Islamabad, 6 Rabiul Awwal 1434/18 January 2013 (MINA) – A Pakistani Muslim cleric has called off a mass protest rally in the capital Islamabad after reaching a deal with the government.

       On Thursday, Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri asked his supporters to end the protest on its fourth day after the government agreed to dissolve the parliament before March 16, according to PressTV report received by Mi’raj News Agency (MINA), Friday.

       “We have reached an agreement… I want to congratulate you on the victory that Allah has granted you. Today is a day of victory for the people of Pakistan. It is a day of victory for all the participants of the long march…We have to end (the sit-in),” Qadri told his supporters.

        Earlier this week, he called on his followers to march into the capital to demand a peaceful “revolution” and the dissolution of the parliament.

      The cleric is calling for an end to corruption and sweeping reforms to tackle the country’s numerous problems.

      Earlier in the day, the head of Pakistan’s anti-corruption bureau defied an order by the Supreme Court to arrest Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf on corruption charges.

       National Accountability Bureau Chairman Fasih Bokhari told the top court that there was not enough evidence to arrest the premier.

       Bokhari, who was appointed by President Asif Ali Zardari, said that the investigating officers “were not able to bring incriminating evidence” and instead “relied on oral statements which are not warranted in the court of law.”


The Agreement


       Pakistani officials struck a deal with a fiery Muslim preacher late Thursday, ending a four-day mass protest in the capital and easing fears that the government could be toppled.


      The agreement – that elections would be held on time and in accordance with the constitution – was announced after ministers clambered into Tahir-ul-Qadri’s armoured shipping container, parked in the centre of Islamabad, to discuss his demands for electoral reforms, according to report received by Mi’raj News Agency (MINA), Friday.


       Dr Qadri launched his blitzkrieg political assault on Islamabad on Sunday night, bringing more than 20,000 on to the city’s streets to demand that the government be dissolved.


      The campaign caught fire on Tuesday when Pakistan’s highest court ordered the arrest of the prime minister on corruption charges, raising the prospect of a “soft coup”.


       But with the threat of arrest receding and with rain pounding his dwindling band of supporters, Dr Qadri effectively backed down.

“Tomorrow there will be no sit-in. We have to end it today,” he declared from the container parked in Islamabad’s main shopping district from where he has masterminded his campaign.


       Within the hour, an assortment of ministers and party leaders climbed a stepladder into the container for negotiations.


       A statement issued late on Thursday said Dr Qadri’s party would have a say in the appointment of a caretaker prime minister, once the election has been called.


      “With the end of the long march and sit-in, all cases registered against each other shall be withdrawn immediately and there will be no acts of victimisation and vendetta against either party or the participants of the march,” it said.

       Dr Qadri’s sudden return home, after spending seven years living in Canada running a Muslim education network, and well-funded campaign led many to suspect he was at the heart of a plot to unseat a fragile and unpopular government.


      Pakistan has pulsated with conspiracy theories since Tuesday, when Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, the chief justice, ordered the arrest of Raja Pervez Ashraf and 15 others for allegedly receiving kickbacks in a government procurement scandal.


       President Asif Ali Zardari has set his heart on the government surviving until March, when it will have completed a full term. Successful elections would mark the first democratic transition of power in the country’s history and an impressive legacy for Benazir Bhutto’s widower.


      That ambition came a step closer in the supreme court on Thursday morning when the head of Pakistan’s corruption investigators said he was unable to arrest Mr Ashraf.


       Fasih Bokhari, head of the National Accountability Bureau, said investigations were not complete.


       Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, who three days earlier had ordered him to detain the prime minister, asked him to hand over the case files so that the court could itself decide whether the evidence merited a prosecution.


       Justice Chaudhry, who has frequently been accused of pursuing a vendetta against President Zardari and his government, said: “There may be some persons who consider themselves to be above the law. I want to tell you no-one is above law.” Government aides now believe Mr Ashraf can survive in office until elections are due to be called.

While the immediate political crisis has ended, other problems remain.

      The economy is struggling, Taliban and sectarian violence is at a high, the rupee is sinking, there is an appalling energy crisis and fledgling peace diplomatic gains in relations with India appear in jeopardy following five cross-border killings in a week. (T/R-025/R-006)


Mi’raj News Agency (MINA)

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