Guess Who’s Back: Qadri Lands in Pak to Kick Sharif When He’s Down
Tahir ul-Qadri has expressed satisfaction with Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification, but wants to go further.
Tahir ul-Qadri has expressed satisfaction with Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification, but wants to go further.(Photo: Rhythum Seth/The Quint)

Guess Who’s Back: Qadri Lands in Pak to Kick Sharif When He’s Down

“A wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

As Dr Tahir ul-Qadri, Canadian-Pakistani preacher and chairman of the Pakistani Awami Tehreek (PAT) party, returned to Pakistan on 8 August to lead a campaign against the incumbent Sharif government, that's how he was described by the Norwegian Immigration and Integration Minister Sylvi Listhaug at an anti-extremism event in Norway a few days before he touched down in Lahore.

Accusing Qadri of speaking out of both sides of his mouth, Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet reported Listhaug saying to the main speaker [Qadri] of the event:

We, unfortunately, know that there are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Important leaders who say one thing officially and something completely different when they speak to their own sect.

This criticism by the Norwegian minister echoes criticisms of Qadri in Pakistan, too.

Also Read: A Chapter in Pakistani Politics Closes with Nawaz Sharif’s Exit

Under scrutiny are his positions on blasphemy: In different video clips, he appears to contradict himself, opposing blasphemy for non-Muslims in one while speaking in English, and saying in Urdu in another clip that whether Muslim or not, whosoever commits blasphemy should be put to death.

In other interviews, he is also seen claiming to have been the architect of the blasphemy law the late Governor of Punjab, Salman Tasseer, was slain for criticising.

In another example of this doublespeak, Pakistan Today indicates that while Qadri speaks of the value of human life and the ‘importance of this life’ to the West, when in Pakistan he turns around and extols the virtues of martyrdom.

Nonetheless, in much of Pakistan and the West, Qadri is known as a moderate Muslim voice, one who had issued a 600-page fatwa against terrorism and suicide bombing in 2010 – the firebrand politician landed in Lahore Tuesday morning from Oslo to hold Nawaz Sharif accountable for the 14 deaths in the Model Town massacre, after his disqualification from the Prime Ministership over PanamaGate.

Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri (C), leader of Minhaj-ul-Quran movement speaks before a protest march from Lahore to Islamabad on 13 January 2013.
Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri (C), leader of Minhaj-ul-Quran movement speaks before a protest march from Lahore to Islamabad on 13 January 2013.
(Photo: Reuters)

From Whence He Came

Dr Tahir ul-Qadri is a Sufi scholar and preacher by training, having established his organisation, Minhaj-ul-Quran in 1981. According to its website:

Minhaj-ul-Quran International, a Pakistan-based international organisation working to promote peace, tolerance, interfaith harmony and education, tackle extremism and terrorism, engage with young Muslims for religious moderation, promote women’s rights, development and empowerment, and provide social welfare and promotion of human rights.
Tahir ul-Qadri greets Imran Khan after attending Eid al-Adha prayers outside the parliament house in the Red Zone during an anti-government protest in Islamabad on 6 October 2014. 
Tahir ul-Qadri greets Imran Khan after attending Eid al-Adha prayers outside the parliament house in the Red Zone during an anti-government protest in Islamabad on 6 October 2014. 
(Photo: Reuters)

Previously a minor political player, Qadri burst onto the scene in Pakistan in 2012, leading thousands in a protest march to Islamabad, unsuccessfully calling for the toppling of the PPP government. In 2014, again, he appeared, holding a gripping rally with Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf's (PTI) Imran Khan from a shipping container – the very shipping containers put out by the government to contain and halt unruly mobs around election time.

Also Read: Nawaz Sharif Disqualified as PM: Here Are His Options Now

Whether he's a genuine moderate, or simply a pawn of the Army, is a matter of some contention in Pakistan owing to his sudden, bombastic appearance in the political scene.

He may wish to usher in a radically new system. Or, he may be a pawn of the security establishment that wishes to put pressure on an unpopular government that is often at odds with the armed forces.
Michael Kugelman, Senior Program Associate for South and Southeast Asia, Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars to Al Jazeera

Often likened to Anna Hazare, Qadri wants nothing short of revolution, a "peaceful" Tahrir Square movement in Pakistan. His opponents, like Nawaz Sharif's PPP, allege that he is funded by the Army to destabilise the civilian government, a claim he has vehemently denied.

Sermonising on a platform of pro-democracy, anti-corruption and religious moderation – advocating education for all, and an overhaul of the electoral system – he has a large enough following to stir the political waters when he makes landfall from Canada.

Supporters of Tahir ul-Qadri chant anti-government slogans outside the parliament house during the Revolution March in Islamabad on 25 September 2014. 
Supporters of Tahir ul-Qadri chant anti-government slogans outside the parliament house during the Revolution March in Islamabad on 25 September 2014. 
(Photo: Reuters)

As of this writing, he had 865k followers on Twitter, and the capability to assemble large crowds through his well-organised PAT and network of religious centres around the country.

With Sharif Disqualified, an Opportunity?

Large numbers of PAT workers gathered to welcome their chief at Lahore Airport on 8 August 2017 at 8:30 am. Hailing the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif by the Pakistani Supreme Court as a "historic" moment, and "divine revenge" for the 14 killed in Model Town, Qadri's priority now is to capitalise on the momentum to make sure Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz are held accountable for the killings. He demands that a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) be formed to probe the killings, like in the Panama Papers case.

At the Nasir Bagh rally on Tuesday soon after he landed, Qadri and leaders from PTI and the Awami Muslim League came together a day before Nawaz Sharif's planned 'Million March' from Islamabad to Lahore on Wednesday in protest of his disqualification by the Supreme Court.

Turning his sights on Shahbaz Sharif at the rally, he said:

The thief is caught, but now it’s the killer’s turn.
Tahir ul-Qadri at Nasir Bagh rally

Then back to Nawaz, as Qadri exhorted him to "speak openly", asking the disqualified ex-PM to name who exactly it is that is "conspiring" against him in the SC verdict against him in the Panama Papers case, and failing that, to cancel his march.

Also Read: Maryam Nawaz Sharif: ‘Mughal Princess’ or Future Pakistan PM?

Although PTI members were in attendance, Imran Khan was conspicuously absent from Qadri's homecoming this time.

Today, Qadri's PAT followers will "welcome" Sharif's parade in Lahore, "peacefully", he insists, in a way that harms neither 'a leaf nor a plant'. Whether it is possible for a group of charged-up protesters calling the ex-PM a murderer to 'meet' a parade of the embattled Sharif's supporters 'peacefully' will remain to be seen.

Pakistan's next general election is due in July 2018.

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