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article imageOp-Ed: Pakistani Interior Minister vows to end Qadri protest rally

By Ken Hanly     Jan 16, 2013 in Politics
Islamabad - Rehman Malik, the Pakistani Interior Minister, is threatening action to end a protest near the parliament. Malik said the cleric as well as his followers were at risk from militant attacks. Followers of cleric Tahirul Qadri demand the government resign.
Another blow to the government is the recent order of the Supreme Court to arrest Prime Minister Pervez Ashraf on allegations of corruption. Although Malik said that action to end the protest would be taken, he did not say what would be done to stop it or when. Qadri addresses the crowds from a bomb proof container. He has ignored warnings of possible attacks on himself or his followers.
Malik said that a medical board was being established to assess Qadri's mental health. The Pakistani president Asif Zardari said that the government wanted to end the mass rally through negotiations, not force. Qadri marched from Lahore to Islamabad and held a mass rally on Monday evening. There were brief clashes on Tuesday before Qadri addressed thousands of supporters.
Some analysts think that the military is behind Qadri who only came back to Pakistan not long ago after being in Canada for seven years. Qadri is a moderate Sufi Muslim and Malik is probably correct that there could be militant attacks against him. On the other hand, Qadri's message against the government probably resonates with militants and most other Pakistanis.
Qadri says he wants the military and judiciary to install a caretaker government to oversee the forthcoming elections to ensure that they are not rigged by the present government. Qadri suffered a setback when Nawaz Sharif leader of the main opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim League, said:"Tahirul Qadri is working on somebody's agenda to derail democracy in Pakistan and we reject all of his demands." Qadri seems to have funds for an expensive ad campaign on TV but no one knows who pays his bills.
Qadri appeared in Pakistan only late in 2012. He resigned his seat in the National Assembly in 2004. His party does not hold a single seat in the National Assembly. Nevertheless his message of an end to corruption and justice for all resonates among the electorate.
Not only is there a corruption issue, living conditions are declining and shortages are common. Gas stations run out of gas and blackouts often occur. Cooking gas is often unavailable forcing people to cook with firewood.
The political elite speculate that there may be a "soft coup" involving the imposition of a technocratic government backed by generals that would last for several years. There is no sign of the military intervening at present. However, if conflict should break out when the government tries to break up Qadri's protest by force, or if there are violent clashes with opponents of Qadri, this could provide an excuse for the military to intervene in the national interest. If the Zardari government manages to serve until the end of its term in March, it will be the first Pakistani government ever to serve for the full term.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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