Pakistan’s firebrand cleric quits politics

KARACHI, Pakistan

A firebrand Pakistani political leader and religious scholar Tahir-ul-Qadri on Saturday announced his retirement from politics.

In a video message from Canada, where he has been settled for several years, Qadri also announced to resign from the leadership of his Pakistan Awami Tehrik (PAT) party, which has a sizable vote bank in parts of northeastern Punjab, the country’s largest province.

“I am retiring from Pakistani politics, political activities , and my post as PAT chairman,” Qadri said without citing any reasons.

This is not for the first time, he has announced to give up politics. In 2004, Qadri had resigned from the parliament and moved to Canada for “preaching” purpose.

Qadri made his comeback in Pakistani politics in 2012 when he together with thousands of his followers staged a four-day long sit-in outside the capital Islamabad to “save state, not system.”

In June 2014, some 14 PAT activists were killed and over 100 injured when police opened fire to disperse activists during a drive against illegally established settlements outside his resident in Lahore city.

A couple of months after Lahore incident, PAT together with the then opposition and now ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) had besieged Islamabad for four months seeking resignation of then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif over alleged rigging in 2013 general elections and killing of the party activists.

At least five people, including policemen, were killed and dozens injured in clashes between the activists and law enforcing agencies during the four-month long sit-in in the capital.

In April this year, an anti-terrorism court, sentenced over 100 activists of the PAT in jail for their involvement in violence during 2014 sit-in.

“Our legal battle for the Model Town incident will continue till my last breath,” Qadri said, adding: “That is not a matter of politics, it is a matter of faith,” Qadri said in his message.

Once a close friend of jailed former premier Sharif, Qadri started off as a preacher at a mosque in Sharif family’s iron factory “Ittifaq Foundry” in late 1970s. Later, he founded Minhaj ul Quran — a non-profit providing education, religious and cultural services — in October 1981.

In 1989, he founded a political party, the PAT, which could not perform well in the parliamentary politics.

Qadri himself was the only PAT leader who could get elected as a member of the lower house — the National Assembly — in 2002 elections from Lahore, the capital of Punjab.
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