As the Pakistan Awami Tehreek leader Dr Tahirul Qadri continues to hog the limelight with his theatrical performance and fiery speeches, some of his camp followers after basking in reflected glory in the past have now been rendered into nobodies. Rather, at times they seem to be sulking in the background.
People like Ghulam Mustafa Khar and Sardar Assef Ahmad Ali, who were once holding high positions in past governments, could often be seen standing, flanking or sitting quietly behind Qadri as he thunders on with his ferocious and mostly repetitive talk. Both were well-known and powerful politicians long before Qadri emerged on the political scene, but such is the irony of the situation and so strong is their urge to remain in the limelight that they are willing to just pull along the PAT head in inconsequential positions.
And then there are the Chaudhry brothers — Shujaat Hussain and Pervez Elahi — who were once the masters of Pakistan as political allies of military ruler General Pervez Musharraf and have now been pushed into the fringes of the political mainstream. They are willing to ride Qadri’s coattails, or of anyone else, if it could put them into the corridors of power once again in place of their arch-rival Sharif family. Their hatred of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz Sharif is almost pathological, but they lack the public support and political base to challenge the Sharifs’ PML-N. That is the reason they are willing to become part of any enterprise or alliance that could attempt to dethrone the Sharif family. Presently, they are backing both Qadri and Imran because they have a one-point agenda to overthrow Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, but it should surprise nobody if the Chaudhry brothers join hands with someone else in the future to achieve this objective.
The Chaudhrys are now firmly in Qadri’s camp. It is a steep fall for the once powerful Chaudhrys to wait on Qadri, spend hours at his home and office, and sit quietly in his press conferences. This would not have been the case if the Chaudhrys had not restricted their politics to opposing and harming the Sharifs at every step. Not long ago the Chaudhrys were in the driving seat and had little time for insignificant politicians such as the cleric Qadri and the cricketer Imran. Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain had his name recorded as prime minister of Pakistan even if he held the prestigious office for a fleeting few months. And his cousin Chaudhry Pervez Elahi was once the chief minister of Punjab with his eyes fixed on the job of the prime minister just like Nawaz Sharif.
Now they have been reduced to hangers-on, applauding Qadri and listening to his long answers to short questions by journalists.
It looks strange when Qadri promises in presence of ‘revolutionaries’ like Shujaat Hussain and Pervez Elahi to herald a ‘revolution’ in Pakistan complete with a utopian world in which the rich and poor would have equal rights, guaranteed jobs and food security and a model system of justice. It is the same Pervez Elahi who in his hey-days repeatedly and rather annoyingly declared that they would see to it that Musharraf is ‘elected’ time and again as president wearing his army general’s uniform. That is the kind of patronage-driven ‘revolution’ that he and his ilk have known and desired all along.
It has been instructive to know how the once mighty could experience a decline in their fortunes. It was rather sad to watch on television the elderly Ghulam Mustafa Khar and Sardar Assef Ahmad Ali giving company to the PAT leader Raheeq Abbasi during interaction with the media and saying nothing. The much younger Abbasi, who was virtually unknown prior to the protest sit-ins in Islamabad, did all the talking even though he too is inconsequential in the PAT in comparison with the self-centred and self-righteous Qadri. By the way, Qadri isn’t someone who would allow anyone else to share the limelight with him.
Due to PPP founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s patronage, Khar had once ruled Punjab as the governor and chief minister. His downfall started when he left the PPP. He has tried every political trick ever since, contested scores of elections and lost, and joined a number of parties and alliances to stay relevant in politics. Joining Qadri is one more desperate bid to make a political comeback, but it is obvious that this attempt too is destined to fail because Qadri’s protest sit-in is unlikely to lead to the ‘revolution’ that he has promised his followers.
Sardar Assef’s case is also painful. He had been a PPP stalwart and a foreign minister of Pakistan. Known for his humility and intellect, he has been making the wrong political choices in recent years and suffering the consequences. He joined Imran’s PTI but fell out with him when his electoral rival, Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri, was preferred over him and given the party ticket for contesting the National Assembly seat from their native Kasur. Though Sardar Assef lost the election as an independent candidate, he must have the satisfaction that Kasuri too couldn’t win the seat. Sardar Assef’s subsequent decision to join the Qadri bandwagon is also an act of desperation. He may not have realised that his present leader Qadri and previous party head Imran could join hands one day and leave him with the difficult choice of sharing the stage with one or both.
One is tempted to believe that Sardar Assef isn’t a happy man in the Qadri camp even though he was made part of the PAT negotiations team that held unsuccessful talks with the government negotiators. It won’t be surprising if Sardar Assef eventually abandons Qadri because they don’t have much in common. In any case, Qadri won’t go far in politics because PAT’s electoral chances are limited. Sardar Assef won’t have much incentive to stay with Qadri if he cannot help him win his Kasur seat in elections or doesn’t make him the foreign minister in his imaginary ‘revolutionary’ government.
Besides, Qadri’s fiery rhetoric and violence-inciting speeches would in due course of time turn out to be too much for the gentleman that Sardar Assef has always been.
Imran too has a sidekick in the person of Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad, but he has now graduated into the position of the top advisor of the PTI founder. Not long ago, Imran was said to have commented that he won’t even allow Sheikh Rasheed to be his peon, but times have changed and now they seem to have become inseparable. The PTI rank and file may not like Sheikh Rasheed because he doesn’t belong to their party and has allegedly misled Imran to undertake his miscalculated ‘long march’ but they have no power to push him away from the container where he daily occupies centre-stage with their leader.
In a way though, Sheikh Rasheed is capable of influencing PTI’s decision-making without being its member. He is often found claiming that he brought Imran and Qadri together and coordinated their moves. In contrast, Ghulam Mustafa Khar, Sardar Assef Ahmad Ali and the Chaudhry brothers are content to be mere onlookers to whatever the maverick Qadri says or decides.