Islamabad: In an aggressive challenge, popular cleric Dr Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri put the Pakistani government on notice and demanded the President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf resign immediately.
Spearheading a million-man march at Islamabad’s Jinnah Avenue, Qadri roared that the present government had only brought misery to its people and hence must resign and an interim government, backed by the military, take over.
In a vitriolic attack on the government, he asked the tens of thousands of his supporters to be ready for a do-or-die battle. Qadri said that he wanted a moderate, peaceful and tolerant society in Pakistan and not an ‘extremist’ one.
Citing Article 40 of Pakistani constitution, Qadri said that it was government’s responsibility to maintain peace inside and outside Pakistan, but the government had badly failed to do so.
Questioning Pakistan’s dented image, that of a “terrorist state”, the influential cleric asserted that it was the political leadership that was responsible for it.
“Pakistanis have been fighting at the borders for last 10-12 years. In spite of 12 years of gory sacrifices, we are still looked down upon as a terrorist state… who is responsible for this? “ said Qadri.
“Our politicians are soaked in corruption from tip to toe... they just want to fleece the poor.”
"End your government. I give you time till the morning to dissolve the National Assembly and provincial assemblies, otherwise people will make the decisions tomorrow," Qadri thundered to loud cheers from his supporters.
"Your mandate has ended, the fake mandate you obtained through wealth, rigging and fake votes. The people who gave you a mandate through the vote have taken back their mandate as a protest.
Your government and assemblies have ended tonight," he claimed while speaking from a bulletproof cabin set up on the stage.
He also mentioned Shia killings in Quetta, saying what right do politicians have to sit in Parliament in a nation where people mourn with 120 corpses unburied till four days.
He sought to kindle the revolutionary spirit in the crowd, egging them to continue the protest until the government resigned.
"The long march has ended at 2am this morning in Islamabad and now the revolution has begun," he said.
Dr Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri, who was relatively unknown until he returned to Pakistan last month after seven years, runs a network of religious schools and charities around the world from his home in Canada.
Qadri, who supported the Musharraf regime during its initial years, is said to have the backing of the military, which wants to influence the electoral process.
Qadri's challenge to the government comes as Pakistan's civilian government is set to see a Prime Minister make it the full five years for the first time and hold independent elections, which the military may perceive as a threat to its power.
(With PTI Inputs)
First Published: Tuesday, January 15, 2013, 15:03