Dr Tahirul Qadri descended on Lahore with the biggest bang possible. He pulled the largest crowd at Minar-i-Pakistan; much larger than Imran Khan could manage. His arrival was heralded by a massive media campaign in the history of Pakistan. Experts estimate that this media venture is priced at a staggering amount that is more than Rs 400 millions; some even mention a much higher figure. But no one exactly knows how did Dr Qadri acquire such a fortune.

Dr Qadri has landed in Pakistan at a critical juncture of its domestic politics. An elected Parliament and government is completing its tenure and elections are almost around the corner; a consensus Election Commissioner is in place and the nation is almost geared to go to polls to elect their representatives. But Dr Qadri has put forward his demands that almost ask for the deferment of the elections. His demands include the establishment of an interim administration that meets his approval and cleansing the electoral process according to the provisions provided in the constitution. For this purpose, he wants to delay the elections to an unspecified time period in which Pakistan’s political, diplomatic and domestic affairs will be run by the interim administration. Despite the fact that his campaign is massively being funded from dubious sources, one wonders why Dr Qadri, a Canadian citizen, has selected this time to come to Pakistan? It is widely believed in well informed circles that his visit has an international agenda. Prior to his visit the rumours were that the British Foreign Minister has been meeting him; that he had been visiting the US State Department; and that his media campaign was being funded from EU sources and managed from the UAE. However, the campaign displays pronounced professionalism that one observes in the US presidential elections. Undoubtedly, there is much more to this political storm than meets the eye.

Regionally, it is a critical time not only for Pakistan, but also the region. The US engagement in Afghanistan is going to end in 2014; the drawdown will possibly start this year. From the information that becomes available at regular intervals, one can deduce that the US will not abandon Afghanistan altogether; it will keep a sizable force there. Washington also wants to establish a local government there that will serve its interests. Also, there are strong indications that it wants India to play a significant role in post-US Afghanistan. Pakistan’s help, however, is essential in any arrangement that the USA wants to put on ground in the war-torn country. Nevertheless, a representative Pakistani government that is answerable to Parliament will not agree to India playing a dominant role in Afghanistan despite US desires.

In the Pak-US relations, Pakistan’s nuclear capability takes the centre stage, while America despite its assurances is wary of this capability; thus, neutralisation of its nukes is a high-priority objective for Washington. In the war on terror too, Pakistan figures prominently. Despite being an ally, its efforts and intentions are doubted. There are irritants that can pitch these “seasonal friends” at the whims of the dominant ally if it finds that Pakistan is creating hurdles in the smooth transition of arrangements in Afghanistan. One needs to critically examine the events shaping up in and around Pakistan.

Internally, the terrorists have stepped up their attacks throughout Pakistan. India has raised the temperature by resorting to LoC violations, accusations and threats. These events are certainly not happening in isolation or without objectives. The stage is being set where Pakistan will be pressurised to comply with USA’s regional strategic agenda.

Thus, Dr Qadri’s mission has to be analysed in this scenario. Apparently, he has been sent to kick up a political storm to pressurise the PPP-led government to accept his demands. A transitional setup that is allowed to prolong its tenure to indefinite time will not restrict itself to just cleansing the electoral process; it will have to conduct bilateral and multilateral affairs, as they cannot wait for indefinite times.

Take the worst case scenario; what happens if Dr Qadri’s sit-in prolongs to longer durations. Perhaps, this uncertainty will move events in unpredictable directions; terror threats will increase and may be executed in the capital territory; then the terror wave can and will spread throughout the country and we may have to use the military arm to control the situation. In this situation, the US may raise the slogan of our nuclear assets falling in the militants’ hands and may resort to overt action to take the threat out; such an option is already on its planning charts. We have forgotten that the USA had deployed a large contingent of Blackwater in Pakistan; so where are they and what are they doing? By now, they should have collected enough information about our assets.

In whatever way one thinks, Dr Qadri’s sudden return does not spell any reform for Pakistan. He will move back to the luxury of Canada and supplicate before the Pope (see picture flashed on Facebook). We can foreclose his efforts by announcing the formation of an interim setup and resorting to early polls. The media has a greater responsibility to educate and guide the people, who are blindly following the self-styled Shaykh-ul-Islam, about his objectives. Instead of airing non-serious verbal matches, the media should telecast well documented and serious programmes to disclose his dubious character.

The writer is a retired brigadier. Email: arjerral@hotmail.com