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Is Pakistan going to expel the French ambassador?

In its agreement with the right-wing Barelvi group, the government negotiators had agreed to expel the French ambassador from Pakistan with “consensus from parliament” after the TLP staged a protest in Islamabad. Does the government have the same position?

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Pakistan’s Religious Affairs Minister Noorul Haq Qadri said on Friday that the PTI government would soon take its 2020 agreement with Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan to parliament.

“We talked about bringing this matter to parliament and it will be brought to the parliament,” Qadri said, referring to a meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan and other ministers two days ago.

In its agreement with the right-wing Barelvi group, the government negotiators had agreed to expel the French ambassador from Pakistan with “consensus from parliament” after the TLP staged a protest in Islamabad over the publication of blasphemous caricatures in a French magazine.

“This issue will be resolved with parliament’s consultation and assistance,” Qadri told SAMAA TV.

“It is parliament’s authority whether they consider it right or wrong,” the minister said, when asked if the French ambassador would be expelled from Pakistan.

Where did the TLP come from?

The TLP is the political face of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYR), which was formed in 2016 after Mumtaz Qadri, the convicted murderer of former Punjab governor Salman Taseer, was executed. The group demands death for blasphemers and strict implementation of its version of Islamic law in the country.

The group first emerged in Punjab as Tehreek-e-Rehai-e-Mumtaz Qadri (movement for Mumtaz Qadri’s release) in 2015 and was later renamed the TLYR.

Months before the 2018 elections, the TLP staged a 21-day sit-in at the Faizabad interchange in Islamabad against a minor change in the oath taken by the lawmakers.

The sit-in ended after the military acted as a mediator and the PML-N government had to remove its law minister, Zahid Hamid.

Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed, the incumbent ISI DG, had signed the agreement between the PML-N government and the TLP as a guarantor.

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In November, the group once again marched towards Islamabad and this time it wanted the French ambassador expelled from Pakistan over the publication of blasphemous caricatures in a French magazine, and against the country’s president Emmanuel Macron for his anti-Islam remarks.

What exactly happened?

In France, tensions over Islam, secularism, and freedom of speech (right to offend) have garnered the attention of scholars and global civil society. As three people were stabbed to death at a church in the French city of Nice, the country raised its national terror alert guidance to its highest “emergency” level, and up to 4,000 military personnel were deployed to boost security at schools, churches, and other places of worship. Other security measures were also taken.

Notably, Macron has sparked outrage across the Muslim world by accusing French Muslims of “separatism” and describing Islam as “a religion in crisis all over the world”.

The matter escalated after Macron said his country would not “renounce the caricatures” of Prophet Muhammad in the wake of the killing of a French teacher who showed them to his class.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has criticized Macron, saying the French leader needed “mental checks” over his attitude towards Islam.

Across the Muslim world, some leaders have condemned France and Macron, including Saudi Arabia and Iran; while tens of thousands have attended protests in Bangladesh calling for a boycott of French goods.

Analysts are deliberating over an important question: Can France’s unstable and complex relationship with Islam and Muslims be solved under Marcon’s leadership? The answer apparent answer is, scholars believe, no. French society has failed to accept Muslims as its integral part which led to feelings of social and cultural marginalization.  French Muslims are struggling to be recognized as a legitimate part of French society.

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Prof. Tariq Ramadan, a professor of Islamic thought now imprisoned in France after flimsy rape charges leveled against him, always urged the French establishment, intellectuals, and policymakers to recognize their Muslim population and appreciate diversity. However, political expediency seemed to have crushed common sense in Macron’s France.

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