This was a revolution that wasn’t. After being shown visions of Tahrir Square, the protestors who spent days in the freezing weather of Islamabad’s Blue Area instead had to settle with almost nothing.
The ‘Islamabad Long March Declaration’, which was signed on Thursday night between Dr Tahirul Qadri and the government allows for the holding of elections on time and the vetting of candidates but not much else.
After a series of consultations on Thursday, the Minhaj-ul-Quran International chief announced lifting the four-day siege of the capital after reaching what he termed a “successful agreement” with the government — a written document of the so-called electoral reforms agreed to upon by Qadri, signed by the prime minister and approved by the president.
“It is a day of victory for the marchers and the nation alike,” he declared after a ten-member delegation of the ruling coalition held a marathon session with Dr Qadri to carve out “electoral reforms”.
There were few signs of any significant government concessions in the deal reached, which stated that Parliament would be dissolved at any time before March 16 so that elections can take place within 90 days. The government had previously said Parliament would dissolve on March 17 — but Qadri hailed it as victory for the protesters anyway.
Braving cold weather, rain, the state’s indifference and taunts and threats of physical harm for three nights and four days; thousands of women, men and children finally left for their homes with some recognition for their effort and a “declaration”.
By signing the five-point declaration with the government, the MQI chief essentially succeeded in ensuring his continued role in the formation of a “transparent” caretaker set-up and the holding the general elections on time.
Terms of agreement
Earlier on Thursday, on the expiry of the MQI chief’s final 90-minute deadline given to the government, a 10-member delegation led by Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, comprising representatives of all coalition parties, held a five-hour-long round of talks with Dr Qadri in his bullet-proof container at Jinnah Avenue which culminated in the form of the declaration.
The declaration “bounds” the treasury benches that they, in “complete consensus” with the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT), MQI chief’s party, will propose two names, honest and impartial, for the caretaker prime minister. “This does not mean mere consultation, it will have to be a consensus (with PAT),” said Qadri while reading out the points of the declaration to the marchers.
Other electoral reforms included that the National Assembly shall be dissolved at any time before March 16, 2013 so that elections can be held in 90 days, and not 60.
This will ensure that 30 days are given for scrutiny/clearance of nominations of candidates well before the election. Until a candidate’s nomination is cleared by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), he or she would not be able to start election campaign, the declaration reads.
About the composition of ECP, the declaration stated that the issue will be discussed by constitutional experts and all party heads at the MQI head office in Lahore on January 27. These constitutional experts will include lawyers S M Zafar, Waseem Sajjad, Aitizaz Ahsan, Farough Naseem, Latif Afridi, Dr Khalid Ranjha and Humayun Ahsan. The meeting will be convened by Law Minister Farooq H Naek who would also brief the January 27 meeting of these results.
Electoral reforms will be enforced, before elections, in line with Article 62, 63 and 218 (3) of the Constitution. Sections 77 to 82 of the representation of Peoples’ Act 1976 and other relevant provisions relating to conduct of free and fair elections will also be followed in the reforms, pledged Dr Qadri.
It was also agreed in principle that all cases registered against either side during the long march will be withdrawn.
The delegation, included Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain (PML-Q), Afrasiab Khattak (ANP), Kaira, Khursheed Shah, Amin Fahim, Farooq Naek, Mushahid Hussain, Dr, Farooq Sattar and Babar Ghauri from MQM and Senator Abbas Afridi.
Heading the delegation representing the coalition partners, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain termed the congregation “historic” and said, “I have never witnessed such a massive gathering, and perhaps, I never will in future.”
“This is the real face of democracy,” said Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira while appreciating the marchers for holding a peaceful demonstration.
Addressing the world, he said “This is the face of Pakistan. We are against terrorism, extremism and corruption.”
However, opposition parties wondered, along with others across the country: What was the objective of this exercise for which the country wasted four days.
Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan from the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) said that there had been nothing new in the declaration except Dr Qadri’s consultation with the government over the caretaker government.
Nisar was of the view that there was nothing new with regards to other points of the declaration “as they already existed in the Constitution” [Article 62-63]. “If one month, as per the declaration, has been given for scrutiny of the nomination papers from the 90-day period of holding elections, then the time left would be 60 days which had already been there,” he said.
Meanwhile, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazalur Rehman asked whether the achievements of the march were worth putting the lives of thousands of men, women and children at stake.
“What did you (Dr Qadri) want to achieve? And at what cost?” the JUI-F leader asked rhetorically.
“This is victory of the people,” said Religious Affairs Minister Syed Khursheed Shah when he addressed the marchers prior to announcement of the declaration.
“You (marchers) protested peacefully and the democratic government proved that power lies with the masses,” he said.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) welcomed the agreement between Dr Qadri and the government and expressed hope that the agreement would help hold free and fair elections in the country. However, the party did not change its stance seeking resignation of President Asif Ali Zardari. (With additional reporting by Qamar Zaman in Islamabad)
Published in The Express Tribune, January 18th, 2013.