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Revolution: Islamabad style

Islamabad’s peace was shattered only once during the long march led by Dr Tahirul Qadri. The interior minister, who had authorised the march to move toward D-Chowk, did not comply with Qadri’s diktat to move the stage.

By Tuesday morning, the marchers were pushing to reach the chowk, along with their vehicles and belongings. As they crossed the bridge over the Seventh Avenue, some of them thought of by-passing the main Jinnah Avenue by taking the Nazimuddin Road. Sensing danger from the crowd’s sudden move out of their designated area, the police started firing in the air and lobbing teargas shells. Minor scuffles between Qadri’s supporters and the police were brought under control and the revolution resumed its peaceful approach.

Tuesday afternoon, Qadri faced some difficulty in starting his main speech but finally got going, vociferously formulating his four demands which, by now, are a part of our political discourse. He seemed to be at a loss again about how to end the interminable address when TV networks broke the news of the Supreme Court’s order to arrest the prime minister in the RPP case.

Conveniently forgetting that he had already ‘sacked’ the prime minister, Qadri went into a trance of “Mubarak ho, Mubarak ho”. The chief justice unknowingly had provided Dr Qadri something to celebrate and he ended his speech on a victorious note, promising to address the sit-in again the following day.

After this high drama, I decided to go and observe the sit-in, parking my car near Beverley Centre and what remains of the Nafdec cinema. I looked in vain for some empty shells from that morning’s gun fire. No luck as all ‘evidence’ had been removed and may now be the pride possessions of TV reporters or bystanders. Trying to sense the mood of the ‘million march’, I realised that Qadri’s fury had been somewhat tempered by the court order, sending a wave of optimism into the massive gathering.

I returned home to join the captive audience of five hundred million – on Qadri’s scale – to watch the revolution unfold from the comfort of my living room. But there is a limit to viewing live coverage to the point of saturation. I changed channels till PTV appeared, reminding me that ignorance is bliss.

The government channel that receives regular contribution through my electricity bill to the tune of three hundred rupees every year was busy demolishing Qadri. No one had alerted them of the behind the scene parleys between Qadri and the coalition via the good offices of the MQM and the Q-League.

After I couldn’t take it any more, I turned off the TV, trying to get my thoughts straight when a friend dropped by for a quick cup of tea. According to him, the Sheikh-ul- Islam was self-propelled and not backed by a hidden hand. The invisibles were taken by surprise with Qadri’s meticulous preparations especially the container. My friend brushed aside the idea that the army was behind this second political storm in a period of a little over a year. He doubted that even the ‘tsunami’ was stirred by them. Why would the army or its intelligence arm get involved in these matters, when they were overstretched in dealing with serious threat clearly identified by the army chief?

The crowd was bracing for a second night of bone chilling cold of Islamabad’s winter. You need strong commitment to a leader’s call to spend a whole night on freezing tarmac. As the cold night caressed the crowd with its icy fingers, everyone became busy trying to find ways of staying warm.

Apparently, slogans like “save the state, not politics” are not enough to abandon the comfort of one’s home to squat on a bare avenue of the capital on a cold January night. So what kept these people calm and steadfast? An ardent desire for change leading to a better future for the babies they were carrying? Certainly but there is something more which for now I shall call the Qadri mystique. He has a tremendous psychological hold over his disciples.

The prominent members among Qadri’s supporters, unheard of by the general public until Sunday, were being solicited by TV networks to appear on prime time shows.

Qadri knows that his followers are loyal and deeply committed but that does not make him complacent. He decided on a certain sequence of speeches to sustain their morale. He also knew the weather forecasts of terrible rainstorms and wind chill from Wednesday onwards. The sit-in was to be brought to a quick but ‘victorious’ end.

The government was pleased with the help from the weather gods but wished to give Qadri and his marchers a graceful exit. There is no comparison with the Lal Masjid crisis and the D-Chowk sit-in, as both sides were completely peaceful. The dramatic developments of Thursday afternoon, pointing to rapid forward movement in Qadri’s talks with the ruling coalition, showed that he had moved from an acute condition of vilification to bonhomie with double embraces, without batting an eyelid.

Thank you, Dr Qadri, for showing pragmatism in the midst of revolution. I never thought that an oasis of prosperity in a desert of neglect would provide the setting for a radical change. Qadri intended to keep his long march peaceful and he kept that promise.

A peaceful ‘revolution’ it was not. A deal was struck in the typical Pakistani fashion with those outside crying foul. It may be too optimistic to think that these five days of unique protest in the country’s history have given a voice to the voiceless on a durable basis.

Tailpiece: Islamabad’s carpeted soil has been found to be unsuitable for a revolution. It has been announced that only sit-ins will be allowed, where the natives can come and pitch their tents in the open fields of the F-9 park, without causing shortage of mineral water, bran bread or low-fat yoghurt. Concluded

The writer is a former ambassador.Email: saeed.saeedk@ gmail.com

M. Saeed Khalid, "Revolution: Islamabad style," The News. 2013-01-24.