It’s the third night of Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri’s Long March and I’ve just been watching the late night talk shows and the media’s analyses. I will talk about how amazed and sick I am at the u-turn the media has taken suddenly to protect the very politicians they’ve been bickering about ad nauseam the last five years, but before I do that I will really try to put my thoughts in order and pen them down with some coherence on the sudden whirlwind of
events in the last few days – starting from the tragic protest by the Hazara community and later Minhaj-ul-Quran’s long march to demand free and fair elections in the country.
Before even talking about Tahir-ul-Qadri and his march, I am very alarmed by the fact that the suspended Balochistan Assembly not only managed to convene a session but have also passed a resolution against the imposed Governor Rule. Not a single one of these petty members of assembly had the humanity or moral courage to condole with the protesters sitting with the bodies of their loved ones on Alamdar Road. Alarmingly, as far as I am aware, there has been no response by the Government or any questions by the media on this development. How was a suspended assembly allowed to convene and pass a resolution, and that too with an incomplete quorum? What action has been taken against them so far? None. I can almost see a ploy by the government to defuse the situation at a time when the entire country was out on the streets demanding justice for those killed in the barbaric attacks in Quetta, and considering the kind of inept, cruel, and corrupt government this is, I don’t really have much expectation either. I hope to God I’m proved wrong in this instance. The implications are frightening for minorities.
On to Dr. Qadri. When I first heard of the long march on the media a couple of days ago, I dismissed it, and was in fact quite skeptical. Except for some of his religious lectures aired on TV, I hadn’t really heard him or knew much about him like most of my friends. I also asked the same questions: Why now? What agenda? Who’s agenda? I hadn’t even thought that he would actually bring a huge crowd down to Islamabad. But, even when they started, despite my skepticism, I was really irked at the government trying to stop a perfectly legal protest through blockades and containers. It was not the Long March, but the government’s antics of putting up blockades, closing down petrol stations, and sealing the Red Zone that led to conjecture and fear in the capital. And it also showed that despite the fact that they were taking it lightly on surface, the Government was actually worried. I think they just like to remind every one of their importance (read: nuisance value) now and then anyway.
I really started paying heed to what Dr. Qadri was saying during his speeches. You know, like most people, I was dismissing his initiative and his allegedly “unconstitutional and illegal” demands without even hearing them, but just taking the cue from the media and anchor persons. I later realised that not a single anchor or talk show has actually analysed or discussed MuQ’s demands…they’ve just skimmed through them repeatedly calling and labelling them “unconstitutional and illegal” so that’s what my mind retained as well, until I actually heard Dr. Qadri explain what they want. Even today, while airing the speech, Express TV had this animation playing on the side which read: Inqilaab ya Intikhaab (Revolution or Elections), which could be very misleading.
Minhaj ul Quran’s long march participants on the third day of protest in Islamabad. Photo: The Nation
Today, in all honesty, I heard for the first time a well prepared, logical, and comprehensive argument and speech backed by solid facts by a leader in Pakistan. We are so used to hearing emotional rhetoric all the time that it was actually quite refreshing to hear someone talking passionately but logically about their purpose. And, it has led me to believe, at least in my personal opinion, that there is nothing really outrageous, illegal or unconstitutional about his demands. For God’s sake, he read out all the demands from the Constitution of Pakistan directly. So what do I think, or what I think I think now….???
There’s nothing really too far-fetched or unconstitutional about Dr. Qadri’s demands. How many times have we sat at restaurants, coffee shops, and in our drawing rooms debating exactly the same things? In all honestly, how many times have you yourself said: Kia faida elections ka? Phir wohi chor Zardari aur Sharif wapas aa jaeein gay. They’ve only demanded the following:
- Electoral reforms, meaning the elections should be conducted fairly and transparently in the true spirit of the Constitution of Pakistan. Mostly, this means that candidates should be scrutinised by the ECP before being allowed to run in the elections.
- An impartial, neutral and non-political Election Commission. The current one should be dissolved and it should be ensured that all five members (other than the Chief as well) should be impartial and non-political.
- Announcement of an impartial and neutral caretaker government so elections are actually transparent.
- Lastly, that the current assembly should be dissolved now so that the above can take place, because they don’t trust this government and don’t think that they are honestly capable to take the above steps to ensure transparency and free elections. Neither do I! Fair enough.
They have reiterated again and again that they want elections in 90 days too. I may not agree with everything they’ve said, especially in praise of the Army. But, whether people think it’s a conspiracy, or backed by “the establishment” (jo kay pata nahin kis chiriya ka naam hai) or the “boots” – my questions are: why is everyone so focussed on who’s behind and not what they’re asking for? Isn’t that what we and the media have been asking for, forever? Why have the government and the opposition allowed things to come to a point where this has happened? Why do our politicians not have the same foresight as the “conspirators” or the “establishment”? Who do they let themselves be exploited again and again through their own corruption, apathy, inefficiency and simple incompetence? Do we really want a repeat telecast of the last five years of democratic rule?
I also don’t really agree with the way Dr. Qadri’s personality has come into so much limelight since the Long March. Again, I may be wrong, but I haven’t yet forgotten how Malala Yousufzai was portrayed when an unstoppable wave of sympathy emerged for her in the country and what impact and confusion it led to; neither have I forgotten how Imran Khan’s past was maligned when he started asking for tax reforms. There is always propaganda at work when anything of this scale takes place in Pakistan. So, I don’t go for personalities – I think it’s more logical to look at what they’re asking for. If it’s likely to challenge the status quo (politicians, bureaucracy, army, elite and the religious right), it’s likely to result in a personal propaganda so to be honest I won’t pay much heed to that. I also don’t think we should forget that it’s just the political parties that felt threatened. Maybe I’m reading too much into the situation, but I would be surprised if the religious right wasn’t rattled by two big, peaceful and impactful campaigns led by the moderate minority sects. Maulana Fazl ur Rehman’s reaction showed that. But, I’ll leave it at that.
Lastly, the role of the media in all of this has left my mind reeling! Either they’ve transformed overnight or something has gone very wrong, at least to my mind. How can every popular anchor person tow the same line? Really? The politicians you hated until three days ago are your best friends now? Spare me please! It’s sick. Not the fact that they are not entitled to their opinions. If they talk about saving the democratic system, it will make sense but it seems that they are towing the government and opposition lines (not that they are different or separate) and really being blatantly negative in their analysis. And, I’m truly not saying this because of some bias. It is so apparent. Do you really want to talk about clothes, maulvism, and english speeches instead of analysing the demands of the protesters? Do you really think Qamar Zaman Kaira was funny in his speech today when he mimicked TuQ? Even his good oratory seems to irk them, as I read in an article today. Even that’s supposed to be his fault? Maybe, I’m wrong but do tell me if you don’t feel that the media is openly biased in this instance. From Hamid Mir to Najam Sethi, I felt that nobody was actually discussing what the protestors want but were bent upon proving how wrong and illegal they were. I was quite amazed…really! Or, maybe I am wrong, but I just can’t stop feeling that most of it was ‘fed’!
SO, WHAT NOW?
Since this drama’s started unfolding, every morning I feel good and hopeful that whether the dharna succeeds or not, just the fact that it has happened, has to be good for Pakistan in the long run. It has made Pakistanis question the status quo and has exposed the political parties who’ve run scrambling for cover and each other’s support, and others like the MQM who really don’t know what they want. But, after watching tv and listening to people, by evening I am as dejected and confused as everyone else. How long will the protest last? Will these thousands of people actually leave? What happens if they do, and what if they don’t? Does this provide more impetus to the govt to think that they can do whatever they want with the people if they are patient enough – or does this make them think again about whatever they have been doing? What will happen with the PM’s arrest orders and how will that play out?
I can only hope and pray and console myself with the thought that all this is good for democracy. But, at the same time, I now know that I won’t be content with just the tag of democracy. It has to work for us too! I also pray and hope well for the thousands camped out on the road in the cold and their aspirations. I pray for their safety. There are still too many blanks and question marks, and every day a new drama unfolds. I’m just afraid we’ll never be able to fill in these blanks. All I hope for is that if nothing else, people will now think twice before voting for a candidate. And, all that I pray for is that months or years down the line, we don’t have to regret that we didn’t speak out when we should have.