ISLAMABAD: The opposition on Friday criticised the government during the session of the National Assembly for signing an “illogical” instrument of understanding with the Tehreek-i-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) regarding the expulsion of French ambassador from the country and severing of trade relations with France. 

The government contended that no agreement regarding expulsion or cutting of trade ties was signed, the agreement only asked the government to present the issue to the parliament. 

The agreement with the TLP read: “The government will take a decision from the Parliament regarding expulsion of the French ambassador within three months, will not appoint its ambassador to France and release all the arrested workers of the TLP. The government will not register any case against the TLP leaders or workers even after it calls off the sit-in.”

The French Issue

Samuel Paty was a school teacher, who showed the cartoons by Charlie Hebdo, depicting the Islamic prophet, to students in his classroom. Mr Paty showcased these cartoons in an attempt to educate pupils on the issues of freedom of speech and French values of secularism, the school maintains. According to reports, he asked Muslim students in the class to look away if it might cause offence. 

After the incident gained limited local public traction in France, Mr Paty received some criticism from Muslim advocacy groups for hurting the religious sentiments of Muslim students. But the issue gained international limelight when Mr Paty became the target of an attack by an 18-year old Chechen migrant to France. His killer, 18-year-old Abdullakh Anzorov, was shot dead by police. 

Mr. Paty received a state funeral and was posthumously awarded the Légion d’Honneur, France’s highest honour. The ceremony was attended by a large crowd of civil society members along with state officials and family. 

The contentious comments made by Macron, that have caused a row between France and the Muslim world, came at this funeral. Speaking at a televised memorial service on Wednesday, Mr Macron told viewers that France “will not give up our cartoons”. Mr Macron said Mr Paty had tried to teach his pupils how to become citizens.

Criticism in Parliament

“When the government knew that it could not severe bilateral relations with France, then why such an agreement was signed with TLP,” asked Naveed Qamar of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) during a debate in the National Assembly.

MNAs demanded for a committee to be set up to deliberate on the objectives of establishing the TLP and those behind the move. He decried that the government is moving to the apex court without even consulting or putting the issue before the parliament. “Nothing is being conveyed to the parliament,” he said.

Syed Imran Ahmed Shah of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) sided with the demands of the TLP saying that the government should cut all sorts of relations with France and its ambassador should be sent back. “The maximum debt owed to France might be Rs17 billion to Rs18bn, which the lovers of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) could retire from their own pockets,” he remarked.

Former prime minister and senior PML-N leader Shahid Khaqan Abbasi also criticised the speaker for not having longer proceedings for the parliament which would allow the parliament to debate more issues on the highest forum in the country. 

Weighing in on the issue, Mr Qamar asked Speaker Asad Qaiser to hold consultations with all the parties in the parliament regarding timings of the sessions.

Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-F’s member Salahuddin Ayubi expressed that banning people on their ideological orientation is not the solution within a democratic country, “Today TLP has been banned, tomorrow you can ban JUI-F,” he commented. 

Riaz Pirzada of the PML-N said the members of the assembly should be informed who had formed two banned organisations, the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan and Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan. “First a genie is created that later becomes a headache for its creators,” he added.

On this, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Muhammad Ali Khan said the government had not signed any agreement that the French ambassador should be removed. “We just assured the TLP that a resolution will be tabled in the parliament in this regard,” he said.

During talks with the government the TLP had insisted that the government should table a resolution of its (TLP’s) choice in the parliament, the minister added.


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