Head of the Tehrik Minhaj-ul-Quran organisation, Tahir-ul-Qadri, has hit headlines since he returned to Pakistan after living in Canada for nearly seven years. The Pakistan-born, Canada-based Sufi cleric returned to his homeland with a call for a mass upsurge against the democratically elected civilian government. He marched into Islamabad with his supporters on Monday and began a protest near parliament. Qadri finally ended his protest after he reached a deal with the administration on Thursday that will give him a say in the electoral process ahead of elections.
Here's what happened in the four days of his 'million man march':
It all started with a bang as Qadri made a dramatic speech, even breaking into tears as he dramatically vowed to even die for Pakistan.. behind a bullet proof glass. He along with his supporters, demanded that the Pakistan People's Party led government step down, accusing them of corruption and undemocratic practices.
On the second day of Qadri's protest, the Pakistan Supreme Court issued an arrest warrant against the Pakistan Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf in connection with alleged kickbacks in transactions involving rental power plants when he served as power minister. Qadri immediately hailed this as a triumph for the people of Pakistan, and hinted that there would be more to come, leading to a growing concern that he was in cahoots with the judiciary and army to stage a 'soft coup' on the government.
However, the chief of the Pakistani government’s anti-corruption department on Thursday rejected the court's order to arrest the prime minister, saying there wasn't enough evidence.
As the protest continued, there was a rise in criticism of Qadri in the media and social networking websites for bringing scores of women and children for the protest in Islamabad. Many of the protestors have been sitting out in the cold and sleeping in the open.
The ruling Pakistan People’s Party has insisted that Qadri’s demands for the government to quit and hand over power to a neutral caretaker government cannot be implemented without violating the Constitution. Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira has pointed out that Qadri was demanding sweeping electoral rolls even though the cleric cannot himself contest polls in Pakistan as he is a Canadian national.
Though Qadri has claimed he has the support of “millions”, the number of supporters at the protest in Islamabad has dwindled as the protest continued. Only die-hard supporters and workers of Minhaj-ul-Quran are currently participating in the sit-in.
On Wednesday, Pakistan's political parties rejected Qadri's demand for reconstitution of the Election Commission and said all political parties — inside and outside Parliament — would be consulted in the formation of the caretaker set-up ahead of the next elections.
Even cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) — which had been sending out confused signals over Qadri’s demands — refused to accept Qadri’s open invitation to join those picketing Parliament House demanding a change in the system.
Last night, Qadri issued an ultimatum to the Pakistan government asking them to quit immediately. “This so-called democratic government will end today or tomorrow, God willing…Now we can’t accept corruption anymore in this country. We want true democracy,” he said.
However, Qadri gave the Pakistan government a 90-minute deadline to act on his demands to quit and dissolve the national and provincial assemblies amidst increasing signs that support for his protest was dwindling.
“I am giving the government a deadline of one-and-half hours. You don’t have any more time. The deadline will end at 3 pm, when I will announce my next action." He said that there will be no protest or sit-in tomorrow. "We have to finish it by the end of this day. I am giving talks, peace and democracy a final chance."
The government agreed to meet with Qadri after he announced that Thursday would be the last day of the protest while warning that he would let the protesters decide how to respond if the government failed to meet his demands by the afternoon.
The agreement was reached after hours of negotiation inside a bulletproof container the religious leader was using at the demonstration site. The bizarre scene was broadcast on TV as cameras filmed the group's meeting through the container's window. Thousands of protesters danced and cheered when Qadri announced that he and the government had hammered out a deal and they could now end their protest.
(With inputs from agencies)