Tribune: After the Long March

By Dr Pervez Tahir

Analysing the Qadri game in an earlier column, I had said that “the outcome depends on how strongly Dr Qadri wants to march towards Islamabad and the extent of support he can muster from other parties”. The preparation of the march to the minutest of details and the unfailing commitment of the participants to follow Dr Qadri’s line, demonstrated the strength of the desire to march. Indeed, the march went ahead despite the dithering of the MQM and the PTI. The clever cleric seems to have mastered the art of strategy, outshining the left as well as the religious right in terms of techniques of mobilising people. To say that he had plentiful resources at disposal, or that it was a congregation of blind followers, is neither here nor there. The point is that he made an efficient use of these resources. Most important, Dr Qadri used religious symbolism but the agenda presented by him covered territory where angels fear to tread. On terrorism, there were no Imran Khan and Jamaat-e-Islami-like ifs and buts. The ‘this is our war’ school was taunted for lack of strategy and poor legislation. Ironically, all those political forces who were in league with General Ziaul Haq for inserting the sadiq and ameen clauses had never taken them seriously. Dr Qadri, on the other hand, has succeeded in bringing these sleeping clauses onto the centre stage. This is precisely the outcome of his Long March. Dr Qadri has won the first round and is not going back to Canada. He is a significant player.

My earlier column had also stated: “As a result of the success of the march, the PPP will have a chance to delay the elections and prolong its rule. In the process, the chances of the PML-N winning the elections in the next few months will diminish.” I had also said that the “flexi-regime of the PPP under President Asif Ali Zardari may have no qualms about it”. It engaged Dr Qadri in negotiations right from the beginning and formally signed the Long March Declaration, recognising him as a stakeholder and agreeing to his roadmap of electoral reform. The Declaration increases the period of scrutiny of electoral candidates from about 10 days at present to one month. However, even one month is too short for any scrutiny that strictly observes the disqualification clauses, especially the sadiq and ameen provisions.

The Qadri game will come in full play when pressures are applied to extend this period even further by the influential quarters mentioned by Dr Qadri as stakeholders. Given the deteriorating external and internal situation, these quarters are unlikely to act outside the constitutional framework. Upping the ante in Kashmir and the rapidly worsening state of internal security may provide grounds for the proclamation of emergency by the president. Economic indicators, especially the unusually high burden of external debt servicing and the depleting foreign exchange reserves, threaten economic stability. Thus, grounds also exist for the proclamation of financial emergency by the president. Once a proclamation of emergency is in force, the Constitution allows the National Assembly to extend its term by one year. The president and the majority parties in the National Assembly are already part of the Long March Declaration. A whole year will thus be available to cleanse politics, fix the economy and keep the PML-N away from power. It will also provide the stable environment desired for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan.

I said earlier and say it again: there is more to the Qadri game than meets the eye.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 25th, 2013.