The return of Maulana Qadri

Pakistan's news media is awash with a man of slight frame currently casting a towering shadow on Pakistan's political landscape, Maulana Tahirul Qadri.

Most find his agenda both suspicious and unclear, replete with contradictory claims: he suggests a Tahrir Square-like uprising in a country that has, despite all upheavals, completed a democratic term; his mission of "electoral reforms" arrives in the presence of an impartial chief election commissioner who can be asked to intervene at any given point and that too without blustering rhetoric or a revolution. Qadri demands a caretaker government in three weeks when it is already poised to take charge in a matter of three months; his idea of delaying elections is swiftly followed by a denial. And last but not least, he raves on about the merits of democracy while

soliciting the army's resistance towards the directives of an elected administration.

As Qadri continues to devour news space, amid denials from both the military and US envoy Richard Hoagland of having any links with him, let's take a look at the man who, having returned from self-imposed exile in Canada, has created some unease in political circles by drawing huge crowds to his rallies a few months ahead of the polls. His public relations machinery has dubbed his arrival a "revolution". The jury is still out on that, but the debate is on. To make sense of this debate, his origins must take centrestage.

Qadri started out as a maulvi patronised by the Sharif family. He was stationed at their Ittefaq Masjid in Lahore's Model Town. As the Sharifs grew in stature and power, more and more people began flocking to Qadri's Friday sermons. Ever the clever player, he took ample advantage of the spiritual and religious confusion that plagues Pakistan's masses by adopting a modern route ó he injected his addresses with scientific discoveries, such as the theory of reproduction being found in the Quran centuries before it was discovered by biologists. Such gimmicks catapulted Qadri to definitive prominence. On the other end, he was close to Mian Sharif, better known as Abbaji, whose politics was driven by religion (but whose religion did not drive his politics). This forced Qadri to take a somewhat "secular" approach to his preaching.

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