Tahir ul-Qadri: The cleric who wants to disrupt Pakistani politics



A cleric has burst on to the political stage in Pakistan vowing to “get rid of electoral dictatorship” in a move that could scupper elections this spring.

On Monday, Tahir ul-Qadri aims to lead four million people on a march into the capital, Islamabad. He and his supporters will demand political reforms take place before any election goes ahead to ensure that “criminals” cannot serve in the next parliament.

The government, led by the Pakistan Peoples Party, has almost completed its five-year tenure. If the election takes place, it would be the first time that one elected government hands over to another. Under the constitution, a neutral caretaker government must be installed for no more than three months to oversee the election, but politicians fear a pretext will be found to prolong the caretaker regime. 

In a country plagued by long periods of army rule, many accuse Mr Qadri of being a front for a military-backed plot to postpone the elections indefinitely and install an unelected government of “technocrats”, hand-picked by the generals. They also believe that he has support from the West, which is siding with the powerful Pakistani military to ease the forthcoming exit of its forces from Afghanistan.

Mr Qadri told The Independent his aim is “to get rid of electoral dictatorship”, describing himself as a “democratic reformist”. “I just want to put true democracy on track. It is an absolute lie to say that I want to derail democracy,” said Mr Qadri, who denies any link to the military or foreign powers. “We have a parliament of defaulters, tax evaders and other criminals. These lawbreakers are the law-makers.”

The forthcoming election is widely heralded as a milestone for democracy, but Mr Qadri sees little to celebrate. “This government couldn’t deliver anything to the people, no eradication of terrorism, nothing,” he said. “The people have given them their full time in office. What a joke.”

A follower of the mystical Sufi branch of Islam, he has written tracts against terrorism and suicide bombing, and has lived in Toronto since 2006. Having built a large following in Pakistan and abroad, through his Minhaj-ul-Quran organisation, he returned last month in triumph at a rally in Lahore.

It is thought that tomorrow’s march could cause chaos or fall victim to a terrorist attack, creating more potential obstacles for the polls. A wave of blasts has scarred Pakistan in recent weeks, including a double bombing this week in the western city of Quetta.

Mr Qadri insists he wants the elections to be held on time and that his reforms could be implemented without delay. He has called for the Election Commission to “pre-clear” candidates, after checking that they paid taxes and had not defaulted on loans. But political observers see a wider agenda. Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan director at Human Rights Watch, said: “It appears that Tahir ul-Qadri wants to derail the democratic process.… This would be entirely unacceptable because Pakistan is on the cusp of the first transfer of power from one civilian government to another.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?