Pakistan Spring Coming

Spearhead Analysis – 25.12.12

tahirulqadriDr Tahir ul Qadri’s meticulously orchestrated and massively attended debut speech in Lahore has galvanized the pre-election environment and opened the flood gates of speculation. Former Governor Khosa’s exit and the new governor’s appointment were lost in the excitement that Dr Qadri managed to generate. The first question being asked is who is backing Dr Qadri and who is providing the enormous funds required to advertise and manage his enterprise? Dr Qadri dispelled rumors of any backer or funder but the basic question remained unanswered. He also stated clearly that he was not in any way subverting the elections nor was he for any kind of intervention in the evolving political scenario.

What he wants is a cleansing process that brings the elections within the provisions of the Constitution. He wants a change and not another five years of the same as promised by the Prime Minister in a recent speech. On the face of it what he says should strengthen the Election Commission, the judiciary and the military in their roles as far as elections are concerned. The MQM is already backing and facilitating him and the PTI leader Imran Khan has said that what Qadri says is in line with his party’s thinking. If Dr Qadri thinks that most—not all—politicians do not measure up to the requirements of the Constitution then is he hinting at a Presidential system or does he want the political parties to clean up their act by ditching the undesirables and bringing in clean candidates — a process that the PTI seems to have undertaken.

When he demands a strong competent Caretaker arrangement on the basis of a much broader consensus than a two party agreement then is he envisaging a longer and much more productive role for the Caretakers? This would tie in with his ‘cleansing the system’ idea and would inevitably force the Caretakers to stay longer and perhaps take long outstanding hard policy decisions that transcend political transitions. This, of course, is an idea that has been tossed around as a way of putting Pakistan on the road to recovery.

The two main political parties have understandably tried to shrug off Dr Qadri’s ideas as not feasible but the fact is that his views are being discussed and have found considerable resonance. The Arab Spring also had a modest start but gained momentum quickly and Dr Qadri has already given a January 10-14 deadline for a massive show of force in Islamabad a la Tahrir Square to reinforce his message that a change is wanted and nothing short of that would be acceptable. This puts the ball firmly in the Government-Establishment court.

The focus so far has been on the pre-election maneuverings and manipulations. A new element has entered the arena and it cannot be ignored — especially if it acquires a ‘Spring’ like momentum. The assassination of Minister Bashir Bilour has had its own impact in shaping opinion about the future course of events as far as the counter-insurgency campaign in the west is concerned besides being an indicator of the expected violence level before and during the elections if the environment is not changed. Pakistan’s well timed strategic decision to support the intra Afghan peace process should have a positive impact on the external environment. What is needed is a follow-up decision to bring the internal environment under control.

(Spearhead Analyses are collaborative efforts and not attributable to a single individual)