A Canadian cleric, who has twice played a part in backing military juntas in nuclear-armed Pakistan, is back in that country. And once more, he appears to be facilitating a military takeover in Islamabad.
Tahir-ul-Qadri is better known for his role in the creation of the infamous “Anti-Blasphemy Law” of Pakistan, that has brought untold misery to religious minorities and agnostics.
In the 1980s, Qadri backed the military junta of the Islamist General Zia who had overthrown former prime minister Z.A. Bhutto. In 1999, he backed the administration of General Pervez Musharraf, which had staged a coup against former prime minister Nawaz Shariff.
By the time democracy was restored in Pakistan, Qadri had emigrated to Canada, where he went into political hibernation until he became eligible for a Canadian passport.
With that in hand, Qadri left Canada to manage his worldwide network of devotees, who believe the Prophet Muhammad has appeared in Qadri’s dreams and gives him instructions.
In September, Qadri landed in hot water in Denmark, where Integration Minister Karen Haekkerup pulled out of a conference when she discovered Qadri was one of the speakers, saying he had helped fashion Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy law.
A Muslim member of the Danish parliament, Naser Khedar, wrote: “… thanks to Tahir-ul-Qadri the horrible blasphemy laws were adopted and are still in force — laws that have resulted in the death of many Christians — and Muslims.”
Qadri denied he had anything to do with Pakistan’s blasphemy law. He told an audience it “is not applicable on Jews or Christians and minorities. It is just to deal with Muslims.” He also denied the allegations by Haekkerup and Khedar, claiming, “The way he (Gen Zia) was formulating the blasphemy law, I was totally against it.” However, within days, a new video emerged showing Qadri saying the exact opposite. He was shown boasting in Urdu before an audience that he alone was responsible for crafting the blasphemy law.
On the tape, he says in Urdu: “Let me put it on the record, it was me and only me who is responsible for that law … No one else has made any contribution in making this law.” As for his claim made in English on Danish TV that the blasphemy law is inapplicable to non-Muslims, the leaked video showed him making this claim in Urdu:
“Whosoever insults Prophet Muhammad and commits blasphemy, whether he is Muslim or Kaafir (infidel non-Muslim), man or woman, he or she should be murdered and kicked like a dog into hellfire, even if they repent …” Now Qadri, travelling as a Canadian, has come back to haunt Pakistan by besieging the parliament in Islamabad with about 50,000 of his devotees.
He told AFP, “We will stay in Islamabad until this government is finished, all the assemblies are dissolved, all corrupt people are totally ousted, a just constitution is imposed, rule of law is enforced, and true and real democracy is enforced.” However, many observers believe the real powers behind Qadri are his former mates in the Pakistan Army and their allies in the judiciary, who are using him as a front man in order to cling to power, while Pakistan’s Supreme Court has ordered the arrest of the prime minister. (Qadri has denied these allegations.)
In the meantime, the rest of us should be worried about the potential destabilization of a country with 200 nuclear-tipped missiles and the role played by Qadri in that.