•Capital quiet, but uneasy •Tehrik workers take up security duty •Kaira rejects demands: Qadri ‘revolution’ march paralyses Islamabad
Leading a section of the march, Dr Qadri arrived at the Jinnah Avenue at around 2:15am and addressed his supporters. In a defiant tone he asked his supporters gathered there to take their belongings and start moving towards the Parliament House five minutes after completion of his speech. He said the mandate of the government had ended. He said the mandate of the president, prime minister and the government had ended and a formal announcement to that effect would be made by the ‘people’s parliament’ on Tuesday. The president and governors, he said, should dissolve the National and provincial assemblies.
ISLAMABAD, Jan 14: The doctor lived up to his threats of marching on Islamabad. Close to midnight on Monday, he had finally entered the capital at Faizabad and was making his way to the Blue Area location where he was to address the crowds.
The speech Dr Tahirul Qadri was to make and the agenda he was to unveil remained a mystery as Monday gave way to Tuesday.
The containers that sprung up all over Islamabad and Rawalpindi and the heavy contingent of policemen that prowled the capital and all the main roads leading to it proved ineffective in front of the caravan that slowly made its way to Islamabad.
Late as is the Pakistani custom by hours, and ambling along slowly along the way to Islamabad from Lahore, the rally took its own sweet time to reach its destination.
By midnight it had entered the city but was still to reach its destination in Blue Area where workers, police and the local administration had been at attention since morning, putting in place the barbed wire, the overhead spotlights, the division between the male and female sections and so on.
The rest of the quiet city was visibly uneasy.
Shops mostly remained closed, despite Interior Minister Rehman Malik’s assurances on Sunday that the traders in Blue Area would be open on Monday, as were schools and offices and the roads witnessed little traffic.
Contingents of police were visible everywhere, dressed in protective gear and well-armed. Navigating the city was a bit difficult for those who ventured out in cars and came up against containers or cement barriers that had sprung up over the weekend. But in nooks and crannies away from the rally location life went on as normal.
But the tightly-enclosed area where the rally was supposed to be held gave a festive look all day. It was crawling with journalists, cameramen and onlookers as well as government officials.
Interestingly, the workers of Tehrik-i-Minhajul Quran were providing the security as they stopped and checked visitors to the scene. With headbands wound tightly on their foreheads and furrowed brows, they kept everyone under scrutiny as the policemen appeared laidback in comparison.
A police officer told Dawn that the organisation had decided to provide security themselves at the venue, under an agreement with the local administration.
One container was set up to serve as the platform for the cameras while another was covered with carpets and became the dais from where the speeches would be delivered.
By seven in the evening a line of chairs had been placed on it which were filled by portly bearded men. A bulletproof glass case had also been crowded on from where the doctor was to speak.
In front anchors and analysts held forth, ignoring the crowds that had already gathered by then, with their flags. And beyond the media social scene were the quiet Qadri supporters who had reached the destination ahead of the rally.
Women were present in a sizeable number, many of them with their heads covered and holding small children. The flags were national and the music which was played occasionally quite uninspiring.
Most of them were the supporters of Dr Qadri and had turned up to change the system — no less.
“We have come from Bkakkar and we will not return home unless we are ordered to do so by Dr Qadri,” said an old man whose name was Raees Ahmed.
“We want the removal of the corrupt government,” he added.
A woman who had reached Islamabad along with her children from Attock said she wanted to get rid of the ‘corrupt’ government and, therefore, she supported the call of Dr Qadri.
No-one, it appeared, was interested in the nuanced demands that the doctor has been making since his return to Pakistan — calling for the military and the judiciary to be part of the decision of choosing the caretaker government and the later demand that the Election Commission of Pakistan be disbanded.
Theirs was a simple but overarching revolution.
Towards the rear of the heavily commercial Blue Area, life was no less active. Small restaurants and dhabas enjoyed a heavy turnover. Policemen were present at the tables of every second one as were groups of men who had stopped to eat as they made their way to the rally site or returned from it.
A numbers game: Unsurprisingly, the number of the people that were present at Jinnah Avenue and the people who were with Dr Qadri were far short of the expectations that he himself had built up.
Unlike the four million march the people of Pakistan had been promised, most journalists and observers were agreed that the number on the day itself was in thousands.
Earlier estimates in Lahore said that the rally comprised 20,000 people. A couple of thousand people were present at Jinnah Avenue as evening fell. And those who had tracked the rally as it snaked its way to Islamabad said that at best it would be able to boast of 40,000 to 50,000 people.
This was obviously good news for Interior Minister Rehman Malik who was the PPP pointman for Islamabad on Monday.
“We believe that only 20,000 to 25,000 people joined Dr Qadri and thus his claim to bring four million people in Islamabad remained a dream,” said Mr Malik after he took an aerial view (in a chopper) of the Blue Area. However, these are rough estimates at best.
But numbers beyond a point do not matter.
Even the thousands that were entering Islamabad with Dr Qadri and were headed for Jinnah Avenue were sufficient to slow down life and even bring it to a halt if they stayed put for some days.
Jinnah Avenue is an important road of the small capital and it runs through the city’s central commercial area.
In addition, the road is close to the Red Zone that houses the government’s seat of power and the Diplomatic Enclave. The zone had been more or less sealed on Sunday night and if this is to be sustained for more than a day or two, the little governance that takes place in Islamabad will be hampered even more.
Hence, observers felt that Dr Qadri had been successful in making his point — that he was serious about his agenda and that he would be able to pressurise the government in this regard.
A government in absence: It was difficult to tell what mood the government was in as this virtual onslaught began.
The president was still away, secure in Karachi’s Bilawal House from where there has been no news. Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf who had returned to Islamabad from Quetta was unusually quiet — no press release about his numerous activities or his statements was issued for most of the day.
Late at night, once the march had entered Islamabad, a message was finally sent out — the prime minister told the district administration to look after the women and children who had decided to spend the night at Blue Area.
Mr Malik was all over the place, reviewing the security arrangements; flying over the city in a helicopter and uttering inanities about Dr Qadri and the threats he faced.
Later in the day, Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira also made an appearance. He was heard on talk shows before he held a press conference at nine at night where, on behalf of the government, he refused to meet Dr Qadri’s demands, including the removal of the elected government and the dissolution of the Election Commission of Pakistan.
But what the drop scene of this drama would be and when it would happen remained unclear at the night passed.
As Tuesday’s early hours approached, confusion about the end reigned supreme. All that could be said with assurance was that whatever else happens, Dr Qadri had had more than his fair share of fame and glory.