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 Editor in chief: 
Abdus Sattar Ghazali

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January 18, 2013

Islamabad Long March Declaration

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

On Thursday, January 17, 2013, Tehrik-e-Minhajul Quran chief Allama Tahir ul Qadri announced lifting  the four-day siege of the capital, Islamabad, after he signed a four  point agreement with the government regarding his demands of revamping the electoral system and Election Commission, dissolution of  parliament and appointment of an interim government .

The agreement, dubbed as Islamabad Long March Declaration, was reached after four-hour talks with a 10-member delegation representing leaders of the ruling People's Party and its allies.   After the successful negotiations between the committee formed by the government  and Allama Tahirul Qadri the agreement was signed with him by all members of the negotiating team and countersigned by the Prime Minister Raja Ashraf.

Interestingly, Allama Qadri signed the agreement with the prime minister and ministers whom he had termed “ex premier and ministers” on the very first day of the sit-in on Monday.

 Addressing the participants of the sit-in, following the signature of the Prime Minister on the terms of agreement, Qadri lauded the participants for their struggle. "The march that started on Sunday and continued till today had become a great model for the world to see," he added.

According to the declaration, the National Assembly shall be dissolved at any time before March 16, 2013 (due date), so that the elections may take place within 90 days. The key clause of the declaration, however, is that a period of 30 days will be provided for the scrutiny of the candidates, raising hope that some of the corrupt elements could finally be gotten rid of in the process.

Interestingly, Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Khursheed Shah has said that the elections will be held in the first week of May. Talking to reporters in Islamabad on Wednesday, the federal minister maintained the polls could be held on May 4, 5 or 6. “They will not be delayed beyond May 6,” he assured. Khursheed Shah,  who is very close to President Zardari, was part of the negotiation team with Allama Qadri.

The declaration surprisingly gives a big say to Allama Qadri in the selection of the next caretaker prime minister.  According to the declaration, the treasury benches in complete consensus with Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT), the political wing of Allama Qadri, will propose names of two honest and impartial persons for appointment as Caretaker Prime Minister. 

Electoral Reforms: It was agreed upon that the focus will be on the enforcement of electoral reforms prior to the polls on: (a) Article 62, 63 and 218 (3) of the constitution; b) Section 77 to 82 of the Representation of Peoples’ Act 1976 and other relevant provisions relating to conducting free, fair, just and honest elections guarded against all corrupt practices and; (c) The Supreme Court Judgment of June 8, 2012 on constitutional petition of 2011 must be implemented in Toto and in true letter and spirit. 

With the end of the long march and sit-in, all cases registered against each other shall be withdrawn immediately and there will be no acts of victimization and vendetta against either party or the participants of the march. 

The declaration ended the misery of the thousands of men, women and children of the long march who had been sitting in the open sky in front of the parliament for past four days braving cold weather and heavy rain. More than 200 of them, including women and children, had been taken ill and hospitalized because of the inclement weather.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters dispersed peacefully after the declaration was read. This was the first such massive demonstration in the history of Islamabad. The most significant is the fact that Pakistan has seen a highly organized, massive and peaceful demonstration for political rights, that no party took the law into its hands, no mischief created turmoil leading to violence and the whole episode ended with a democratic agreement seen by the nation. This is perhaps the best outcome of the long march.

Long March from Lahore to Islamabad

Tens of thousands of protesters led by Allama Qadri descended on the Pakistani capital Monday in a fierce outpouring of anger and frustration with the corrupt US client government of President Zardari.

The size of Tahirul Qadri's Long March to Islamabad from Lahore, the capital of Punjab province, was far short of his predictions of more than a million people. However, the caravan of hundreds of buses, vans, motorcycles and cars jammed with demonstrators was allowed to enter the capital and hold a rally on a main thoroughfare roughly two miles from parliament.

Long, snaking cordons of freight containers and barbed wire were in place to keep demonstrators from achieving their goal of staging a sit-in in front of parliament. But after the rally, thousands of demonstrators began leaving the protest site, on Islamabad's Jinnah Avenue, and heeding Qadri's call that they march toward parliament. Later, government officials agreed to allow the sit-in to take place in a plaza about 500 yards from parliament.

Who is Allama Qadri?

Qadri portrays himself as a reformist cleric bent on ensuring that Pakistan's current corps of politicians, which he asserts is steeped in corruption, isn't allowed to stand for election in national polls. He has won praise in the West for his condemnation of terrorism and promoting anti-Wahabi Barelvi brand of Islam. But like most religious party leaders, he has won scant support from voters in past elections. He launched a political party in 1989 but was able to win a parliamentary seat only in the 2002 elections that were widely seen as tailored by the then military ruler, Gen Pervez Musharraf, to suit his own political aims.

In 2006, Qadri announced that he was disillusioned with the country's political scene, moved to Canada and obtained citizenship there.  His sudden return to Pakistan in mid-December surprised the nation, and his speech in Lahore on Dec. 23 denouncing rampant corruption at all levels of government galvanized a segment of the country deeply frustrated with Zardari's corrupt regime.

His arrival was heralded by an expensive television ad campaign touting the slogan "save the state, not your politics" - an apparent broadside at the major political forces. The campaign promised a long march on Islamabad to achieve two objectives: get rid of the "corrupt" government and pave the way for electoral reforms under an interim government of "honest" people.

Last week, Qadri had vowed to continue the sit-in protest in Islamabad until the government gave in to his demand for a pre-election caretaker administration appointed with the input of the country's judiciary and military. That demand has led many observers to speculate that the country's powerful military could be behind Qadri's agenda.

Who financed the million dollar march

The Islamabad siege ended peacefully but many questions remained unanswered.

Why Allama Qadri suddently descended on Pakistan rather suddenly, nearly seven years after he moved his hearth and home to Canada?

Who financed the Long March from Lahore to Islamabad and the four day sit-in in Islamabad where tents were provided for women and food was arranged. Long March participants were provided free ride to their home in different part s of Pakistan.

A deep insight into the Islamabad Long March Declaration indicates that the government did not accept any demand of Allama Qadri. Whatever is written in the declaration is already written in the constitution. The term of the National Assembly is scheduled to expire on March 13, 2013 and elections are to be held within 90 days of the dissolution of the National Assembly and provincial assemblies. Dissolution of parliament was his major demand.

Perhaps the positive outcome of the whole episode is that it helped in uniting the divided opposition.

 Abdus Sattar Ghazali, the author of Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality, is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America  email: asghazali2011 @