As at the moment of writing, there is confusion over where Pakistan is heading. The only thing clear is that it is up against yet another spell of turmoil. Tahir ul-Qadri, the charismatic cleric newly returned from Canada, seems to be holding and calling the trumps.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan has strengthened his suit by ordering the arrest of the country’s Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf for his involvement in a three-year old bribery case.

Lobbing his incendiary declamations against rampant corruption and “fake” democracy and his insistent call for dismissal of what The Economist sees as the “ruling rascals” of Pakistan, Qadri has built instant rapport with all sections of opinion in that country.

His tongue-in-cheek call to his supporters to be ready to disrobe corrupt leaders and expose their “tattoos” was received with roaring approval. Reminiscent of Jayaprakash Narayan’s exhortations, when he led the “total revolution” in India in 1974-75, Qadri even urged government officials to defy the Government, on the ground that it was being run by “corrupt and incompetent” politicians who deserved to be sent packing.

His expectation of a “march of the million” to buttress his agitation did not materialise, but even the estimated 50,000 to 80,000 turning up every day in the capital city of Islamabad and hanging on his lips is a spectacular achievement on the part of a hitherto unknown figure who has been able to displace the run-of-the-mill rabble rousers.

COMEUPPANCE

The question whether the mass hysteria Qadri is whipping up will amount to anything approaching a Pak Spring is meaningless in the context of Pakistan.

It is no stranger to instability, volatility or collapse of elected governments. Ever since its creation, it has been going through any number of such upheavals which culminated each time in the army stepping in and seizing power. There has been a number of unsuccessful coup attempts as well.

This is not also the first time when an incumbent Prime Minister of Pakistan has had his comeuppance, courtesy the Supreme Court.

It was its peremptory orders to reopen the bribery cases against President Asif Ali Zardari that set in motion the chain of events resulting in the ouster of Ashraf’s predecessor, Yousuf Raza Gilani.

The factors, different this time, are the eruption of Qadri on the scene and the fact of an elected government having somehow tottered to the end of its term. But Qadri, by himself, can accomplish nothing.

He can, at the most, provide the trigger and justification for yet another military takeover. But whether the military itself has the stomach for it and whether it would rather let elections be held and opt for power without responsibility by having the elected entrants like puppets on its strings are moot questions for which one may not have to wait long for answers.

INTERNAL CHAOS

Normally, nothing would have suited India better than to gleefully watch Pakistan stew in its own juice. But there are two caveats.

India is a common object of hate for both the armed forces and the government of Pakistan and it may become the target of more, rather than less, incidents on the border and even face terror attacks as a means of diverting attention from the internal chaos.

Continuation of any bilateral dialogue with Pakistan in these circumstances makes no sense whatever, especially when there is no knowing with whom to have the dialogue and who will implement the outcome. Also, the brazen brutalities perpetrated by Pak armed forces on Indian soldiers are fresh in the public mind and any seeming softness at this juncture will be folly of the first magnitude.

Secondly, events in Pakistan must be creating an eerie sense of déjà vu in India’s political and governing establishments at the Centre and the State Capitals.

They must be apprehensively watching the developments unfolding in Pakistan, if only for the reason that Qadri’s denunciation of the conditions prevailing in that country, and particularly his strident demand for electoral reforms to keep the thugs and criminals out of representative assemblies, come very close to the bone for India’s rulers.

They are also bound to resonate with the people at large here as well, in a rage at the same deadweight of corruption, callousness and the large number of criminals lording it over the legislatures and Councils of Ministers.

(This article was published on January 17, 2013)
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