Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad – Pakistan’s parliament has passed a resolution calling for the expulsion of France’s ambassador to Islamabad over remarks made by the French president last year deemed “blasphemous” by a far-right religious party. After the interior ministry announced the resolution on Tuesday, the now-banned Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) called an end to violent nationwide protests that left at least four police officers dead and more than 800 injured.
The TLP released 11 police officers abducted during a raid on a police station in Lahore, Pakistan’s second-largest city, on Monday. Pakistani Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed said Tuesday that the resolution would be introduced to parliament later that day “after extensive negotiations” with the TLP.
“Tehreek-e-Labbaik will call an end to its sit-in protests across the country, but particularly at Masjid Rehmat ul Lil Alimeen [the site of the Lahore protests], and talks and negotiations will resume,” Rasheed said in a video message. He stated that all charges against TLP activists arrested during the recent violence would be dropped, as any TLP leaders listed under anti-terrorism legislation. The resolution was introduced in parliament and will be debated further during Friday’s assembly session.
Additionally, the speaker of the National Assembly established a special committee of lawmakers to investigate the matter. Last week, the French government advised its citizens and businesses to evacuate Pakistan temporarily due to security concerns surrounding the TLP protests.
‘Will this put an end to blasphemy?’
However, it is unclear whether the resolution will be adopted after Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan condemned the TLP’s tactics as “damaging” to the country on Monday.
“My question is this: Will returning the French ambassador and severing all ties put an end to [blasphemy]?” PM Khan stated this during a televised address to the nation. “Is there a guarantee that insults to the prophet will cease?” Khan urged Muslim-majority countries to unite in lobbying European and other countries to criminalize insulting the honor of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. In the same way, some countries have prohibited questioning the Holocaust genocide.
The TLP was founded in 2017 and had since staged several large-scale demonstrations across the country on perceived “blasphemy,” a sensitive subject in Pakistan, where certain forms of the crime carried a mandatory death penalty.
In 2017, a three-week TLP sit-in that blocked a major highway into Islamabad successfully compelled the government to amend legislation deemed to soften language, excluding Ahmadi members from an electoral oath.
Prime Minister Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which was in opposition at the time, had backed the 2017 protests. Khan has made combating Islamophobia and perceived blasphemy against Islam’s prophet a central component of his international engagements. Khan’s government launched a crackdown on the TLP in 2018 after the group renewed its protests from a year prior, this time over the acquittal of a Christian woman on blasphemy charges in a high-profile case.
Following last week’s violent protests, Pakistan’s government designated the TLP as a “terrorist” organization under anti-terrorism legislation. It announced that it would initiate delisting the group as a political party with the Election Commission. The TLP received more than two million votes in the 2018 general election, but those votes translated into only three provincial assembly seats in Sindh, Pakistan’s southern province.