It is difficult to satisfactorily analyse and assess Allama Tahir-ul-Qadri, a Canadian cleric of Pakistani origin, who has suddenly returned to Pakistan to start a street movement against the civilian government and traditional political parties on grounds of widespread corruption and bad governance.
A self-projected Sufi, his rhetoric and methods tend to be confrontational and to be comforting to the Army and the judiciary. He does not call for a return to the Army rule, but wants the Army to have a role in ensuring free and fair elections by being a part of the interim government under which the elections to the National Assembly due later this year will be held.
I do not agree with the conventional perception that his return from Canada to start a street movement was engineered by the Army in order to pave the way for a return to Army rule. I do not tend to see the hand of the Army or its Chief of Staff, Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani in the Allama’s street movement.There is little evidence to show that his movement has been inspired by the Army.
At the height of the global war against terrorism, the US and other Western countries sought to use the Allama in their attempts to de-radicalise and de-Wahabise Islam. One does not know to what extent he was able to help them in this exercise. But his advocacy of Sufism and his disapproval of jihadi terrorism and Wahabi-Deobandi rhetoric impressed sections of Western policy-makers.
During his visit to India in the beginning of last year with no difficulty in getting an Indian visa, one noticed a difference from the normal run of Wahabi-Deobandi clerics like Maulana Fazlur Rehman who visit India from Pakistan from time to time. He was allowed to widely travel in India, visiting Delhi, Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bengaluru. He complied with restrictions imposed on his meetings such as not referring to Jammu & Kashmir.
Tahir-ul-Qadri at New Delhi, Farewell Speech after his tour of India, on 19 March 2012
One noticed that he spoke of the state of the Islamic world of today and not of the medieval Islamic world. One hardly found references to bin Ladenesque rhetoric on the need for an international jihad against the Crusaders and the Jewish people or the need for the revival of the Islamic Caliphate. The Allama does not fight shy of flaunting his Sufism or his admiration for the positive aspects of the Western world. Look at the way he unhesitatingly addresses audiences in Pakistan in English.
There are two questions to which satisfactory answers are not available. What made him suddenly return to Pakistan to start a street movement? Why has he been praising the Army and condemning the civilian rule?
His pro-Army rhetoric is definitely disquieting, but it would be unwarranted to conclude that the Army would be happy over the emergence of the Allama phenomenon. Both the Army and the jihadi extremists of Pakistan acting as surrogates of its Inter-Services Intelligence ought to be concerned over the Allama phenomenon because of his opposition to jihadi terrorism and his past proximity to Western liberal circles. Even Saudi Arabia, on which he does not seem to be dependent for funding, would be puzzled by the Allama.
His popularity in the streets of Pakistan should not be over-stated, but one cannot deny he has been attracting an increasing number of followers from his native Punjab. Till now, he seems to be a Punjabi phenomenon and not a Pashtun or Sindhi one. His immediate threat is likely to be to the Imran Khan phenomenon and not to the PPP or the Pakistan Muslim League of Mr.Nawaz Sharif. While the elite has remained steadfast with Imran, sections of the poor and middle classes have been gravitating towards the Allama.
Will the Allama phenomenon be ephemeral helped by the widespread disenchantment with the Zardari-led government and fizzle out after some weeks or will it acquire momentum and staying power? It is difficult to say at present, but as long as the movement continues, we in India have to closely monitor its impact on political stability in Pakistan and the state of extremism there.
Pakistani analyses and debates are replete with negative references to the Allama. He has been called by some a serial liar, ideologically dishonest, an Army stooge etc. We should not let these negative references influence our analysis and assessment. We should keep our judgement reserved. If he succeeds in injecting a dose of moderation in Wahabi-Deobandi Islam it will be good for the sub-continent. Our faith in the ability of the Pakistani civil society and political parties to de-Wahabise Islam has been belied so far. If the Allama can do it, why not?
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies.
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
Barelvis and Wahabis are India's enemies. Shias are our friends.
Most of the pak are barelvi and almost all pak army(Indias biggest enemy) is barelvi.
What author is gleefully trying to hide is that he allegedly praised modi for something or other, which puts this man squarely in the 'alright' Box.
Author should be prepared to a have mud in his face when this man makes a turn around( he has already made a deal with the pak govt).
While his opposition to Wahabi-Deobandi fundamentalism and his advocacy of moderate Sunnism are welcome, his political affiliation and his personal character remain mysteries.
The sudden appearance of the Cleric from Canada-erudite, articulate and a forceful speaker drawing crowds in Pakistan is baffling, but need to be watched .Whether he has some selfish aspiration ( what in such difficult times in Pakistan) or he is working on the behest of someone (for what motive), or some real purpose, with his Sufi credentials, to stop mindless violence between sects and the areas, political instability, all -arrogant army and ISI supported Jahadi activity (against India), through the real message of Islam that means 'peace' (though there is widespread fear and violence in the name of Islam), and to stop spreading of Wahabism. If so, that will also help India.
Tahir-ul-Qadri has been to India last year, his hosts in Hyderabad were MIM, he is supposed to be from Barelvi sect ,that’s where my hopes dashed. With MIM as hosts it gave way his so called soft approach. As he was from a softer sect of sunni Islam, thought he would be softening the damage caused by Wahhabi’s but when it comes to India , his views are as hard as anybody else....just go and have a peek on YouTube....you can judge yourself! now coming to the Pakistan point of view, perhaps some of those who are educated and sophisticated see his as their representative, but, the so called educated don’t have any soft corner with their neighbour , it’s a misnomer !
For the world it was tamasha ....everyone with a cause talks of Tahir Square revolution.....and all those claims have proved to be phoney!
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