An unknown player in Pakistani politics now seems set to unseat the government later this month if his planned 4-million-man march goes ahead.
Dr Tahir ul Qadri, who heads the religious organisation Minhaj-ul Quran International, is set to move at least 4 million people to Islamabad on January 14 if the government does not give in to his demands. His threats are being taken seriously by both the government and the opposition.
This comes after a political rally in Lahore in December which was attended by one million people. Qadri said that most of these people were his followers in the MQI but there were many others “who genuinely want to change things.”
On Tuesday, Qadri found a strong ally in the form of the Karachi-based Muttahida Qaumi Movement party, which has said that it would support the 4-million march with thousands of its supporters. In a rally attended by hundreds of thousands of activists in Karachi on Tuesday, Tahir ul Qadri told an MQM rally that he wanted Islamabad to turn into a “peaceful Tahrir Square.”
Qadri told his audience that the current political system in Pakistan needs to be changed. “Some fundamentals have to be set right,” he said, adding that the middle class has no representation in parliament. “It is just the landlords and the industrialists who control everything.”
In an agenda which is appealing to the middle class, Qadri has said he wants to go to Islamabad to have the elections, now scheduled for May 2013, to be postponed so that the country can fix its election rules and bring some sense into the economy.
What is significant is that Qadri is from the Barelvi school of thought. “He is being seen as an answer to the Taliban which are Deobandi and more extremist,” said Khaled Ahmed, a political analyst. It is believed that Qadri may have the backing of the army.