Special to Times of Oman
How rampant is the 'breaking news' cycle in Pakistan can be gauged from the fast fading case of the sudden and shocking arrest in London of Altaf Hussain, the Queen's subject and long self-exiled leader of Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Pakistan's controversial but powerful ethnic-based party, earlier this month in a case of money laundering.
Since then, Pakistan has seen off a nerve-wracking militant attack on one of the world's preeminent airports in Karachi; shooting of a passenger plane of the national carrier as it was touching down at Peshawar airport (in which a female passenger died) and the subsequent suspension of international flights; the beginning of a high octane military operation against the most feared militants in the country's notorious badlands; a grotesque police action in Lahore that led to wanton killing of a dozen protestors and subsequent, sacking of Punjab province's law minister; a rather inexplicable provincial court order to have former strongman Parvez Musharraf's name removed from the Exit Control List to pave the way for his speculated departure only to be suspended by the Supreme Court; and the-now standard public protest meetings by opposition Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) against alleged poll rigging last year.
But even as these occurrences and events are pregnant with serious consequences, they can hardly compete with the pantomime enacted by Dr Tahirul Qadri, a self-styled cleric, who continues to intrigue Pakistanis across the divide with his 'revolutionary' trappings, spurts of which are somehow unfailingly timed with the country in crisis mode.
Qadri, now a naturalised citizen of Canada, who runs dozens of charity organisations under the umbrella of his religious outfit which curries favour with most Western countries because of its opposition to — and edict against — terrorism and suicide bombings, is a former Pakistani parliamentarian who resigned a few years ago after unsuccessfully trying to push for a "revolution" against a political order, which he suggests is rotten and cruel.
Qadri emerged from hibernation in Canada in late 2012, when he arrived in Pakistan to "reform the system" — upending with a long march in early January last year in front of the national parliament. He had vowed not to leave before his demands were met. However, the general consensus is that Asif Zardari, the-then president and leader of the ruling Pakistan People's Party, played a deft hand in hoodwinking Qadri off the D-Chowk (the famed expanse in front of the parliament) with an agreement on a piece of paper — inside a luxury container from which Qadri was addressing his supporters — about political reforms that really had no legal value. It was a spectacle that merits some recall, if only to drive home the point about the limits of demagoguery.
The negotiating team was then led by Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, the wily old fox of Pakistani politics, who ironically, is now aligned with Qadri after piggybacking on the cleric in the hope of reviving his dwindling political stock — only to be "betrayed" after a somewhat chastened Qadri declared the other day that he had no intention of forming any political alliance!
Hussain should really have known better, for, Qadri has a track record of failing to live up to his word and changing tack according to the situation. The game-changer, in this now rather comical theatre premised in creating civil unrest designed to topple the government of Nawaz Sharif, of course, remains Imran Khan's PTI. Perhaps, both Qadri and Hussain took for granted the PTI's support, presuming its discontent over the government's failure to probe its charges of poll rigging would leave it with no choice but to join them.
Contrary to vague ideas and an ambiguous approach that is prone to change by Qadri, who relies on a cult-driven following with no political basis, and Hussain, who does not inspire any sensational stock either, Khan's PTI boasts a strong parliamentary presence and popular base that the Sharif government actually worries about. However, it is highly unlikely that Khan will play second fiddle to "political orphans" just because of a common desire to oust Sharif when, in fact, the PTI has higher stakes after creating national space for itself on the back of a consistent struggle for change by remaining — even if a touch fussily — within the system. Hopefully, the Sharif government will realize it also overplayed its hand in trying to quickly nix Qadri-ism and unwittingly, creating the spectre of a Frankenstein, where there really is none!
The author is a senior journalist based in Islamabad. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman.