Men on a mission



In 1988, Samuel E Finer wrote a book outlining the socio-cultural and historical reasons behind coups and interventions, titled The Man on Horseback: The Role of the Military in Politics. His argument was premised on the understanding that a society with widespread consensus on the legitimacy of law and, more importantly, on the method of how power is transferred from one regime to another will be able to minimise the threat of extra-legal interventions.

Finer’s argument is largely historical in nature. It assumes that respect for codified law, i.e. constitutions, penal codes, rules and procedures of business, will be instilled at some point A in the past and will carry on to point B, C, D and so on in the future — creating a situation where it is in the interest of a majority to ensure that laws and norms are neither subverted nor challenged.

As of now, a full 65 years since independence, Pakistan is still struggling to find this highly elusive point A.

Events of the last two months – ever since adverts with an extremely angry Tahirul Qadri started running on almost every television channel – highlight the general fragility surrounding our democratic system. Here is a man, last seen in active politics nearly a decade ago, threatening a revolution based on ambiguous demands and challenging a government that is already in the last lap of what seems like an incredibly long hurdle race. Qadri’s advent, from television adverts to the major gathering in Lahore and right down to the mathematically incorrect million-man Long March in Islamabad, was a well-financed intervention that simply did not work out. In fact, by the end of it, when the government essentially allowed Qadri a face-saving exit – by signing on an agreement that will certainly not be honoured come election time – the whole thing seemed like an absurd, dystopic episode from a B-grade television series. The kind, I am afraid to say, is only possible in Pakistan.

Qadri might soon be on a plane back to Toronto, leaving his benefactors and his patrons poorer by a few hundred million but this farcical episode highlighted a few systemic deficiencies in Pakistan’s political structure. For starters, it highlights an obsession with the ‘man on horseback’, who, as we have seen in the past as well, doesn’t necessarily have to be uniformed. It can, and has in most cases, be anyone who claims to work in the oft-cited, never-defined ‘national interest’ — which just happens to correspond to exactly what the ‘common man’ wants. Qadri’s spiel about saving the state is a time-tested trope with very strong historical roots and one that unfortunately enough still seems to resonate with a certain constituency — both within institutions of the state and a segment of the general populace.

Messianic adventurism of the variety we have just witnessed is in some ways built into our socio-political fabric. The impact of colonial rule, in so far as it combined personal, social and cultural power with economic power through land and state patronage, has had a long lasting impact on politics and, more importantly, on how politics has been conceived in the public imagination since 1947. During the early years of independence, power was usurped, centralised, and regulated on the pretext of protecting the state of Pakistan and in the name of the citizenry, hence establishing the supremacy of ‘necessity’ over law and of regulated control over democratic politics. Consequently, Pakistan’s political landscape has played host to quite a few individuals obsessed with this concept of saving the state, of returning it to its true roots, of bringing forth an Islamic revolution and more.

Around 13 years ago, a hitherto unknown religious figure from Chakwal, Mohammad Akram Awan threatened to march into the capital with “hundreds of thousands of his followers” if his demand to impose Islamic laws wasn’t met. As columnist, Ayaz Amir recalled at the time, this particular character had managed to convince the government that he was actually capable of such an act, and so they sent the Inspector General of the Punjab Police to parley with him. More recently, Zaid Hamid – the televangelist obsessed with ‘Ghazwa-e-Hind’ and ‘Iqbal’s Pakistan’ – launched his Takmeel-e-Pakistan movement in Lahore complete with 250 followers, ostensibly to cleanse the country of its elected representatives.

Such characters from our recent past provide solid precedence for one part of Qadri’s misadventure — an individual obsessed with removing corrupt politicians to save the state.

During the entire Long March episode, for example, Qadri demanded the application of Article 62 and 63 of the Constitution — clauses that deal with the character of those fit to be in parliament, and the disqualification of those who are not. Needless to say, the arbitrariness involved in implementing such regulations, not to mention the complete lack of clarity over what it means to be ‘of good character’ and ‘sagacious, honest, and ameen’, convert such clauses into instruments for selective accountability — the sort we have seen during every military dictatorship since independence.

Frequent interruptions and interventions through a wide variety of (usually extra-legal) ways have allowed corruption to become a useful cudgel in the hands of overzealous generals, and their proxies in politics or in the middle class intelligentsia. In turn, what the brandishing of this cudgel inadvertently does is that it prevents the development of a stable system of transitioning from one elected government to another — a mechanism crucial for the overall stability and functioning of the country. From the looks of it, Qadri’s sudden appearance on the national stage was a desperate – and remarkably unimaginative – attempt at delaying elections, disbanding the current political set-up and installing a ‘national interest’ minded caretaker government that would continue till such time as is deems appropriate.

There is, however, another facet of this recent episode that goes above and beyond the simple arithmetic of a military-backed attempt at unseating a government. This other facet was visible in the thousands of people who actually arrived with Qadri, and stayed out in the cold for four days, listening to his incredibly long speeches and periodically raising slogans against the government. One way to dismiss this variant of populism is to categorise it as a cult following — i.e. a mere byproduct of Qadri’s position as a Barelvi religious leader and a philanthropist. A closer look at the gathering, and the cause due to which it had been mobilised, reveal that people, or at least some segments of the population, actually believe in the messianic/man-on-horseback model and in the anti-corruption, pro-state rhetoric.

The most recent instance of what can only be labeled as statist populism, prior to Qadri’s march, was Imran Khan’s emergence as a political force. Throughout his political career, Khan’s rhetoric has remained fixated on issues of corruption, dishonesty, and on “cleaning the system”. His refusal to accept the legitimacy of those currently in parliament reeks of the same brand of anti-democratic politics that we have seen before in military men and other would-be autocrats. The crucial difference, nonetheless, is the success of such messaging as witnessed through popular mobilisation.

This brand of populism – heavily premised on eradicating corruption and pressurising the state to improve service delivery (gas, electricity, health, education, railways) – has been seen in other countries as well. Quite recently, Saskia Sassen – a sociology professor at Columbia University – labeled it as the crisis of the middle class, wherein the upwardly mobile segments of urban society react to a worsening economic situation by taking over public spaces in protest, and by immediately presenting themselves as the ‘common citizen’. This particular demographic segment, which has historically been the biggest beneficiary, and as some would argue a creation, of state patronage and services, simply has no patience for the apparent messiness of democracy and democratic transition. Their ambitions, continuously fueled by connections with the globalised world – through mass media, internet, diaspora – can simply not be set aside for something as trivial as elections.

The lack of patience with democracy goes all the way back to the original sin of preferring quick-fixes – legitimised by the doctrine of necessity – over the development of a participatory political culture with well functioning and pro-people civil society associations and political parties. In Pakistan’s history, there have been six local government elections and at least one general election on a non-party basis, all of them under military rule. These have furthered the cause of weakening political parties and strengthened the importance of the ‘individual’ over the ‘collective’.

Combined, these two facets of Qadri’s adventure – his pro-state, anti-politics rhetoric and the populism it generates within segments of urban Pakistan – are completely rooted in the country’s political history and its experiments with authoritarian rule. What is heartening to see, however, was the attitude of all mainstream political parties in the midst of this short-lived drama. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz reaffirmed its commitment to the democratic and electoral process and to resolving differences through legal-constitutional means. Even the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, reportedly under great pressure to join the anti-government protests, politely declined Qadri’s invitation saying that it intends to contest elections, thus dealing with the government led by the Pakistan Peoples Party on its own terms.

This level of consensus on the transfer of power through constitutional means is unprecedented and remains the biggest bulwark in preventing the derailment of a democratic transition, which remains, without doubt, the most important thing for Pakistan’s long-term stability. The second aspect, curtailing the popularity of anti-democratic forces and necessity-driven characters, will flow directly from the entrenchment of this consensus on transition, and the institutionalisation of participatory politics through civil society organisations and political parties. Crossing the very immediate hurdle of holding elections on time will certainly put Pakistan on its way to a future where the phrase ‘save the state, not politics’ will remain consigned to a rather ludicrous chapter in the country’s history.

— The writer is a Lahore-based political analyst and researcher at the Center for Economic Research in Pakistan

15 thoughts on “Men on a mission

  1. An article by someone who does not see the corruption in Pakistan but another poodle of Nawaz Sharif trying to character assassinate a man who truly wants to bring change in Pakistan.

  2. “Farcical” you wrote. Good. You have become brave. You can show it because Qadri weilds no gun. Show the same bravery please for the attackers of Malala. Most anchors and writers have willingly or unwillingly become the political spokesmen of the devils, the terrorists. Qadri did a good job. Nothing wrong with it. Only thing he should have been more radical in his demands. He should have demanded Land Ceiling and excess land distributed among the landless poor.

  3. You may find fault with Tahirul Qadri all right and his rhetoric but how could you not say anything about the compromised Supreme Court and pressured election commission of Pakistan. why no Pak party can come forward to take the issue of what Mr Qadri was seeking in supreme court. If the election gets postponed by 6 months in order to have better validated candidates at the polls, I can not see what harm it will cause. If some other party takes on the petition of Mr Qadri then Supreme Court can not dismiss it any more as coming from a dual citizen and therefore not worth bothering about. It can only improve governance, if some consensus and resolve is shown by most parties. At present, all parties want to quickly fight the election as they are looking for uncertainty to end and get on with appropriating the funds (corruption) for themselves as always.

  4. A good informative article but not an analytical one. Umair Sb. the reason behind this quick fix approaches and a popular mass engagement in such campaigns such as Mr. Qadri came up with, must be taken up in such essays. Otherwise it will always sound as a half truth. The matter of fact is that our politicians are corrupt to their necks and are mostly in agreements with the army and CIA before entring the kings palace. Democracy in this country is a curse on the word itself and people have never in last 65 years suffered as much as they did in last 5 years. Everything of value is ruined and debt burdon is gone up many folds. No institution is left intact as billions have been looted by these thugs. Now what do you expect in this situation. Why should a common man support this pakistani brand of democracy. Why do people distribute sweets amongst themselves when a general takes over? Is this so called democracy more important than then state. Would state remain unshattered if another of these 5 year tenure turn out to be same as we just had. Why don’t you people start writing about, what democracy means? Shamefulness should prevail to call a system as democracy where hundreds of elected law makers make fake degrees and commit crimes and still go free. Qadri surely was a failed drama but the people will always look for a sudden emergence of some one who can save them from their biggest enemies the politicians and surely the media which supports the thugs.

  5. A factual analysis of current situation and it covers cross currents, .under currents and pre-currents of present political and non-political developments

  6. Men in Mission — women in for change— The lead man in transit for MEDICAL check up for FITNESS.
    According to Allama Iqbal — saraaay jahan say achha hindustan hamara–
    the lead man in mission —
    saaraay jahan say achha Canada ka medical nizam hamara, hum uskay shehri hain,
    Pakistan phir bhi hay hamara, hamara

  7. The author has to be commended for his analysis of the recent events specially the advent of the Canadian Pakistani scholar, Mr. Tahir Qadri.

    Looking at this article and its contents, I want to bring out couple of things:

    You rightly state about the followers being poorer specially his wife, who gave her devoted jewelry for Qadri’s, I called it LONG DRIVE, he never marched, may be he walked inside the armored container — it was a LONG DRIVE with AMBITION to be the CARETAKER OF SOMETHING.

    He being a legal scholar miserably failed ot establish his motive and present his case– he sighted a totally irrelevant case of the two foreigners in support of his hopeless hope to make a case. That was against the state, Qadri’s case was to disband the elected government— almost an act of treason, but thanks to the broader view of the SC of Pakistan not to held him accountable.

    He is so proud to say from his own mouth, I heard him say he is international authority, in 90 countries, feels bad that he cannot get visas on Pakistan Passport, I have lived in foreign lands for longer then him, I never felt for a moment any insult to me as I never acted out of the way, to be ridiculed in Saudi Arabia, In UAE, in London, In USA, In Canada, I always loved my green passport.

    To hear him say, his Minhaj-ul-Quran is in 90 countries does not he has a feeling to do something in these 90 countries for the sake of ISLAM. Or every country that he lives is ISLAMIC in his view and it is only Pakistan that is so UNISLAMIC and so UNCONSTITUTIONAL.

    Thank you for your courage to speak and write so thoroughly, how long Pakistanis be entertained by the Pied Pipers not from England but this time from Canada. God help us all poor Pakistan from these LONG DRIVES and AMBITION to do something so sheepishly———— thank you for a fair analysis of these Men in MISSION, Umair Javed.

  8. Mr. Umer Javed you are a political analyst and I believe analyst should always be impartial & unbiased and then he/ she can be a good critic. Instead to highlight what were the cause or approach Qadri initiated and asked the ruling elites to enforce it in letter and spirit which certainly were not being used during electoral process since decades in Pakistan 65 years of history. He asked Chief Election commissioner and Election Commission of Pakistan to ensure application of standing clause # 62, 63 & 218 mandated in constitution of Pakistan.
    Which he got it through ‘Islamabad long march declaration’ singed off in between him and Govt. designated team and as such declaration now has been a compulsory scale from where all the candidates will pass through failing which he/ she will be disqualified if proves defaulter.
    The CEC now doing prescreening process from the prospective candidates submitting nomination paper, implementation of this process at least will get a good and well screened people who will be honest, loyal and dedicated to serve the country with sincerity and will be a real crusader to serve the country and its people.
    All the candidates intended to contest in election have been asked to submit clearance and updated breakup of Income tax return, updated payment of utility bills, updated loan status which they borrowed, whether paid or written off, genuineness of the degrees, dual nationality clearance from related country, court clearance if he/ she has been convicted, break up property tax payment etc. are the parameter to weigh an evaluate candidate’s eligibility.

  9. Honestly, all politician are corrupt and working for their own interests and I see Qadri standing in the same line. He came here with some hidden agenda, his own interests, being backed by some third force. His first day statements and last day statements are 100% opposite. He changed so much that his hidden agenda was exposed and he could not achieve for what he came for. Now he has gone back after making fool of so many innocent people. To me, it is another way of corruption…..

    • Khan Sb. he might not have been a professional in weighing his words and demands in advance and guilty to changing his stance, just as it is very much possible that he was sponsored by some third force but in the end you can’t describe it as making fool of his followers. I think he has achieved a lot and has raised some issues which the election comission is getting engaged with and getting hard on some of the criminals sitting in the parliment. Tax evaders, fake degree holders and loan defaulters etc are suddenly in a fix. Lets see the positive side of it and hope that we get rid of some of these culprits.

  10. An excellent article, the writer deserve to be congratulated on this political masterpiece. The comments of the readers validate the writer’s view point. I feel proud to have such learned people among us. I just want to request my young, impatient and ill informed brothers/sisters to read words of wisdom and appreciate it. Rhetorics and demagogy is the sole reason of our political instability. These apolitical democrates, Dr Qadri and Imran Khan should not be encouraged to create hurdles in the path of democracy.

  11. Very well written piece – hitting hard on the non-democratic forces in Pakistan which are increasingly becoming uncomfortable with the actual strengthening of democratic rule in the country and loss of their grip on the power. Thanks Mr. Jawed for your insight!

  12. Media is now servant of politicians and stake holder in corruption. Who will break this media-corruption-politicians nexus.

  13. Your article is well written. I would however, like to point out that Pakistan’s problems are two: (1) Military which does everything possible to weaken an elected Government and encourage corruption among politicans, and does nothing to eradicate terrorism, and (2) The Mullahs who are killing innocent children, women and men, even in places of worship. I believe they have damaged Islam more than anyone else. Because they do terrorist activities in the name of religion, keeping large beards. They are actually CRIMINAL SYNDICATE.

    I believe the solution of Pakistan lies in democracy and primacy of elected Government. They military should be in practice under the civilian elected leadership as is the case in India and other civilized countries.

    Punjab Government is hiding , providing safe havens , to these Punjabi Taliaban and Pakistan Taliaban. Chief Minister has said that they have an understanding with Taliban that Taliban would not do terrorist activities in Punjab. Now this is an insult to intelligence. Punjab Government should know that these terrorist will turn to Punjab sooner or later and Punjab is a landlocked place. Karachi is suffering of terorist activities because these terrorist commit terroristic act in Karachi and run to Punjab where they have safe havens.

    Your article menntion coming of MESSIAH. There is no Messiah coming because Pakistani Army is not capable to producing a messiah (mass murderer) because Pakistani Army will not kill Punjabi Talibans.

    For survival, the only hope Pakistan has is the continuing of democracy where you can change leaderships through peaceful means i.e. elections. You cannot do that when Army Dictator is ruling the country.

    Iqbal Sialkotia

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