April 20, 2021

By Rehan Piracha

After eight long days of an extreme law and order situation in Lahore and other cities of Punjab, finally talks with the Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP) Pakistan resulted in a private member resolution that was tabled in the National Assembly on Tuesday, April 20, to call for a debate over the expulsion of the French Ambassador.
The step came as part of the government’s deal with the now proscribed TLP to end the week-long sit-in. However, a deal with similar promises on part of the Government was also agreed upon in February, where the Prime Minister had vowed to take up the expulsion decision ‘before April 20’. Before they carried out their promise though, the TLP leader Saad Hussain Rizvi was detained by the police in Lahore which resulted in the outburst of week-long protests by his followers. Many even termed the turn of events a “political launch” of the party head.
Meanwhile, the session of the National Assembly that was meant to be held on Friday, but was pulled up earlier than its time, coincided with conflicting reports of the release of Saad Rizvi from the Kot Lakhpat jail. However, till the filing of this report, Saad Rizvi had not been released from custody while the TLP supporters continued with their sit-in around Yateem Khana (Chowk) Roundabout in Lahore.
Except for the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) the opposition parties appeared divided over participation in the NA proceedings. The PPP chose to boycott the session.
PPP’s boycott 
In a tweet, tinged with offense, PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto said that Prime Minister Imran Khan had never bothered earlier to take the parliament into confidence at any stage of the issue, but now the ruling PTI wanted to hide behind the National Assembly.

“It’s your mess Prime Minister, clean up or go home,” he said in his tweet just before the NA session.

PML-N, JUI-F uproar over sidestepping opposition
However, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam Fazl (JUI-F) accused the government of making the resolution controversial by not taking inputs from the opposition members.
Former PM Shahid Khaqan repeatedly interrupted Speaker Asad Qaiser and accused him of bulldozing proceedings by trying to rush the resolution and not taking the opposition members into confidence about the resolution when he called the session.
Amjad Ali Khan, MNA from the ruling Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI), presented the resolution in the session, presided over by Speaker Asad Qaiser. The private-member resolution condemned the publication of blasphemous sketches of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) by the controversial French magazine Charlie Hebdo on September 1. 2020.
The resolution termed it highly unfortunate that the French president has encouraged such elements that hurt the sentiments of millions of Muslims in the name of freedom of expression. The resolution demanded that the House must hold a debate on the expulsion of the French ambassador in the wake of the publication of blasphemous sketches.
“All Muslim countries should be consulted on the issue and all European countries in general and France, in particular, should be made aware of the seriousness of the issue,” the resolution added.
The resolution stated that international relations is the prerogative of the State and no person, no group or party can exert unlawful pressure in this regard.
Furthermore, the resolution called upon provincial governments to allocate places in all districts for protests so that no hindrance is caused to the daily activities of the people. Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, Ali Muhammad Khan, also moved a motion to form a parliamentary committee on the issue.
Responding to Shahiq Khaqan’s request to give opposition members time to add their input to the resolution,  Ali Muhammad Khan, Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, told members that the text of the resolution was based on negotiations with the TLP.
Maulana Asad, MNA from JUI-F, said the government had not consulted the opposition over the previous agreement with the TLP. He supported Shahid Khaqan’s call for a full house committee on the resolution. Federal Minister of Religious Affairs, Noorul Haq Qadri, said the resolution was an attempt in the right direction to resolve such issues in the parliament. However, Noorul Haq Qadri’s remarks about the killings in Model Town evoked a strong outcry from the opposition members.
Responding to Noorul Qadri, Ahsan Iqbal from PML-N said the government had not taken ownership of the resolution, preferring it to be tabled by a private member which is considered a non-official business in parliamentary proceedings.
He said the Prime Minister himself should have tabled the resolution or through his ministers but he chose to neglect a matter of highest importance only to people in the country.  He said the tabled resolution was contradictory and needed a policy statement to clarify the stance of the government.
Asad Umar,  Federal Minister for Planning, said the government has no objection to having the input of the opposition members over the resolution. Speaker Asad Qaiser said the opposition and treasury members should hold a consultation over the text of the resolution and adjourned the session for Friday, April 23.
Govt can’t withdraw cases, lift ban on TLP
Speaking outside Parliament, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry clarified that the government could not withdraw cases against the TLP workers as well as lift the ban on the party under the law, contradicting a statement earlier in the day by Federal Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid that cases would be withdrawn.
The information minister also did not confirm reports about Saad Rizvi’s release saying the government could only release persons detained under the Maintenance of Public Order and not those who have cases registered against them. He said the accused in the cases have to approach the courts for any relief, adding that the TLP had the option to appeal before the Interior Ministry to lift the ban imposed by the government.
The information minister said the government had fulfilled its agreement with the TLP by tabling the resolution on expulsion of the French ambassador in the National Assembly. “Now, its upto political parties in the National Assembly to approve, amend or reject the resolution,” he told reporters.