| LAHORE, Pakistan, June 27
LAHORE, Pakistan, June 27 A flamboyant Pakistani
cleric vowing to bring down the country's government has denied
widespread speculation he is backed by the powerful military.
Tahir ul-Qadri flew into Pakistan this week from his home in
Canada, calling for revolution following months of tension
between the weak civilian government and the military.
The military launched an offensive this month against
Taliban insurgents after lengthy government-backed peace talks
failed and the Taliban attacked the country's busiest airport.
Qadri's arrival prompted fevered speculation in a coup-prone
country where conspiracy theories are a national pastime. Many
insinuated he had military backing, which the
cleric-turned-political activist emphatically denies.
"I will fight against the Pakistan army if it tries to take
over," Qadri told Reuters in an interview, but stopped short of
giving details of how he would do this.
"I am against military rule. My destination is true
democracy," he added, speaking in the sitting-room of his
heavily guarded home on Thursday night, surrounded by aides and
pictures of Muslim holy sites.
His supporters clashed with riot police this week outside
the capital's main airport, causing his plane to be diverted.
Qadri refused to leave his business class seat for several hours
Qadri said he feared for his safety because nine people were
killed in a standoff between his supporters and police the week
before. The cleric has a large network of religious schools,
from which he draws many of his supporters.
On Thursday, he renewed his calls for a peaceful revolution,
but was coy about his strategies, timing and ultimate goals.
"I will achieve my goal just through the struggle of the
masses," he said. "They will come out on the roads and will
force the rulers to resign."
Qadri wants the elected government to resign over
accusations of electoral fraud, but is unclear exactly how its
replacement would be chosen.
"I want neither mid-term nor long-term elections," he said.
"I don't want anything which is not legitimate. My concerns are
true democracy, fair elections and human rights."
Qadri's long speeches calling for political reform -
punctuated by detailed constitutional references - may strike
less of a chord among Pakistanis than his outrage over daily
power cuts, high unemployment and inflation.
Power shortages have eviscerated Pakistani manufacturing
industries, costing hundreds of thousands of jobs. The hardships
helped mobilize tens of thousands of people to descend on the
capital when Qadri called a demonstration last year.
He is now working to build alliances with other figures in
the opposition, including popular cricketer-turned-politician
Imran Khan, who has offered Qadri tentative encouragement.
It's yet more pressure on the embattled government of Nawaz
Sharif, already bruised by confrontations with the military.
Sharif knows the power of protests: he was previously
overthrown in a coup in 1999, but saw his nemesis, the former
army chief, forced to resign by mass street protests in 2008.
Qadri, whose website says he has written more than 1,000
books and is a man of "manifold and staggering achievements,"
hopes for a repeat of that episode.
"Corrupt rulers are making money instead of resolving
people's problems," he says.
Pakistan's parliament, stuffed with wealthy lawmakers who
pay neither taxes nor utility bills, is one of Qadri's favourite
In response, the country's Federal Investigation Agency
announced this week that it would scrutinize Qadri's affairs.
Qadri has sworn not to be deterred.
"I want rule of law, equality between poor and rich, men and
women and Muslims and non-Muslims," he said firmly. "I will
continue my struggle until the goals are achieved."
(Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)