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 10-member committee nominated by President Asif Zardari and headed by Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain held talks with Dr Qadri and reached a unanimous agreement. The document that all participants in the negotiations signed and Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf countersigned is called Islamabad Long March Declaration, which, in brief, stipulates: the National and Provincial Assemblies would be dissolved any time before March 16, due date for their dissolution, and general elections held within 90 days; the first month would be devoted to scrutinising the papers of the candidates including their character and other prerequisites (loan and tax defaults) to eligibility as required under articles 62, 62 and 218 (c) of the constitution; the caretaker Prime Minister would be unanimously agreed to among the committee members and Dr Qadri; the question of reconstitution of the Election Commission of Pakistan would be examined by constitutional legal experts and the 10-member committee would meet Dr Qadri at Minhajul Quran headquarters at Lahore with their recommendations; and electoral reforms would be in line with the various provisions of the constitution and in light of Supreme Court judgment of June 8, 2012.
One must put on record here that MQM’s Altaf Hussain, PTI’s Imran Khan and political commentators have been urging the government to defuse the situation by holding talks with Dr Qadri. While the talks were going on, another significant development took place: the President summoned the National Assembly and the Senate to meet on January 21. Earlier in the day, as Dr Qadri was delivering his daily oration before the crowd that had joined him for a sit-in at Islamabad, he suddenly told the audience that the day of deliverance had arrived and the march would end in an hour and a half. If his demands were not met, he would announce a new course of action to pressurise the government. Credit must go to the participants of the sit-in that though more than 200 of them, including women and children, had been taken ill and hospitalised because of the inclement weather, they continued to brave it, shielding themselves from rain with whatever they could. President Zardari must also be complimented for issuing orders that no violence should be used to disperse the crowd. There is little doubt that the support Dr Qadri enjoys stems from the bad governance that the people have been experiencing. Their troubles range from unannounced and long loadshedding of power and gas to backbreaking inflation to economy’s breakdown to unemployment – just the reverse that they expected from a democratic government.
But Dr Qadri a Canadian citizen, had no right to insist on being made part of any election process or its scrutiny beforehand. On the other hand, Dr Qadri has persistently maintained that he only wanted to cleanse the system in vogue in the country that would let the people enjoy the fruits of real democracy. When the long march became a reality the federal government and its allies consorted with each other more than once and PML-N held a meeting of opposition parties on Wednesday under the chairmanship of its leader Mian Nawaz Sharif where all present opposed Minhajul Quran leader’s demands and called for immediate announcement of the election date and of the caretaker government. 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.