Pak surrenders to Islamist party; to expel French envoy

The expulsion of the French ambassador is one of the main four demands of the radical Islamist party, which was banned last week after its members staged violent anti-France protests across the country.

Islamabad: Succumbing to Islamists’ demands, Pakistan’s Imran Khan-led government on Tuesday decided to introduce a resolution in Parliament to expel the French ambassador and quash all criminal cases filed against the banned radical Islamist party TLP after they reached a deal following a marathon round of talks.

The agreement came a day after Prime Minister Khan said that the expulsion of the French ambassador was not a solution to stop the incidences of blasphemy in the western world, noting that it will only trigger incidents of blasphemy in other countries as in the West they call it freedom of expression.

“Under a marathon round of talks and an agreement reached with the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), a resolution on the expulsion of the French ambassador will be presented on Tuesday in the National Assembly, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid said in a video statement.

The cases against TLP workers, registered under terrorism charges, will also be quashed. Besides, the names of TLP leaders from the Fourth Schedule will also be taken off, Rashid said.

The expulsion of the French ambassador is one of the main four demands of the radical Islamist party, which was banned last week after its members staged violent anti-France protests across the country.

On Monday, the National Assembly session was adjourned to meet again on April 22. However, shortly after the minister’s statement, a session of the lower house of Parliament was summoned in the late afternoon.

Hours later, a resolution was tabled in the National Assembly for the expulsion of the French ambassador from Pakistan over the issue of blasphemous cartoons being published in the European country.

Amjad Ali Khan of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party presented the resolution in the National Assembly with Speaker Asad Qaiser in the chair. Technically, it was not an official document as it was moved by a member in his private capacity but it was accepted for discussion.

The resolution condemned the publication of blasphemous caricatures by French magazine Charlie Hebdo in September last year and expressed regret over the French’s president “encouragement of the elements hurting the sentiments of the hundreds of millions of Muslims in the name of freedom of expression”.

“The House condemns the publication of insulting sketches by the controversial French magazine Charlie Hebdo and Muslims around the world had also expressed outrage at the publication of the sketches,” the resolution added.

It stated that a debate should be held in the House on the expulsion of the French ambassador from Pakistan over the issue of caricatures.

The main Opposition Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) attended the session but the Pakistan People’s Party boycotted it.

Ahsan Iqbal of PML-N demanded that the resolutions should be presented by the prime minister or some minister to make it an official document and the government should bring a new resolution after discussion with the opposition.

“We want to cooperate with the government on this sensitive issue but cannot support the resolution in the current form, he said.

Minister for Planning Asad Umar welcomed the offer for cooperation and said the government was ready to delay the voting in order to discuss the resolution with the opposition.

Speaker Qaisar said that he would like to give time to the House for discussion to come up with the consensus document and adjourned the session until Friday.

The decision to bring the resolution in the parliament was made after a government delegation, comprising the interior minister and Religious Affairs Minister Noorul Haq Qadri, held talks with the TLP leaders in Lahore late on Monday night.

Earlier, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid said that the TLP has agreed to call off its sit-in in Lahore and elsewhere in the country.

The TLP had given an April 20 deadline to expel the French ambassador over cartoons depicting the Prophet published in France.

After declaring the TLP a proscribed outfit under terrorism laws and freezing its leaders’ bank accounts last week, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government had announced that there would be no talks with the terror outfit.

However, after Sunday’s clash between the law enforcement agencies and the TLP workers in Lahore in which 11 policemen and Rangers were taken hostage by the radicals, the government held talks with the outfit leadership on Monday which ended in an agreement on Tuesday.

The TLP launched a massive protest in November last year against the cartoons but dispersed after the agreement with the government to expel the ambassador by February. The deal was extended until April 20.

The government had promised to take action on the demands of the TLP by bringing a legislation in the parliament.

The TLP shot to fame in 2017 when it held a massive protest for three weeks in the busy Faizabad interchange near Islamabad. The party lifted the lockdown of the city after the then government sacked the law minister.

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