Monday, January 21, 2013


Pakistan Today 22 January 2013

Does the nation owe Mr Qadri?

Given recent events, one thing is clear: it is always possible to learn, even from a donkey:

“It’s snowing,” said Eeyore (the donkey), gloomily. “And it’s freezing.”

“However,” he said, brightening up a little, “We haven’t had an earthquake yet.” —A A Milne

And so we haven’t had an earthquake, that is, not this time. Instead, we were all harmlessly freezing to death one day, when out of the blue a strange man in a round hat appeared and started a ‘long march’. The march went from Lahore to Islamabad in bitterly cold weather, as mentioned, so four days later when it started raining and became colder still, negotiations ensued and the participants of the march dispersed. There were no major results either one way or the other; therefore, one can be positive and look at the lessons Tahirul Qadri taught us.

Normally a poster puttering around town on the ‘backside’ of every rickshaw, he suddenly appeared in person, waggling his forefinger on every television channel from where he spoke, and he spoke and he spoke. You have to give Mr Qadri a capacity for a marathon waffle. And since waffle is what appeals most to our public, it found its mark surely and once again, playing an important role in the proceedings.

“I am here from Mecca to join the revolution,” shouted one participant, his face shining with zeal. Thousands like him made the less distant but more arduous trek from Lahore to Islamabad in the wake of a mobile bunker containing the Mullah from Mississauga (presumably his address in Canada, since that’s where Pakistanis live when they aren’t at home).

Four days later after negotiations witnessed through a window in the fuggy bunker, the participants of the march and their leader claimed victory. Several thousand (several million, if one sets any store by what Mr Qadri says) tired and semi frozen would-be revolutionaries returned to their homes leaving the hapless citizens of Islamabad surrounded by a sea of crap. Even though they’re used to it, the clean up must have caused them considerable inconvenience. Mr Qadri had promised to clean up after him, but eventually he just embraced everyone, and called it a day.

There are some obvious lessons here. Firstly, that given its repeated occurrence, a ‘long march’ is rapidly becoming a cliché in this country. Quite possibly any future long marches will have less impact, but it is without doubt a logistical nightmare. It is best for the long suffering citizens of Islamabad not to be caught unawares again. So either the country sets by a (very large) stock of mobile toilets, or much better, mobile toilets and mobile biogas plants which can be wheeled in the wake of the next long march collecting waste from the thousands of participants willing to camp out till they die or until the rains arrive, whichever comes first.

Given the power shortage in the country, these biogas plants can be useful even outside of long marches to satisfy the requirements of a prolific nation. In fact, and although it may be a debatable point, if the power and other requirements of this country are satisfied, long marches may well become redundant and therefore less recurrent. Just think: if you had money in your pocket, a decent life and a peaceful old age without the ever present hurdles to attaining any considerable age at all, would you really listen to a man in a strange hat shaking his finger at you, telling you that the Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) asked him to do this? Extremely unlikely.

There is a certain mindset that is attracted to such talk, and it is readily present amongst the people of Pakistan because so much else that should be present, isn’t: no food, no money, no education, and no security. So long as things remain this way, it will be an open invitation to any person or group of persons able and willing to manipulate the situation.

Because who, after all, set Mr Qadri on us? Was the entire event his brainchild? Was it the brainchild of the army? The CIA? Will we ever know? And do we really care? The best defence is, as suggested, to work on changing conditions so that the man on the street can thumb his nose at the next demagogue and tell him to go take a long walk, alone.

Although the PPP says it is ‘not afraid of long marches’, maybe those elected in the next government from whichever party will heed this mild rumbling of an earthquake that could have been, and improve their performance. If that happens, if anyone ever truly learns a lesson, the nation will owe Mr Qadri, but not until then.

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