Anti-government cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri has ended his mass protest in Islamabad after striking a deal with the government, which left him pretty much empty-handed.
He came, he marched, and then he left.
Firebrand Pakistani-Canadian cleric and leader of the religious organization Tehreek-e-Minjahul Quran, Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri, promised to bring a "revolution" to Pakistan by marching into Islamabad with his hundreds of thousands of supporters and remove the "corrupt" rulers and politicians from parliament. Anti-government protesters were demanding the resignation of the Pakistan People's Party's (PPP) government and that an "impartial" interim government backed by Pakistan's powerful army and newly-independent judiciary be formed. Qadri's demands also included major reforms in the electoral system of the country ahead of this year's parliamentary elections. The cleric had threatened to storm the parliament if his demands were not met.
On Monday, Qadri, who is considered to be a moderate cleric, marched with his supporters into Islamabad and camped outside parliament for four days. Many Pakistanis - frustrated with lawlessness, unemployment and inflation in the country - were hoping for a "Pakistani Spring" akin to the Middle Eastern revolts that swept across a number of Arab states last year. But on Thursday, the cleric announced he was ending his protest after a five hour meeting with a ten member committee of politicians appointed by Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf.
Observers say that to the disappointment of thousands of Qadri's supporters - who spent three nights braving cold weather and rain in the Pakistani capital waiting for the "revolution" - Qadri withdrew most of his demands. In the end, analysts say, Qadri achieved little through his protest.
A victory for government
The government did not make many concessions in the deal which was reached on Thursday evening. It only agreed to dissolve parliament any time before March 16 so that parliamentary elections could take place within 90 days. The PPP government is ending its five-year term in office this year. The government also rejected Qadri's demands to form an interim government with consultation of the Pakistani military, and to dismantle the election commission.
Qadri nonetheless hailed the deal as victory for the protesters.
"I congratulate you. Today is the day of victory for the people of Pakistan. You should go home as peacefully as you came here," Qadri told participants after signing the deal with PM Ashraf.
As Pakistan's political crisis deepened, political analysts were not ruling out the possibility of a military coup amid all the chaos as things could possibly turn violent. The political turmoil in the Islamic Republic had worsened with the Supreme Court's order on Monday for the arrest of Prime Minister Ashraf on corruption charges. Ashraf and his party assert their innocence.
Supporters of President Asif Ali Zardari's PPP government are of the view that the judiciary, backed by the army and its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency, are trying to undermine the supremacy of parliament and civilian democracy.
In a controversial verdict in June last year, the Pakistani Supreme Court disqualified former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani from holding office, following a contempt conviction two months earlier.
Pakistani has seen three military coups throughout its 65-year history. Analysts say Pakistani generals call the shots even when the civilian government is in power.
On Thursday morning, Qadri gave the final deadline of until 3pm (Pakistani time) to the government to address his demands. He said that talks could only be held with President Asif Ali Zardari. Later, he agreed to hold talks with a delegation that included members of the government and opposition parties.
Analysts say Qadri agreed to go into negotiations with the government after main opposition parties refused to join Qadri's protest and dismissed his demands as "unconstitutional" on Wednesday. The opposition parties, however, demanded that the government immediately announce the election dates and appoint a caretaker government with the consultation of all political parties.
Politics of 'change'
Some, however, say that it was not a complete defeat for Qadri who had managed to grab media attention in Pakistan for the past three weeks.
"The 'march' made Qadri a relevant and a recognizable political player in the country," social activist Nazish Brohi told DW. "He proved that he has quite a big support base in the country. I think it is also indicative of a wider change. Some of the things that Qadri said during his protest found resonance with a large number of people." She was of the opinion that it was an important lesson for Pakistan's political parties who had not been paying attention to people's demand for change.
Experts like Brohi also say that the chaos in Pakistan is not likely to end any time soon.
"I think the power balance in Pakistan has been jarred over the past five years. This chaos is a result of old and new players jostling for slices of the power pie. It is not a bad thing because the old power equilibrium has become irrelevant," Brohi commented.
Ghazi Salahuddin, a senior journalist in Karachi, admitted that the government had become extremely unpopular and that a lot of people did not want to see it in power anymore, but he criticized the way in which Qadri was trying to dislodge it.
"The PPP's governance has been dismal over the last five years. The Quetta killings and the way the government dealt with it made people angrier with the government. It is true that this government has been shaken," Salahuddin commented.
Islamabad-based human rights activist Tahira Abdullah said that the democratic process would take time, and would only be possible through elections. "We know that the rulers are corrupt but people can vote them out in elections. Only regular elections can guarantee good governance," she said.