Dr Tahirul Qadri is at it again!

Published: June 23, 2014
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Express News screengrab of Tahirul Qadri in his plane.

Express News screengrab of Tahirul Qadri in his plane. Had Dr. Qadri arrived in Islamabad, the situation would have been utterly out of control. How would the government have managed the angry mob had an unpleasant situation occurred? PHOTO: AFP Had Dr. Qadri arrived in Islamabad, the situation would have been utterly out of control. How would the government have managed the angry mob had an unpleasant situation occurred? PHOTO: MALIK SHAFIQ/EXPRESS

Over 100,000 people poured into the twin cities to welcome the internationally acclaimed cleric and prominent political figure, Dr Tahirul Qadri. The Benazir Bhutto International airport, one of the most vulnerable airports in the country, has been on high alert for some time now, due to the fear of an insurgency attack. 

Islamabad’s airport has an extremely limited amount of space to accommodate passengers; with very little parking space and hyped up security, vehicles normally have to queue up outside the airport territory and end up blocking two general lanes of the main road leading to the airport which leads to a lot of commotion. This, in itself, becomes a major security concern.

With such a situation, no sane local government would allow an important public figure to land in the area, become vulnerable to open threats and be the cause of added disturbance. Yes, in Dr Qadri’s case, the government may have had their own agenda to prevent him from landing in Islamabad.

Whatever the case may be, Dr Qadri resides in Lahore and has a large following in all major cities, especially Lahore and Karachi. The airports, in both these cities, are located on the outskirts of the city and have the capacity to accommodate larger crowds. In light of that, wouldn’t it have been easier for Dr Qadri’s followers to come and welcome him in either Lahore or Karachi?

But, despite knowing the limitation of the airport, Dr Qadri chose to land in Islamabad. Why?

Before he embarked the plane from London, Dr Qadri stated clearly that he did not intend to have any public gathering or sit-ins in Islamabad, nor did he have any intention to provoke his followers to be violent. Why, then, did he choose Islamabad, knowing that it could turn ugly there if the situation is mishandled even the slightest bit?

His speeches, too, are full of contradictions. At one point, he addressed the establishment of the country and said that he supported their agenda and stood by them. But, at the same time, he also stated that if he were killed during his visit to Pakistan, his followers must not stop until the revolution has taken place – a revolution which calls for destabilising the present government.

On the face of it, it seems Dr Qadri did in fact plan to demonstrate public strength in Islamabad and intended to travel to Lahore via the historic GT Road, accompanied by hoards of his followers. Unfortunately for him, his plan was quickly discovered and foiled.

But how, if at all, would such a demonstration have benefitted the local people? He may have travelled business class from London to Islamabad via Dubai, but travelling via road, on a 282-kilometre-long journey, accompanied by multiple cars and security personnel would only have resulted in a colossal wastage of tax-payer money. He should have weighed the practical implications of such a ‘grand entrance’.

At the same time, Dr Qadri’s decision to stay on the plane until enough ‘security’ was granted to him was not only detrimental to Pakistan’s image globally, but also acted as a burden on those passengers who were to board the same flight to return to Dubai. After the entire fiasco, there are passengers still waiting at the airport, not knowing whether they will be able to fly to their destinations today or not.

The Lahore airport was supposed to operate at least 10 domestic flights, along with another 14 international ones to Central Asia, Europe and the Middle East. All these flights have been delayed, cancelled or re-routed to other nearby airports. Around 2000 passengers, foreigners included, have been affected due to Dr Qadri’s actions.

The government had taken all necessary precautionary measures, which included blocking roads, banning cellular services and also considered disconnecting social media services temporarily, just so that the political figure could get home safely. Yet, Dr Qadri seemed to have taken it upon himself to single-handedly make the aviation sector suffer, not only in terms of monetary losses but also with their reputation.

What if the international airline, on which Dr Qadri was aboard, had threatened to discontinue its flights to Pakistan? This would have been the second international airline to discontinue its operations in the country. But why would that bother Dr Qadri? He doesn’t live in Pakistan, so why would it bother him how Pakistan or its image suffers? He is more inclined on bringing a ‘revolution’ to ‘uplift’ Pakistan’s image.

Let us all be a little realistic and understand that whatever it’s downsides, Pakistan is a sovereign state, and no one has the right to challenge its rit. I do not, in any way, advocate that the government’s decision to divert the plane was right, but with the mindset present in the ruling elite, like Dr Qadri, this is the best the government could have done to handle the situation. The least we can do is side by the presiding government, after all, we voted these guys in, didn’t we?

Jawad Nazir

Jawad Nazir

An idea entrepreneur, a youth activist, a philanthropist, a policy advisor, aviation researcher, a speaker and a community worker from Rawalpindi, Pakistan. A graduate of journalism and political science from the University of Punjab, Lahore, he is currently pursuing an honors degree in brand management from the Foundation University, Islamabad. He tweets as @jawadmnazir (www.twitter.com/jawadmnazir)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.