Q&A: Pakistan’s Tahir ul-Qadri on protests

Canada-based leader – set to hold march calling for the government to resign – speaks to Al Jazeera on his “revolution”.

Qadri is chairman of Pakistan’s PAT party and head of the MQI international network of religious schools. [AP]

Islamabad, Pakistan – Tahir ul-Qadri, the chairman of Pakistan’s Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) and head of the Minhaj-ul-Quran International (MQI) international network of religious schools, is leading a protest on Thursday calling for the government to resign and for a “revolution” to take place in Pakistan.

The Canada-based leader has previously been a member of parliament, but quit amid differences with then military ruler General Pervez Musharraf. He shot back to prominence in Pakistan when he led thousands of people in a protest sit-in outside parliament in Islamabad, demanding that the government resign just five months ahead of a scheduled general election.

Qadri intends to repeat that performance with another protest, this time marching from his Lahore party headquarters to the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, where he intends to lead a sit-in until the government resigns and is replaced by a selected “national government” of technocrats, bureaucrats and politicians “of good repute”.

Al Jazeera’s Asad Hashim spoke to Qadri in the run-up to his protest march.

Al Jazeera: You have called for a revolution on August 14. Can you describe specifically what kind of system of government you would like to bring into place in Pakistan, and what mechanism you will use to bring it in?

Tahir ul-Qadri: This revolution, first of all, is totally for implementation of the first 40 articles of the constitution of Pakistan. … These articles deal with human rights, rights of the people of Pakistan. Rights to life, right of their property protection, rights of their freedoms and liberties, rights of justice, well being, socioeconomic rights, the rights of legal justice and the compulsory and mandatory right to provide them food, clothing, house, medical facilities, education and all other basic necessities of life. …

According to Article 5, the people of Pakistan have surrendered their authority to the constitution and to the state so that the state, through the government, may protect their fundamental rights and provide them with the basic necessities which have been promised by the constitution in these articles which I have mentioned … . So this is a bilateral agreement, a bilateral contract. The constitution is a bilateral social, political and economic contract between the state and the people of Pakistan. …

AJ: So do you feel the government is not providing these rights?

Qadri: Yes. My point of view is that the government in spite of being elected with a rigged electoral process, … the government has totally failed 100 percent to fulfill its duties in connection of the rights of people and to fulfill the obligations which have been promised to be fulfilled by the constitution. So the constitution basically is suspended. …

Qadri supporters clash with Pakistan police

So when the other party who has been assigned this responsibility, when this party has totally failed, rather this is corrupting the system and they are violating their promise and they are not paying any attention to fulfill their duties, so this contract has been broken constitutionally, legally and morally.

Now they are sitting in power unconstitutionally, illegally and immorally.

So the authority comes back in the hands of the people. The people may ask them that since you have failed to fulfill your duties, you are just working for your own vested interests, so we don’t want you to be in power. We want you to resign and let the other people come, those who may fulfill their duties according to the constitution.

This is the whole philosophy of [our] revolution. The revolution is totally constitutional, this revolution is totally democratic, based on human rights, and it is totally peaceful and non-violent.

AJ: How would your revolution achieve these things, of delivering on these rights?

Qadri: We only want to take the people there, in a peaceful manner. There would be a sit-in, and it will continue. They will develop a massive and populist pressure on them, until they realise that such a large number of people [are gathered] is the voice of the masses, and we will democratically pressure them to resign and to leave, and to let a “national government” be formed which may take care of affairs.

And after that we need full-fledged accountability across the board. …

AJ: By what process would such a national government be formed?

Qadri: I think it should be formed by the representatives of all political parties with good character, men of integrity and those who are free from corruption. … These kinds of people can be taken from different parties, and technocrats of good repute can be taken, some bureaucrats can be taken. In the same way, specialist economists and lawyers and scholars and farmers and traders – people belonging to all segments of society, they should be represented. And this way a council should be formed. That council would be given the role of a constituent council, then they will take care of the constitutional amendments. … We need a full-fledged devolution of power. …

AJ: How will the members of this national government be selected?

Qadri: There will be accountability, and then there be radical changes in the political and electoral systems … and particularly the electoral system would be changed, when all these radical changes and accountability is complete, after that we will go for elections according to the new electoral system.

AJ: But who will select these members of the national government in the first instance?

Qadri: In the first stage, these national government members, would be [selected through] a consensus between all parties and technocrats. It would be a national government of reforms, or a democratic reformative government of national consensus. The mechanism can be evolved between the parties, any mechanism.

AJ: You have said that this will be a revolutionary government, one that delivers in a manner that previous governments cannot and have not. Yet, respectfully, you have on board your revolutionary platform old political stalwarts such as Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, and others who have sat in parliament before – both under military dictatorships and not. Do you feel this is a contradiction?

Qadri: We will be totally beyond all these party affiliations. I will categorically say that whether anyone is supporting me or opposing me, whatever I am committed to, that things will go according to that and nobody will get any kind of concession. This is my commitment.

AJ: There has been violence in the past at demonstrations involving the PAT – both against your party workers, and allegedly by them. What’s your response to the allegations of violence by PAT workers – and the video footage which shows this?

Clashes erupt as Qadri returns to Pakistan

Qadri: I totally reject this accusation, this is a false allegation by the police. … We totally refuse and rebut it. The police … have 5,000 terrorists deployed and employed by Shahbaz Sharif in police in this year. … They are being used in all these operations. And wherever needed, they attack our people, and in order to launch false allegations on our workers, they get one or two or three policemen injured by their own people. Just to make a case.

Our people are totally peaceful. It is totally wrong to say that. I have openly invited all parties and government officials and people belonging to human rights organisations to come any time and to watch [our protests].

AJ: During a speech to supporters on August 10, you said that if anything were to happen to you, your supporters should go after the Sharifs as they would be responsible. Is this not incitement to violence?

Qadri: They would be responsible. They should go to a court of law. An FIR should be lodged against them. They will go to a court of law, they will fight according to the law in the courts. [The Sharifs] would be responsible for my assassination, and they have to be taken to task according to the law, courts and constitution.

I don’t believe in taking the law in our own hands. Whatever I say, I mean through a court of law.

AJ: Do you expect violence during the protest on the 14th?

Qadri: There could be great violence from the government’s side, but not from our side. I have guaranteed that our protest will remain peaceful. … We are absolutely not preparing for any violence [on our side]. We will remain non-violent and peaceful. We can sacrifice our lives, but we won’t become violent.

AJ: A final question: What is your position on military involvement in Pakistan’s democracy?

Qadri: I absolutely negate it. I reject it, and I don’t accept it. I would be the person deadly against imposition of martial law. I won’t support it.

If they want to take over or impose martial law [on the basis of the law and order situation], I would fight against martial law.

Follow Asad Hashim on Twitter: @AsadHashim

Source: Al Jazeera