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Derailing Democracy in Islamabad
Qadri, the Brass, and the Judges Take on the Government
AQIL SHAH is a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Society of Fellows, Harvard University and author of the forthcoming book Out of Control: Military Politics in Pakistan from Harvard University Press.See more by this author
UPDATE: January 16, 2013
This month, Pakistan's government is fending off a needless political crisis. On 14 January, Allama Tahir ul Qadri, a pro-military cleric turned revolutionary who once claimed to have a direct line to the Prophet Mohammad, marched into the capital with tens of thousands of supporters. He has since threatened to use whatever means necessary to implement his demands, which include the removal of the "corrupt" Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)-led government, the disbandment of the current parliament, and the implementation of constitutional clauses that lay down strict financial, religious, and moral qualifications for election to parliament. The move follows on an unusual media blitz last month, during which Qadri took to the streets and airwaves to save the state by demanding the creation of a clean technocratic government backed by the army and the judiciary.
The timing couldn't be worse. In 2013, Pakistan is expected to undertake its first transition of power from one elected civilian government that has completed its tenure to another. When the current government came to office in 2008, reaching that milestone had seemed unimaginably difficult. All of Pakistan's previous transitions to democracy had been cut short by military takeovers. As the date for the handover neared, many Pakistanis had started to hope to avoid that scenario this time. As it turns out, though, even cautious optimism might have been too much. It appears that Pakistan's powerful military, aided by an aggressive Supreme Court, might well have just put a spanner in the works.