I was watching Dr. Tahir ul Qadri’s today’s unusual speech (20th Aug, 2016) to the workers and supporters of his movement, Pakistan Awami Tehrik, (PAT). This was part of his overall Qisas Movement that seeks justice for the victims and punishments for the perpetrators of what is now known as “Model Town Massacre” of 17th June 2014 in which 14 people were killed and almost hundred were shot by Punjab Police. I found his speech and its context very unusual. Let me explain why?
During the ‘Model Town Massacre’ police was caught on tv cameras shooting straight onto the faces of unarmed men and women. Punjab government has since then suppressed the Judicial Commission Report by Justice Baqir Najfi that had apparently (according to leaks in 2014) blamed Punjab government for taking actions ultra-vires of law and for instigating violence against political opponents with malafide intentions. Punjab government’s controversial ‘Second JIT’ has exonerated all those high ups who are considered the real culprits by PAT and most across Pakistan.
Dr. Qadri’s speech and its overall ambience was unusual for various reasons: first, it was live across 105 cities in Pakistan, which was a totally new and innovative thing; second, he managed to bring out crowds of varying sizes which were quiet substantial in several cities including Faislabad and he raised some very interesting and pertinent questions. But this is not why I consider it unusual. I think: this public show, this organization, this discipline and defiant tone was unusual mainly because Dr. Tahir ul Qadri has not been able to achieve anything, absolutely nothing against Nawaz Govt and in a country and system where all politics is built around privilege and benefits,the notorious pork and barrel, the only things, the only real things, he has gifted to his workers and supporters are ruthless beatings and straight bullets by brutal Punjab Police.
I personally witnessed the brutality of Punjab Police that was brought in to Islamabad in August 2014; I saw their savage actions on constitution avenue, on adjacent streets and inside the premises of Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences. Hundreds, if not thousands of his followers were arrested in 2014, were often thrashed on roads and mercilessly beaten in jails and languished in prisons for month and months, many still have cases pending against them. Many of them had earlier clashed with police across GT Road in June 2014 and had injured policemen and cases against them are serious. Qadri has been accused by politicians, media and civil society of being a fraud and swindler who arrives from Canada for launching political movements, creates a high drama and then disappears – something which PMLN leader Tallal Chaudry again accused him immediately after his speech on 20th Aug.
No one, at this stage, expects Qadri and his followers to achieve anything against a Nawaz Government, which according to Qadri’s own admissions is deeply entrenched in the system: controls police, bureaucracy, judicial forums, election machinery and all institutions of the state where an aggrieved party can go to seek redressal. And Qadri admits or accuses that Nawaz government is supported by important countries of the west and by India. He accuses that India had invested for at least four years for bringing Nawaz into power before 2013 elections. When Imran and Qadri challenged Nawaz government in 2014 then the support of international media, Indian media, financial institutions, donors and development community was all on the side of Nawaz; they declared Imran (whose party took 8 million votes in 2013’s controversial elections) and Qadri as threats to democracy; a conspiracy against the democratic right of the people. And since United States, West and India are all on the side of Nawaz, the room for any maneuvering in the political field by Pakistani military establishment is also very restricted if not non-existent all together. Analysts also argue, with some credibility, that this constellation of international and regional forces that are aligned with Nawaz are actually strategically arraigned against Pakistani military. Target is Pakistani Military. So Nawaz then becomes the poster boy of international establishment against Pakistani establishment. So what is this crazy Maulvi or erudite scholar of Islam up to?
As soon as the speech ended, Dunya News anchors took PMLN leader, Talal Chaudhry online to get his response on allegations and questions of Qadri. Tallal makes interesting television; he provokes, he challenges and makes people angry but unlike some of his other colleagues he is seldom angry. He enjoys infuriating people. But today was different. He got infuriated; he was upset, he lost it totally and banged phone on young news anchors on questions which were pretty relevant. I was surprised. This too was unusual. Why such nervousness? why such desperation and lack control?
What were those questions? News Anchors merely asked him what Qadri had leveled as accusations and raised as questions. These were: Is federal cabinet working to bring amendments to Pakistan Criminal Procedure Code? Qadri is repeatedly alleging that Nawaz Govt wants to amend the CrPc of 1897, to take away the right of private parties to push their FIR complaints through judiciary; he accuses that Nawaz govt. wants to give powers to junior functionaries of police to throw out FIR’s. If true, if government is really working on such amendments, then its important; it will have implications for hundreds of cases, but it will have direct bearing on cases related to Model Town Massacre of June 2014.
Qadri had also raised the point that Nawaz government has taken the loans up to Rs. 20,000 billions, at current trends these loans will balloon to Rs. 30,000 billions which will roughly equal Pakistani economy; Qadri argues that such a scenario will lead to Pakistan’s bankruptcy, it will necessitate ‘western bail out’ (read United States) and such a bail out will have severe conditions. Many argue that such an eventuality will have bearings on Pakistan’s defense and its nuclear posture. They fear that ‘mounting loans’ are a well thought out trap for Pakistan. Qadri’s allegations on ‘Indian investment’ into Nawaz are quiet fancy and colorful but few months ago, an Indian analyst, in a Times Now program, locked into a fierce discussion with his Pakistani counterparts – during a debate on Panama Files Scandal – who were demanding that why Indians are so interested in Nawaz blurted: “because we have invested in Nawaz Sharif”. He meant that Modi government has invested politically in Nawaz Sharif and Nawaz is seen as an ally. Three years ago, in 2013 and before, this did not matter; there was a different scenario in South Asia with some one as sedate as Manmohan Singh in power in India but now things have changed. Now Modi has become a factor in Pakistani politics and allegations against Nawaz are mounting. News Anchors wanted answers to these and similar questions but some one as cool as Tallal Chaudry banged the phone.
Before banging the phone he protested that why listen to a character like Qadri? “he is only a ‘Karay ka Maulvi’ (Maulana on rent) someone who is not even a Pakistani citizen, someone who is a Canadian citizen, someone who takes a flight here for protests and then leaves…someone who cannot even win councillor elections…” Most of these accusations may be true but I suspect mood is changing across Pakistan, elections as a mediative process have lost much of their trust, much of their credibility, things have moved beyond the climate of 2014; western and Indian support to Nawaz government may still be there; but within Pakistan more and more people, more and more young people will be listening to Qadri carefully. He may not succeed in agitational politics, he may not even do that this time around, but he has a message and he has receptive ears; he will create some sort of impact. What that will be? No one knows. Govt is strong, very strong, at least for now.
[Moeed Pirzada is a TV Anchor and Editor Strategic Affairs with Dunya News Network. He has worked in Central Superior Services, has studied International Relations at Columbia University, New York and law at London School of Economics, Twitter#MoeedNj ]