There’s something about Qadri by - Zafar Hilaly

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Come August 14, and many are wondering how it will all end. Will Imran Khan stoop? Will Nawaz conquer? Or will the military say ‘a plague on both your houses’ and seize power? Answers to the first two questions are anybody’s guess; and the third does not really require an answer because having re-established itself as the central power in policy making, the army can hardly seize what it already possesses.

The emasculation of civilian authority began almost as soon as Musharraf left office and handed over power to his civilian successor; and it continued apace during Kayani’s long tenure as army chief. It was a gradual process. Not one to show off, or strike poses, Kayani preferred to garner power patiently in small accumulations; and that also suited Zardari’s temperament.

Not really knowing what to do with power, unlike money, Zardari did not mind losing some of it to stay in office. Anyway, it was not so much the power of office that Zardari craved as the trappings. A savvy politician, he understood that power in Pakistan must return eventually to where it traditionally resides – in the bosom of the military. Zardari has always focused on the real world in which he lived and not – unlike some politicians, including his wife – in the world they want to bring into being. He thought it best that the process of returning power be undertaken in a cooperative spirit and not as the result of a falling out with the military because that would have only attenuated the civil-military divide and imperilled civilian rule. It stands to his credit, and that of Kayani, that they accomplished the task without overly ruffling feathers.

But even the modest and publicity shy Kayani could not hide his increasing clout once it became known he had summoned four (or was it six?) federal secretaries to the GHQ to vet and approve their briefs for Zardari’s impending visit to Washington in early 2010. An army chief summoning federal secretaries en masse to vet, amend and approve their briefs is unheard of during civilian rule and conveyed the unmistakable message that the army had re-assumed not merely oversight but also control of public policy.

And that’s precisely the message Obama got, which is why during the Zardari visit Obama dropped by on Kayani’s White House meeting with the US national security adviser. Obama’s was a calculated move to convey US recognition that henceforth Kayani, and not Zardari, was the key player on the Pakistani side.

During their brief meeting in the White House Kayani handed over to Obama a brief he had prepared outlining Pakistan’s views on key issues. Ordinarily such a brief should have been a government effort to be conveyed by Gilani or Zardari rather than the army chief. This was another sign of how far the transfer of real power had progressed by early 2010.

So, speculation about a military take over on August 14, when the military is already in the driving seat, is really quite unnecessary. Why should the fauj take on the thankless job of running the country when the national coffers are empty; the war in Fata is in full swing and both the eastern and western fronts are alive with danger? With Afghanistan and India getting together, it’s doubtful whether the army chief has the time to do anything else but plan how to save our hide.

Besides, it suits the fauj to have a chastened and weakened Nawaz Sharif, rather than a prime minister brimming with self love and a grossly exaggerated idea of his popularity. The only obstacle Nawaz Sharif recognises to his designs is the resistance of a superior power and not good sense or moral scruples. And if things don’t work out for Imran Khan so much the better. The ‘Kaptaan’ too needed to have some of the stuffing knocked out of him to curb his insufferable vanity and his tendency of believing his own press.

That said, who will swear that the ‘multitude’ gathering on August 14 in Islamabad – the ultimate beneficiaries of democracy – will not feel sufficiently dissatisfied to want someone other than the Sharif dynasty to look after their interests and refuse to budge from Islamabad? And faced with such a situation what will the army do? Risk a blood bath or ask Nawaz Sharif to pack his bags – once again? Reluctant as the army is to intervene, the fact remains that circumstances can force its hand.

At this juncture two thoughts come to mind. In Iran (1978), faced with the unpleasant task of suppressing the people the army sat on its hands, smoothing the way for the Iranian revolution. Similarly, the most critical factor behind Mubarak’s defeat was the decision by Egypt’s top generals to allow demonstrators to take to the streets without fear of military suppression. And that, wittingly or not, is the message the fauj is sending to all concerned which is also the reason why panic has gripped the government to take the myriad illegal steps it has taken to reduce the number of PTI supporters turning up in Islamabad.

It’s unrealistic to write about what may happen in the coming days and weeks without speculating on the role of Tahirul Qadri. It’s easy to dismiss Qadri by depicting him as the proverbial ‘Mad Hatter’ and a mixture of the ‘knave, adventurer and a troublemaker’. ‘Mad hatters’ abound at all times in all countries but a few have also managed to leave their imprint on history. To do that they have to be more than mere mad hatters, adventurers and opportunists – though sometimes they must be that too.

Actually, men like Tahirul Qadri are unconscious interpreters of their times and have an intuitive understanding of what their countrymen long for. Listen to Qadri speak to the crowd. He speaks as if he is giving words to the crowds own dumb sentiments. He awakens an echo in men’s hearts. He suggests he can drive them to great deeds. And indeed he can. As his control over his followers shows, his people will willingly die for him. And many of these people are good people and good people do not die readily for knaves and madmen.

Men like Qadri somehow identify the themes history is going to propose, like dowsers feeling secret veins of water underground. His ideas may seem disorderly and hodgepodge but he has put his finger on most of the great motifs that dominate our troubled history, namely, the necessity for justice or at least the same law for every man, good governance, order and the end of feudalism, and corruption, ignorance, superstition and prejudice.

He has understood that Pakistan has to stand unified and united and strong in order to fight a battle on three fronts – against India, against Karzai and his corrupt coterie in Afghanistan and against extremism at home. Of course, his capacity to over simplify and dramatise offends many and so too his strictly partisan views. But people also envy his instinctive ability to ride the emotional wave of the day and admire the fact that he goes about his preaching undisturbed by scruples, doubts or criticisms. `

There is something about Qadri that startles and fascinates almost everybody including his enemies. I have no idea how his contribution to our politics will look like years hence. It may be seen as desultory and amateurish and because it has a practical flimsiness will evaporate as soon as the current crisis is over. But I sense not. The energy this single man has imparted to the politics of Pakistan is huge. His desire to avenge his people’s ruin and humiliation which he attributes to the wickedness of others may well have awakened some of his countrymen to a new sense of mission. If that is the case then ‘Welcome on board Mr Qadri’.

The writer is a former ambassador. Email: