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    South Asia
     Jan 19, 2013

Qadri calls off Islamabad sit-in
By Syed Fazl-e-Haider

KARACHI - A four-day sit-in outside Parliament House in Islamabad has ended after the protest leader, Islamic cleric Tahirul Qadri, and the government reached agreement over the implementation of the protesters' four demands.

Qadri signed the Islamabad Long March Declaration after several hours of negotiations with a government delegation. The deal, ratified by Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, led 

thousands of demonstrators to cheer and dance in the streets.

"I congratulate you,'' Qadri told his supporters as his announced on January 17 he was calling off the protest. "Allah has given you victory. Today is the day of victory for the people of Pakistan. You should go home as peacefully as you came here."

Under the deal, the national assembly is to be dissolved "at any time before March 16 so that the elections may take place within 90 days". The Pakistani government, led by the Pakistan's People's Party, ends its five-year tenure on March 16, while according to the constitution, the election is to be held within 60 days. The ruling coalition also said it would consult with Qadri on the nomination of the caretaker prime minister ahead of elections.

The most important part of the declaration was the provision of a 30-day period before the election for pre-clearance and scrutiny of nomination papers by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) under Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution. It was also agreed that deliberations on the composition of the ECP will be held on January 27 in Lahore, and that electoral reforms will be implemented.

President Asif Ali Zardari showed statesmanship after the final deadline came from Qadri on Thursday when he sent a 10-member committee comprising representatives from the ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and its coalition partners with the task of averting political crisis and dispersing a rally that had piled pressure on the government.

Local analysts believe that the negotiations held at D-Chowk, the sit-in locatio, in a bullet-proof container gave a face-saving oppurtunity for both Qadri, who recently returned to Pakistan after years in Canada, and the government.

"Qadri knows that he is in a difficult situation after opposition parties rejected his demands," Hasan Askari Rizvi, an independent political analyst was quoted as saying by Bloomberg. "This is also a crisis for the government, so they may be able to find a middle way, like an assurance the Election Commission will carry out scrutiny in line with the constitution to ensure honest candidates."

Critics say that the long march bubble burst as a result of a deal that has actually made Qadri a partner with the ruling coalition and stakeholder in the nomination of caretaker prime minister ahead of elections. It also paved the way for an honorable exit for Qadri, who has denied intense media speculation that he is backed by Pakistan's military.

Qadri and his supporters embarked on their march from Lahore late on January 13 and arrived in Islamabad the following day. The standoff between the government and the protesters took many twists and turns. The government on Wednesday declared Qadri's charter of demands unconstitutional, while the country's main political parties - both in the government and opposition - joined in unison to vow to fight all conspiracies to delay polls and derail the democratic process.

Even Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI), led by Imran Khan, took a u-turn by criticizing Qadri's agenda. The protest march had come at melting point on Wednesday after all the political parties, civil society and media appeared to have turned against Qadri's agenda. labelling his demands as unconstitutional.

Daily Times, the country's leading newspaper, commented,
The people of Pakistan may or may not be happy with the performance of the incumbent governments during the last five years, but only uninformed and foolhardy elements without an iota of understanding of our past want to throw the baby of democracy out with the bathwater of these governments. The 'crisis' engendered by these sinister simultaneous moves aside, the demands of Qadri have exposed his hand. He wants, as in the past, the military and judiciary to settle the fate of the country. Powerful as these institutions are, this is neither their remit nor in accordance with any constitutional or democratic principle.
The government's warning on Wednesday of an impending terror attack on the protest rally triggered speculation that something worst could happen at D-Chowk, the administrative center which took on the appearance of Cairo's Tahrir Square as thousands of demonstrators crowded in. The presence of the highly charged marchers also raised concerns about the possibility of violent clashes leading to the breakdown of law and order in the federal capital - and ultimately bringing about military intervention.

Electoral reform is seen as a critical component of the agreement. If sweeping reforms do not transpire before the elections, all the corrupt tax evaders, loan defaulters and fake degree holders would be able to contest elections and reach parliament. While this is Qadri's view, it is supported by all right-minded people. Whether he is backed by the military establishment or someone else, most of his demands are the people's demands.

Voters in Pakistan are wary of the present coalition government, which came to power after 2008 elections, because it delivered nothing but has set records in corruption. Bad governance has eroded the efficiency of major state-owned enterprises, while law and order problems have taken a toll on foreign direct investment.

The energy crisis has also worsened, inflaming public anger and affecting industrial production. It is also a common view that the country' s financial and business hub of Karachi has been turned into a center for crime, where extortionist land and arms mafias call the shots and have taken the whole city hostage.

Electoral reforms are essential to sustain a genuine democracy in a country where the intervention of the military, abetted by the inefficiency, incompetence and corruption of elected governments, has interrupted progress in the democratic process.

Syed Fazl-e-Haider (www.syedfazlehaider.com ) is a development analyst in Pakistan. He is the author of many books, including The Economic Development of Balochistan, published in May 2004. E-mail, sfazlehaider05@yahoo.com

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Arrest order piles pressure on Zardari
Jan 17, '13

Islamabad lacks Tahrir Square focus
Jan 16, '13



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