The Chief of Tahreek e Minhaj ul Quran Dr. Tahir ul Qadri addressing a big public gathering on December 23, 2012 at Minar e Pakistan in Lahore.
S Iftikhar Murshed from Islamabad, Pakistan
Dr Tahirul Qadri, the leader of Tehreek-e-Minhaj-ul-Quran, has re-emerged on the political landscape of Pakistan and unleashed a storm. In probably the biggest-ever mass gathering at the sprawling grounds of Minar-e-Pakistan in Lahore on December 23, he drove home the point that under various provisions of the constitution - in particular, Articles 62 and 63 - corrupt politicians are disqualified from becoming members of the federal and provincial legislatures. He gave the federal government the deadline of January 10 to set things right, failing which, he vowed, he would march to Islamabad on January 14 with four million of his supporters.
Even if half of that number actually converges on the federal capital, it would signal a major political crisis. The central message in Dr Qadri's address, that the re-election of corrupt politicians violates the constitution, lays bare the possibility of a future Supreme Court decision against the continuation of the inept and dysfunctional system. Admittedly, many of the provisions cited by Qadri are a legacy of the disgraceful Ziaul Haq era, which remain as part of the basic law and have not been repealed by the 18th Amendment.
Where Qadri treads on thin ice is that he wants to expand, without warrant, the scope of the 20th Amendment by insisting that all stakeholders must be taken on board for the appointment of the caretaker government, as its appointment cannot, and must not, be the exclusive prerogative of the prime minister and the leader of the parliamentary opposition. He also believes that Article 254 permits the extension of the caretaker dispensation beyond 90 days till such time as the dross which has contaminated the system has been purged.
In a sense, Qadri has been like a cat among frightened pigeons, and mainstream politicians have behaved like runaway felons fleeing from justice. They have gone out on a limb to malign him and have cast aspersions on his motives. Who, then, is this man whose slogan of 'save the state, not politics' has set alarm bells ringing?
Qadri received his early education at the Sacred Heart School in Jhang and was exposed to Christianity in his formative years. He subsequently taught British, US and Islamic constitutional law at Punjab University from 1978 to 1983, and in 1986 secured a PhD in Islamic law under the supervision of Justice Javaid Iqbal.
Qadri founded Minhaj-ul-Quran International in October 1981 for the purpose of promoting moderation in religion, interfaith harmony, and interpretation of Islamic doctrine in line with the teachings of the Sufis. Within three decades the organisation established its presence in more than 90 countries and, in March last year, the United Nations Economic and Social Council (Ecosoc) accorded special consultative status to Minhaj-ul-Quran.
Despite this and other international accolades for his efforts to promote interfaith harmony, an influential Lahore-based daily commented editorially that in his December 23 address Qadri had called "the jihadi extremists and suicide bombers...sons of the soil." Half truths are worse than lies. There was no mention in this write up about his 600-page March 2, 2010, fatwa that "terrorism is terrorism, violence is violence, and it has no place in Islamic teachings and no justification can be provided for it..." The decree was officially endorsed by Cairo's Al-Azhar University.
A few months earlier, after the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) attack on a mosque near the GHQ in Rawalpindi on December 04, 2009, which killed 37 people and injured 61, Qadri's spontaneous reaction was: "Suicide attacks are not allowed in Islam, these actions are un-Islamic...terrorism in all its manifestations is totally in contradiction with the teachings of Islam."
In contrast, there was doleful silence on this and other acts of extremist violence among the religious parties, as well as Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). Their narrative is built around the assumption that terrorism is a reaction to the anti-Islam policies of the US-led west.
This is roundly rejected by Tahirul Qadri, who refuses to subscribe to the classical Muslim concept under which the world is divided into the two categories of the Dar-ul-Islam (abode of Islam) and the Dar-ul-Harb (abode of war). In his worldview, Dar-ul-Islam actually implies 'abode of peace' and all countries, Muslim or non-Muslim, belong to the Dar-ul-Ahad (abode of treaty), which he feels is the same as Dar-ul-Islam. Thus, in his address in 2010 to Muslims living in the west, he said: "I have no hesitation in saying that you are enjoying more rights and freedoms here than in many other Muslim and Arab countries."
What Tahirul Qadri said in Lahore on December 23, 2012 was to be expected. As early as May 25, 1989, when he founded the Pakistan Awami Tehreek, its manifesto was built around the elimination of corruption from Pakistani politics, introduction of true democracy in the country reinforced by economic stability, protection of human rights and emancipation of women.
In a video message to a Minhaj-ul-Quran assembly in Lahore in January 2011, Qadri came out forcefully against the prevailing political system. According to him, this system protects only the ruling elite or three per cent of the country's population, with the remaining 97 per cent horribly ensnared in demeaning poverty and who have "effectively become slaves of the corrupt leadership" whose capricious appetite for ill-gotten wealth is inexhaustible. On November 19 of that year he addressed a students' rally at Punjab University and urged them to emulate the million-strong protestors who had converged at Cairo's Tahrir Square and, within a mere 18 days, had toppled the irretrievably corrupt Hosni Mubarak dictatorship that had ruled Egypt for three decades.
Five days later, in another video speech, he affirmed: "Even a hundred elections under the corrupt political system will not bring any change in Pakistan." He then announced that he would soon be launching a countrywide movement that would pull the nation back from the brink of a precipice.
These known facts have not dissuaded Qadri's nervous critics from projecting him as a vermin who has emerged from the woodwork to destabilise Pakistan. He is accused of supporting Musharraf's coup in 1999 and then garnering "a parliamentary seat in the rigged election of 2002 into the bargain, which raises questions about his current posturing vis-a-vis opposing military takeovers and dictatorships." But what is conveniently forgotten is that most of the mainstream political parties, including the PPP, also supported the military intervention in 1999 and this "constitutional deviation" was validated by the Supreme Court, which included the present chief justice of Pakistan.
Also wiped out from the tablet of selective political memory is Qadri's resignation from the National Assembly on November 29, 2004, because he could no longer countenance Musharraf's broken pledges which had spawned "political corruption and blackmailing, the undemocratic system, institutional inabilities" and an assortment of other ills.
Qadri has also been pilloried for duplicity insofar as his nationality is concerned. But in a television interview on Wednesday, he stated that he did not hold dual nationality either at the time of his election to parliament in 2002 or when he resigned two years later. Furthermore, his subsequent acquisition of Canadian citizenship neither violates any law, nor does it disqualify him from participating in politics.
Qadri is undoubtedly a man who has read deeply into the message of Islam. His unqualified support for true democracy and for the letter and spirit of the constitution is a forceful negation of the poisonous ideology espoused by the TTP and its terrorist affiliates. What we have forgotten is that more than 14 centuries ago, the Quran enjoined decisions on affairs of state through consultations (42: 39) and even permitted dissent against such decisions (24:62), thereby laying the foundation for the concept of a loyal opposition. But such a dispensation can only emerge through honest leadership, and this is what lies at the heart of Qadri's message.
The writer is the publisher of Pakistan-based Criterion quarterly.