Leading the Way

Article excerpt

Byline: Jahanzeb Aslam

Indignant cleric marches on Islamabad. Thousands follow.

Heads held high, bursting with pride at accomplishing what they had believed to be impossible, the tens of thousands who had followed Tahir-ul Qadri on his long march to Islamabad dispersed Thursday night, marking an end to a sit-in that had paralyzed Pakistan's federal capital for four days.

The Canadian-Pakistani lawyer turned cleric had set forth from Lahore on Jan. 13 and arrived in Islamabad a day and a half later. Setting up camp in front of Parliament House, he and his followers could not be ignored.

After a two-day sit-in, Qadri finally gave a Castro-length speech describing the government as a "band of crooks." He encouraged his followers to stand their ground, asking them to swear on the Quran that they would stay put and told them: "If you leave now, Pakistan is doomed."

Among his demands was for the government to enact electoral reforms in line with Pakistan's Constitution, including firing the current Election Commission, establishing impartial election oversight, and discarding all federal and provincial assemblies for being corrupt. On Thursday, after a final ultimatum in which he warned the government to meet him now or prepare for consequences, he got what he wanted.

Dubbed the Islamabad Long March Declaration, the five-point agreement between Qadri, Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, and representatives of all ruling coalition parties, among other things, requires Pakistan's National Assembly to be dissolved before March 16 with elections to be held within 90 days. In addition, it allows Qadri to have a say in the government's candidate for the interim prime minister. Also, all nominations will be scrutinized over a period of 30 days to ensure that candidates are law abiding and "moral. …