Television drama

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There may yet be something to take from all that jazz

In hindsight, the government, opposition and the media seem to have underestimated the ability of Dr Tahirul Qadri, the quintessential rabble rouser, to create a scene and force the hand of the powers-that-be to come to the negotiating table.

Blackmailing yes, but whoever said self-styled Mao Zedongs this side of the Indus go on long marches to attain nirvana!

To begin with, so dismissive was the ruling clique about the possibility of a long march taking any real form that it seemed not to have envisaged the worst, and by the time it contemplated using the long handle to stop the road show, it was a tad late and risked combustive reaction.

Once the marchers settled, the government was on the back foot, giving the impression it was fervently hoping the spirit of the marchers would break at some stage under the open sky in the dead of winter.

However, the marchers refused to back down even in the face of ill-advised threat by Interior Minister Rehman Malik of a targeted operation to evict them.

Malik’s ill-advised warning of a targeted operation fueled speculation about a military-style operation at the Lal Masjid back in 2007 whose disturbing memories haunt the residents of Islamabad to this day.

The minister was almost immediately snubbed by the president, who reportedly called a veteran journalist during the commercial break of live show to categorically assure that no such action would be taken.

For four full days, Pakistan ground to a virtual halt with blanket television coverage of the long march. Qadri, whose oratory skills could not have found a bigger platform, exploited the pitch to the hilt.

However, there was an element of comic relief about Qadri issuing one deadline after another for the government to address his charter of demands.

But he was completely ignored for the better part of three-and-a-half days until the last deadline on the fourth day when he appeared to hint at something dramatic if the demands were not met.

It is unclear what actually broke the last straw on the camel’s back but perhaps, given how devoted his followers proved themselves to be, the fear that they would resort to something sensational that could rebound disastrously seemed to have convinced the government to talk their way out of the crisis — especially, after some of its allies decided to win brownie points by pushing for dialogue with an eye for “tele” vision.

What we know is that after extensive negotiations, the two parties happily reached a deal for Qadri to “exult” in. But the so-called agreement didn’t have an earthshaking ring to it; the overriding view is that the cleric was looking for a face-saver and the government pragmatically gave him one to avert the possibility of a potentially explosive trigger in the presence of women and children.

So what’s the scorecard? Did Qadri have his day and the government lose by conceding to some of his demands? As with the cleric’s as yet undetermined motive(s) and sudden but intriguing arrival on the scene, the jury is still out on who won or lost or if it was just a farce.

And so, among the 10-member official team that negotiated a settlement included Federal Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira, who had only the previous evening pooh-poohed the cleric and his demands with not just disdain but also ridiculed him by mimicking his thunder storm!

Some cold calculations — keeping in view how political chess is played in Pakistan — are perhaps, in order. If the past is any guide, the likelihood is that President Asif Zardari has once again pulled a rabbit out of the hat by apparently giving Qadri a stake in the power game, but with no real substance.

To begin with, the “paper” deal is just that — on paper. The document has no legal value. President Zardari reneging on a critical promise or two is the stuff of legend. His immediate concern was to have Qadri and the marchers leave the arena safely.

It’s a cinch the PPP government would never allow such a gathering again, and probably neither would Qadri be in a position to seek an encore after realizing he had miscalculated his potential to bring down the government and force a change.

The two pillars of power that he was banking on — the military and the judiciary — did not get into the act when the heat rose despite their perceived hostility towards the PPP government.

The former was perhaps, chastened by the maturing of the political set-up in which all mainstream parties and groups converged to “protect democracy” by collectively turning against the “foreign/military-sponsored agent”.

The clincher came when, against the run of play, Imran Khan — a self-proclaimed agent of change himself — resisted the urge to merge, declining Qadri’s public invitation to join the march despite their similarity of views.

As for the judiciary, it poured scorn over any extra-constitutional designs with the chief justice pointedly asking the Election Commission of Pakistan to set in motion the electoral process — against Qadri’s demand to dissolve the Commission itself!

Having said that, there may still be something positive to take from the march. Thanks to Qadri’s stubbornness and the remarkable perseverance shown by the marchers before a television audience of millions for days, there is now increasing pressure on all the political stakeholders to deliver.

The net result? It may not have been a revolution but it was televised — with a strong current for change and that in itself may have been worth the while.

The writer is Editor, Pique Magazine. He may be reached at [email protected]

3 COMMENTS

  1. TUQ definitely deserves to be decorated for his effort to awake the sleeping nation to get rid of current corrupt system. He definitely speaks the truth about reality of the system we're living in for the average and below average. At least the black sheep of our nation start panicking.

  2. Well I do not understand the politics of your country, and what were Janab Qadri's political motives. I have great respect for him from religious point of view. He is doing a good job in promoting real face of Islam. With some much bloodletting done in the name of Islam

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