage for four long days and chilling nights in the coldest month of the year, ultimately stood resolved when all parties in the coalition government provided the man from Canada a situation to save his sullen face from a complete embarrassment on Thursday. The safe and honourable exit to Qadri was provided by a government committee, headed by Chaudhry Shujaat Husain, that held talks with the highly ambitious enlightened cleric for hours starting at 4pm. A formal agreement was also inked after about four hours and, no doubt, Qadri would present this document as a certificate of his “resounding success”. 

The fiasco in which the whole high political drama ended also clearly polarized the country in a sense that all the political parties whether in government or in opposition were seen on one page in support of the constitutional scheme of things and democratic polity. Other sections of society like lawyers and forward-looking people also came out in their support. This completed for the first time in history a consensual convergence of almost all shades of political opinion on the way forward: fair and free transparent elections through a consensus-based Chief Election Commissioner under an agreed caretaker setup whose neutrality will be beyond doubt because it will enjoy the confidence of both government and opposition. Standing against them was the Shaikhul Islam who presented most of the steps, outside the pale of a disciplined legal order ; that is why he has effectively been isolated along with all his ranting and Imran Khan’s ill-conceived seven-point demand that included the resignation of President Asif Ali Zardari. 

It is strange that the anti-democratic camp kept on rejecting these agreed rules of the game framed after a great deal of thought and discussion in parliament and which are enshrined in the 18th Amendment. The qualified criticism being leveled at the CEC being too old to ‘resist’ the machinations of the parties in government and the opposition, made no sense when these governments will cease to exist once the assemblies are dissolved and the caretaker setup takes over. March 6 is said to have been proposed by the government for this arrangement whereas it says elections will be held in the first week of May. 

If the caretaker setup to come is being criticized as some kind of underhand deal amongst the parties in parliament, surely this is an illogical stance given that inherently the government and opposition are rivals in the elections and have framed these rules of the game to avoid the usual accusations of election rigging that have bedeviled every such exercise in the past. On the touchstone of the constitution, they are the best democratic practices and intent and their criticism lacks a genuine political mannerism. The people of Pakistan are certainly unhappy with the performances of governments at the center and in provinces and this was this discontent than the people demonstrated during the Qadri show. Yet, only uninformed and foolhardy elements without an iota of understanding of our past want to dent a democratic order. The days of imposed governments manipulated into power by hook or by crook by the establishment may or may not be over, the situation and the conspiratorial moves to deny the people the right to bring in another elected government for the first time in the country’s history through fair elections cannot and should not be denied to them, especially when the moment is tantalizingly close.

It is the interests of all political parties, arguably even those supporting Qadri for whatever misconceived reasons, that the electoral exercise is allowed to proceed on time and without putting obstacles in its way. Authoritarian, military and imposed governments are littered through Pakistan’s passage through time, but each one has left a bigger mess in its wake than when it started. The lesson is inescapable: the discontents with democracy and its failings notwithstanding, there is no way forward in the foreseeable firmament other than letting the democratic political process play itself out in what promises to be an increasingly credible manner since it enjoys across the board consensus, and using the space and freedoms only democracy allows to tackle vital issues confronting the country and society.

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