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Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri: A Complex Man Full Of Contradictions

Islamic cleric Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri addresses his audience behind bulletproof glass at a rally in Islamabad on January 16.
Islamic cleric Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri addresses his audience behind bulletproof glass at a rally in Islamabad on January 16.
He calls himself Sheikh-ul-Islam and gets his supporters to swear allegiance to him on the Koran, but he hates to be called "maulana," a term regularly used to refer to religious scholars in Pakistan.

He promises to bring true democracy to Pakistan even though critics claim he does not bat an eyelid when seeking the help of undemocratic forces to overthrow the elected government.

He claims to be a pro-democracy revolutionary, but he did not appear to mind supporting a military dictator in 2002.

He wants "true, pure, and honest" democracy but has so far been unwilling to disclose the source of the huge amounts of money he has spent on mammoth gatherings, a long protest march, and a camp to accommodate demonstrators.

He wants to uphold the cause of the nation but seems reluctant to risk surrendering dual citizenship for the sake of Pakistan and its people.

He wants to dissolve the widely supported Election Commission and dismiss the election commissioner, Fakhruddin G. Ibrahim, but he has not yet proposed any alternative person to head the country’s top electoral body.

He wants honest, patriotic, clean, and true Muslims to rule Pakistan, but he still has not named anyone who he believes meets these criteria.

He boasted of assembling 4 million people in Islamabad for a demonstration but ended up with an estimated 50,000 instead.

He travels in a bullet-proof car while his followers brave the terrorist threat on the roads. He sleeps in a bomb-proof container, whereas his supporters have been spending chilly winter nights under an open sky.

He is intent on bringing revolution nonetheless. He talks of justice and equality. He abhors corruption and dishonesty and promises to ensure social justice for all and sundry by virtue of a "true democratic" system.

Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri, the religious scholar known for his 600-page fatwa (religious decree) condemning terrorism in 2010, has become a household name in Pakistan. He is particularly well known among those who watch the country's 24-hour private television channels and frequent social-media networks such as Twitter and Facebook.

Many of his statements are also music to the ears of Westerners and Europeans who have lost hope for Pakistan after failed efforts to persuade the country’s security establishment to break its alleged ties with militants, and who fear a Taliban and Al-Qaeda takeover with each new terrorist attack in the country.

Moreover, many of those same people believe that an English-speaking mullah who dislikes being addressed as "maulana" could represent a true blend of Islam and democracy, which would sit well with Pakistan's religious milieu and Western standards of modernization.

In mid-January, some 50,000 people took to the streets of Islamabad for a rally in support of Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri.
In mid-January, some 50,000 people took to the streets of Islamabad for a rally in support of Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri.

Although people around the world watched TV coverage of Qadri and some 50,000 supporters holding a protest rally in Islamabad on January 15 and closely followed his subsequent speech and deadline for government talks, they failed to note that Pakistan's population of 180 million (minus 50,000) supports various parties and leaders from the 200 or so political groupings that exist in this highly diverse society.

There are also many Pakistanis who are suspicious of Qadri's show of power. This is particularly apparent among electronic media and scores of leading commentators, analysts, researchers, journalists, and news anchors.

Basing their arguments on past experience, there are many well-informed Pakistanis who believe Qadri is backed by the country’s strong security establishment.

And they may have good reasons for believing this. The country’s main intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), is widely believed to have distributed huge sums of money among politicians to buy their loyalty and bring a government of their liking to power in 1988. Some critics are also convinced that the results of all elections held throughout the 1990s and up until 2002 were manipulated in one way or another so as to humble those questioning the army's role in politics and elevate those who wanted to stay in its good books.

Religious leaders, such as those from the conservative Jamaat-e-Islami and JUI-Fazal political parties, also view U.S. support for Qadri as akin to the U.S., Israeli, and Indian nexus that they perceive to be involved in virtually all incidents of terrorism in Pakistan.

And what do the Pakistani people think of Qadri? Despite all the corruption, inefficiency, inflation, the energy crisis, and lawlessness, many from the middle and educated classes do not want another military takeover.

One potentially positive outcome of Qadri's rise to prominence is the fact that many of the country's opposition politicians set aside past differences and gathered at the Raiwand residence of opposition leader Nawaz Sharif in Lahore on January 16. They subsequently released a joint statement saying that elections must be held in a timely manner without any interference from undemocratic forces.

There are some who see this development as a sign that Pakistani politics is becoming more mature, which could act as a buffer against undue interference and the early dissolution of representative assemblies. As Sharif put it: "The failure of the government can’t be construed as the failure of democracy."

With parliamentary elections now just a few months away, opposition leaders have also advised Qadri and his supporters to wait until election day to push their agenda by trying their luck at the polls.

-- Daud Khattak