He came, he saw, and he did not conquer
Cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri made a sudden landing in Pakistan from Canada, addressed a large gathering and threatened the Government in Islamabad with dire consequences if it did not quit. Then he returned
Though the ‘Pakistan Spring’, launched with fanfare at Lahore on December 23, 2012, fizzled out when the January 15 Islamabad rally failed to gather momentum, its enduring lesson is that nations targeted for ‘revolution’ by foreign-returned messiahs must subject the putative saviours to close scrutiny.
Someone in Pakistan would have been alerted that Canadian-Pakistani dual citizen, Tahir-ul-Qadri, founder of the political party, Pakistan Awami Tehreek, and voluntary organisation, Minhaj-ul-Quran, had roused the fury of scholars at the prestigious Al Azhar seminary for assuming the title ‘Shaykh-ul-Islam’. The angry scholars pointed out that Pakistan is not an Islamic state on the lines of Turkey under the Khulafa Uthmani where Shaykh-ul-Islam was also an appointed position endorsed by the Khalifa. Hence, no authority in Pakistan or Egypt can sanction this title.
Shaykh-ul-Islam, as per authorities such as Allamah Shams El-Din El-Sakhawi, “is a title attributed to that follower of the Book of Allah Most High and the example of His Messenger, who possesses the knowledge of the principles of the Science (of Religion), has plunged deep into the different views of the scholars, has become able to extract the legal evidences from the texts, and has understood the rational and the transmitted proofs at a satisfactory level.”
Mr Qadri roused scepticism when he addressed the Islamabad rally in English; he also spoke in Urdu. Earlier, in August 2010, he ran a week-long anti-terrorism camp for Muslim youth at the University of Warwick to tackle extremism in the UK. Friends who saw him there noted he spoke in English in an era when jihadis are spewing Arabic! It was obvious he could not attract the youth moving toward the jihadis; he must have been in the UK for some other purpose.
The Al Azhar scholars questioned Mr Qadri’s academic credentials and the need for Arabic translators during a trip to Egypt, when every Alim in Islamic history who held the title Shaykh-ul-Islam, was proficient in Arabic. Demanding that he furnish evidence that a legitimate authority had conferred the title on him, and the grounds for the same, they warned (prior to his return to Pakistan) that he planned “to instigate a ‘revolution’ like the ones that have brought civil wars and instability to North Africa (i.e. Libya) and the Middle East (i.e. Syria), causing catastrophic grief and releasing a flood of extremists”.
Certainly, Mr Qadri has a background worth noting, and has travelled widely in the past decade, discussing issues of concern to Muslims and the West. In March 2010, he drew international acclaim with his unconditional fatwa on terrorism and was feted by the international media, drawing appreciation from the US State Department.
Mr Qadri’s significant connections include Turkish Sufi scholar Fettullah Gulen, who was ‘used’ by the West, according to informed sources. The FBI’s former Turkish-American translator Sibel Edmonds (sacked in 2002) testified in 2010 in the court case of Fetullah Gulen, who was seeking a green card, confirming US-Saudi sponsorship of radical mosques and Islamists in Central Asia. She described American Government documents which she had transcribed during her service. This means Washington was looking for a proxy for effective control of the region and asked Turkey, a Nato ally, for help as Turkey shares the same racial heritage as the population of Central Asia, the Turkic language, and religion (Sunni Islam).
Experts believe that Turkish organisations like the $25 billion Gulen movement, reportedly financed by the CIA, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, have been establishing madarssas and mosques across Central Asia, including Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, for over a decade. Gulen, now based in Pennsylvania, is close to Graham E Fuller, former CIA station chief in Kabul, important analyst for the Council on Foreign Relations, and author of The Future of Political Islam.
At the January 15 rally, Mr Qadri accused the Pakistani Government of being corrupt and incompetent; he demanded that elections be deferred until the Election Commission was reconstituted; an impartial and honest caretaker Government installed in consultation with the Army and Judiciary; and Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution dealing with candidate eligibility implemented. He seemed to have received a boost when the Chief Justice called for the immediate arrest of Prime Minister Raja Ashraf Pervez in a corruption case; but suspicions that the Army and Judiciary were using him to instigate a ‘soft coup’ dented public support for him.
The Army and Mr Qadri both denied the rumours, but he was tainted by his energetic support to former Army chief and President Pervez Musharraf after the coup of 1999. He served in the national Assembly under Mr Musharraf before moving to Canada in 2006, after some differences with Mr Musharraf.
The corruption case regarding private power stations relates to Mr Pervez’s tenure as Power Minister, but he has not been personally convicted in any case and hence the order for his arrest was not executed. The overall crisis was defused by dexterous political management by the ruling party; Mr Imran Khan’s demand for the immediate resignation of President Asif Ali Zardari fell flat. However, the mysterious murder of Kamran Faisal who was investigating the case has not helped the Government’’s credibility.
The beleaguered regime, however, defused Mr Qadri ‘revolution’ by sending a high-level delegation for talks, thus giving him a face-saver. Nawaz Sharif, Altaf Hussain and others also sent messengers to talk to him. As the Government made it clear that it would complete its tenure and have elections on schedule, all that Mr Qadri got was a vague promise of dissolution of the Provincial Assemblies and consultations regarding a caretaker Prime Minister.
Meanwhile, someone doubtless nudged the Canadian authorities, because as soon as the ‘Pakistan Spring’ crowd moved off the streets, they issued summons to Mr Qadri to report for questioning on February 5 regarding violation of the oath he took while seeking asylum. Mr Qadri had sought asylum in 2008 on the plea that he could not enter his native country, Pakistan, and feared threats to his life after meeting the Danish cartoonist who made blasphemous caricatures of Prophet Muhammad. His asylum application was accepted in October 2009, and he received his Canadian passport six months ago.
Thereafter, his rather prompt and high-profile political activity in Pakistan was at variance with claims made while seeking asylum and citizenship in Canada. Chastened by this turn of events, Mr Qadri returned to Canada after announcing that neither he nor any member of his family would contest elections. He may never return.