Last week, the MQM jumped off Tahirul Qadri’s rickety bandwagon at the eleventh hour. Only a day before this announcement, the all-powerful chief of the party spoke via telephone from London about his party’s resolve to participate in the long march called by the shifty cleric from Canada who hopes to bring real democracy to the country by invading Islamabad. In his drone-address to a lifeless crowd assembled in Karachi, Altaf Hussain even tried to drag Quaid-i-Azam in the dual-nationality controversy by making misleading references to history.
Tahirul Qadri, on the other hand, insisted that he would lead his horde to the capital come what may. Ironically, he is yet to announce a clear charter of demands for his long march on which he has already spent tons of money. The most reassuring thing to have come out of the destructive drama, that has jolted the nation these past weeks, is the clear sign that Pakistan’s polity has gained the maturity to survive such jerks and jolts.
Though the MQM says it took the decision of staying away from the mysterious march keeping in view the law and order situation in the country, most of the political observers are not convinced. The precarious law and order situation in the country is nothing new and those preparing to march on the capital had been warned by the government of terrorist attacks prior to Altaf Hussain’s drone-address. So what made the party back off? Different theories are doing the rounds, mostly speculations about a deal with the government. Given the murky politics of reconciliation practised by the Zardari dispensation behind-closed-doors, nobody is sure about what was demanded and what granted. Some say that the MQM was waiting for a nod from the military establishment, and that the party left Tahirul Qadri in the lurch when no such nod was forthcoming. Beyond these shots in the dark, there is another, more plausible, explanation.
Except for a few commentators and media pundits who threw better sense to the wind and joined the supporters of the long march in trashing the flawed democracy that we have, those who seemed all willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater, the reaction in the national media to Tahirul Qadri’s pseudo-revolutionary antics was more measured and mature, exposing the gaping holes in his rhetoric and his methodology, his tactics and his status quo partners. It did not take long for a majority of anchorpersons, honed by years of grilling all shades of politicians, to see through the disruptive nature of Tahirul Qadri’s initiative and to see that he had no solutions to offer to the problems that he ranted and raved about except a kind of mob rule to be directed by his dubious highness. He had to answer for his ever-shifting demands. The contradictions in his feigned respect for the constitution and state institutions on the one hand, and his unconstitutional demands on the other, were exposed.
The political parties, except those who thought they could ride the imaginary tide created by his popular rhetoric, were unanimous in their rejection of the path he had chosen to influence politics in the country. They had the sense to smell the rat of derailing the democratic process that rose unmistakably from the caretakers with an indefinite tenure and other unreasonable ultimatums that the self-righteous cleric was dishing out.
The PTI’s response was a bit disappointing though. Despite the fact that Tahirul Qadri was clearly out to hijack virtually each one of the rallying cry raised by the party, the new party refused to take an unequivocal stand against his nefarious long march. It is difficult to understand why the party, that has worked hard to improve the system from within, decided to sit on the fence at a time when Tahirul Qadri was threatening to wash out the entire system with a horde of non-political followers. Despite such impotent dithering, even PTI had sense enough to stay away from his march and take a categorical stand against any delay in the elections.
The civil society, most notably the bars across the country and traders from Rawalpindi and Islamabad, were wise enough not to fall for Tahirul Qadri’s trap either. The social media actively resisted the long march to nowhere. Tahirul Qadri’s videos that exposed his shocking statements and bigotry were unearthed and disseminated. The effect of this widespread resistance to the cleric’s badly conceived and poorly concealed invitation to anarchy helped the nation see things clearly and reject his devious call to turn Islamabad into Tahrir Square. It doesn’t take a political visionary to realise that, even with our flawed and rotten democracy, we could hope to achieve something better than the chaos that has engulfed Egypt since the popular upheaval against a well entrenched dictatorship was hijacked by forces of the status quo in that country. In my opinion, the MQM’s announcement to stay away from the march owes itself to the unsympathetic mood of the public and the inability to mobilise the public behind the initiative, rather than any backdoor deal.
There are no two opinions about the gaping holes in our democratic system, and of course the need to bring it closer to democratic ideals is urgent. It is true that the Zardari government and its coalition partners must share most of the blame for turning democracy into a farce. At the same time, the restoration of an independent judiciary in the country has provided an impetus towards correcting the flaws of the system. The free media, despite its serious shortcomings, is also learning, and it has contributed towards creating a politically aware public. The civil society is understanding its power to influence politics. Despite stranglehold of dictatorial leaders, established political parties are also evolving and learning to respond to the public mood. New parties like the PTI have added significantly to this momentum. Tahirul Qadri would like us to bypass this slow progress and take a shortcut that in all probability would land us in hell. Had he been around all these years, he would have known some basic facts about electoral reforms and the coming elections that he would like to dictate as per his whims and hollow claims.
The Supreme Court has ordered electoral reforms and it is monitoring their implementation. The Election Commission is consulting political parties regarding these reforms. A neutral caretaker setup is expected to be appointed through consultation. We might have miles to go, but at least we are headed in the right direction. And we have sense enough to resist moves that aim to lead us elsewhere.
The writer is a freelance columnist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org