Tim Craig and Shaiq Hussain report for the Washington Post.
Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri, a religious scholar and moderate politician, said he was returning from exile in Canada to lead a “democratic revolution” against Sharif’s government just a year after the prime minister regained power. Qadri said Sharif has not done enough to implement electoral and social-justice reforms and has been too timid in his approach to the Pakistani Taliban.In January of 2013, Qadri led a "Long March" before the spring elections which led to the reelection of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was deposed in a military coup by Gen. Pervez Musharraf in 1999. The march was supposed to attract a million followers, but only thousands joined it. Qadri's protest was against the government of President Asif Ali Zardari who was the "1st president to complete his constitutional term and hand over duties to [a] democratically elected successor," - as the Pakistan Tribune noted - a few months later in the fall of 2013.
“I will soon call for a movement to usher in revolution in the country,” said Qadri, leader of the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) party, when he arrived in Lahore. “This government will be toppled. . . . I will lead the revolution, and I will be the one in charge to ensure that these terrorists, these killers and corrupt rulers are punished.”
"Last week, Qadri had vowed to continue the sit-in protest in Islamabad until the government gave in to his demand for a preelection caretaker administration appointed with the input of the country's judiciary and military," Alex Rodriguez reported for the Los Angeles Times eighteen months ago. "That demand has led many observers to speculate that the country's powerful military could be behind Qadri's agenda, a charge the military has denied."
Many analysts and commentators have questioned whether Qadri's mission ultimately imperils what could be a historic transfer of power from one civilian government to another in a country with a history of military takeovers and interference in governance.Last year, Declan Walsh at the New York Times reported, "Barely a year after fears of a possible military coup plunged Pakistani politics into chaos, the country is in crisis again — this time besieged on multiple fronts by forces that threaten the civilian government just a few months ahead of elections."
"This represents a big threat to Pakistan's parliamentary process and its hard-fought democratic freedoms," said Raza Rumi, a political analyst at the Islamabad-based Jinnah Institute.
Walsh noted that "the country’s powerful military command, long at odds with the government of President Asif Ali Zardari, is in sphinx mode. The army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and his commanders have maintained a cool distance from the unfolding political chaos, their silence stoking speculation about whether the military’s days of political intervention are really, as it claims, over."
More than anything else, there is a sense that gears are again shifting in Pakistan, in a direction few dare to predict — bad news for Mr. Zardari’s government, of course, but also potentially for American interests, which see stability in Pakistan as crucial to a smooth withdrawal in Afghanistan next year, as well as a guarantor of the security of the country’s nuclear arsenal."The chief catalyst of this jolting change comes in the form of a 61-year-old preacher, Muhammad Tahir-ul Qadri, who catapulted himself into the political limelight less than a month ago, and now finds himself issuing ultimatums to Mr. Zardari from inside a bulletproof container within view of the soaring presidential residence," Walsh reported.
“There’s a sense that things are snowballing — hard to predict in any way,” said Cyril Almeida, a senior writer at Dawn newspaper.
“There is no Parliament; there is a group of looters, thieves and dacoits” — bandits — he said in a thundering voice, pointing to the building behind him. “Our lawmakers are the lawbreakers.”"Speculation that the judge and the preacher acted in concert, perhaps with the backing of powerful generals, has electrified the political firmament," Walsh added.
The dramatic climax of that speech, however, came not from the preacher himself, but from the marble-walled Supreme Court about 200 yards up the street.
As Mr. Qadri spoke, news broke that Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry had issued an order for the arrest of the prime minister, Raja Pervez Ashraf. The report visibly thrilled the crowd, prompting loud cheers and a sense that the promised “revolution” was going their way.
In last night's Washington Post story, Craig and Hussain noted that Qadri "is said to have close ties to the Pakistani military."
Rasul Bux Rais, an Islamabad-based political science professor and analyst, said Qadri’s return is another sign that a rift may be emerging between Sharif and the country’s powerful military leadership. Many former military commanders say army chiefs were eager to launch a military offensive against the Pakistani Taliban this past winter. But Sharif authorized the operation only 10 days ago, after Taliban militants stormed Karachi’s international airport, killing 26 security personnel and civilians.Tweets from the "official twitter account of Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri, Chairman of Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT), Founder of Minhaj-ul-Quran Int; being run by his spokesman," @TahirulQadri backed the military offensive against the Taliban, but also charge that the Pakistan government hired terrorists to attack the police yesterday.
Ayaz Amir, a columnist and former member of Parliament, said the drama surrounding Qadri’s return made the national government appear weak. “The message that comes out from this is the thing that can control this situation is the army,” he said.
"I completely support the Army’s current operation Zarb-e-Azb to eliminate terrorism," Qadri's official account tweeted about five hours ago.
Other tweets accused the Punjab Government for "demonstrat[ing] brutal terrorism" on his arrival, and claimed, "Armed terrorists were sent to Islamabad to deteriorate law and order so that the world considers the PAT workers as terrorists."
"The Punjab govt is orchestrating terrorism through its police," @TahirulQadri tweeted. "The govt will have to answer for its misdeeds one day.
And in a tweet which included the picture at the top of this article, @TahirulQadri alleged, "Terrorists were hired by the government in civil clothes to attack the police and blame PAT workers." So far, it was retweeted 538 times, and tweets in response include "Caught red handed!" and "Anything can be expected from this government.".
A tweet with another picture posted by a "[p]roud member of #PTIFamily" @XIApk added, "It seems @TahirulQadri is some what right. Another guy with Police Riot gear but in plain clothes."
the New York Times eighteen months ago.
The pictures posted on Twitter are reminiscent of ones often posted by US protesters after rallies which claim that police or FBI agents infiltrated the demonstrators to cause or provoke violence. Sometimes those pictures are correct, sometimes they are paranoia, sometimes they are just plain wrong.
Caveat emptor - Latin for "Let the buyer beware" - is something that anyone who follows Twitter should always heed. Instead of a revolution being televised, a "soft coup" engineered by Pakistan's military might have just been tweeted earlier today.