VIEW : An enigma wrapped in a puzzle — Anwar Syed
Pakistan does not need a single leader of heroic proportions, a replica of Kemal Ataturk, who will set all things right
Dr Tahirul Qadri, reportedly a competent scholar of Islam, a citizen of Canada where he lives, is currently visiting Pakistan. He addressed a mammoth public meeting in Lahore a couple of weeks ago. His oratorical skills would enable him to overawe his listeners and persuade many of them that he knows all about Pakistan, its people’s needs and aspirations, and that what he does not know is not worth knowing. Reflecting back, some of his listeners are not sure what exactly his diagnosis and prescriptions are. He claims that he does not covet public office but many in his audiences are inclined to believe that he would like to be in the driver’s seat. It appears that he would like to direct the caretaker administration that will hold the next elections. This transitional administration, he says, does not have to complete its assigned mission within 90 days. He contends that no harm will come if elections are postponed for a few months. In addition, he maintains that the present electoral system is incapable of producing good representatives and that it needs to be changed. Sceptics are wondering aloud about the sponsors of Dr Qadri’s mission and its hidden purpose. It is estimated that his enterprise is costing billions of rupees, which are not coming out of his own bank account. Observers want to know who is funding him.
We are in the midst of momentous events. An elected government is about to complete its designated term of five years and it is ready to yield to its successor within a few months. The people are waiting for the elections that will allow this development to take place. Many political observers feel that democracy in Pakistan is still fragile and that it must be protected from hostile forces. It is assumed that the secret agencies and the military, loosely termed as the establishment, do not want democracy to gain vigour and firmness because that will inhibit the directive role they have covertly played in politics and governance. In certain schools of thought, they may be Dr Qadri’s sponsors and providers.
Dr Qadri claims to be a friend to democracy and wants it to flourish in the soil of Pakistan. He says that elections should not be delayed unduly but they should be held under a different system from the one currently prevailing, which returns the unworthy sort to the assemblies. Dr Qadri is causing the impression that in his view only the wise and the righteous should be allowed to contest elections. This kind of a requisite will disqualify the great majority of citizens from running for public office. It would subvert democracy, which assumes that all of us are righteous unless we have been found guilty of wrongdoing in a court of law. He wants the current electoral system to be reformed before the people go to the polls. He would probably want an agency such as the election commission to scrutinise the credentials of those who want to contest elections. Only those who are certified to be fit may run. This may not be a bad idea but it is a prescription for establishing an aristocracy, not democracy. This reformation may require constitutional amendments, which may or may not be adopted, and which will take a long time to pass, in which case elections will have to be postponed for an indefinite period of time.
In spite of all these problems of which students of politics are aware, Dr Qadri served notice that if the government did not implement his recommendations by January 10 he would lead a long march to Islamabad where millions of his followers would enact a sit-in and bring the entire system of governance to a halt. What do we know of this man? He is probably a competent scholar, he has excellent command of Urdu and a good resonant voice and he speaks well. He is an effective manager. It has been reported that in Narowal district alone Dr Qadri owns and directs more than 50 schools. Men and women who work with him are paid remuneration and they appear to be a disciplined force. I understand that he sent 20 buses to Shakar Garh to bring an audience for his aforementioned address in Lahore. These buses were to depart at 9:00 am sharp and so they did. He is a good organiser. What else?
Dr Qadri says he does not desire high office but will accept it if the people bestow it upon him. He is more concerned with reforming the electoral system. He is not satisfied with the present composition of the election commission, because it cannot function as an unaligned agency. It consists of a chairman and four members sent by the four provincial governments. The chairman does not have any overriding authority and these four members will presumably express the preferences of their respective governments. It follows that this commission, as presently constituted, cannot hold honest elections. This reasoning is open to question. The four provincial representatives cannot be assumed to have similar assessments of the issues coming before the commission. Since none of them can have his own will prevail, they will be compelled to dispose of the question before them in a nonpartisan fashion that is according to its merits.
Dr Qadri initiated a long march to Islamabad on January 13 with the intention of launching a sit-in outside parliament. The MQM endorsed his objectives and initially declared that it would join his march but as numerous political observers had predicted, it changed its mind. It is now content with giving Dr Qadri only its moral support. Imran Khan also supported his mission but declined to join the march because he had not been consulted ahead of time. Leaders of all other political parties have opposed Dr Qadri’s design and operation. Their professed goals may be the same as his own. Their readiness to line up with him would amount to abandoning their positions of political leadership. In a recent statement, Mian Nawaz Sharif has denounced Dr Qadri’s abrupt intrusion into this country’s politics and his claim of entitlement to direct it. Heads of other political parties have done the same. Dr Qadri’s emergence in the nation’s politics is a passing phenomenon.
Pakistan does not need a single leader of heroic proportions, a replica of Kemal Ataturk, who will set all things right. It needs viable and well-grounded institutions that keep doing their job even as individual notables come and go. Institutionalisation works as a counter to the designs of lusty men who want to reduce governance to a one-man show. We in Pakistan need strong and stable institutions, not the likes of Dr Tahirul Qadri, to carry us forward on the road to advancement.
The writer is professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org