Islamist radical groups and fundamentalists have always held enormous sway in Pakistan. It’s internal and external policies, to a very large extent, are shaped and guided by the sensitivities harboured by such maximalist organisations and individuals. Every official regime in Pakistan has always demonstrated its utmost deference to such anarchist groups and held them in high regard.
Recently, the Pakistani government signed a pact with hardcore Islamist organisation Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) to call off the protests that had swept the country in the wake of France’s resolute support to the right of showing the cartoons of Prophet Muhammad.
Islamic Republic of Pakistan. What a shame!— Zafar Sahito (@widhyarthi) November 18, 2020
This Paper is an agreement signed by interior minister of #Pakistan and leaders of Tahreek Labeek Pakistan (TLP) for ending protest in Rawalpindi. This protest was against #France November 16,2020. This is how Pakistan is governed. 1/3 pic.twitter.com/J22uun758B
The agreement between the Pakistani government and hard-line TLP group bore the signatures of two ministers– religious affair minister and the interior minister of Pakistan. The agreement states that the government has agreed to send back the French ambassador to Pakistan within two months, call its ambassador back, a blanket boycott of French products, and the release of all the arrested TLP leaders.
However, shortly after signing the pact, the government of Pakistan developed cold feet as it said that the issue was still unresolved. The government has also not confirmed as to how a sweeping boycott of French products will be brought into force.
“Pakistan hasn’t taken a decision as of now; the media will be informed when the time comes,” foreign office spokesman Zahid Hafeez Chaudhry told BBC Urdu.
The government had reportedly struck a deal with the TLP before as well but none of the promises made by the government was kept. Some analysts believe that this may well turn out to be the case and explains the reluctance exhibited by the government officials following the recent agreement.
Since Sunday this week, the supporters of TLP had blocked a major thoroughfare in capital Islamabad which had caused a major disruption. But the sit-in vigils were called off after the TLP said that the government had agreed to their demands.
“We are ending our protests after the government had signed a pact that will officially endorse boycotting French products,” said Ejaz Ashrafi, a spokesman for the group.
Pakistan PM Imran Khan’s criticism of French president emboldened protesters back home
A large share of this blame lies with the Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, who in his pursuit to emerge as the leader of the Muslim world, went overboard in criticising the French President Emmanuel Macron after he affirmed his commitment to secularism and Freedom of Speech in the aftermath of the brutal killing of Samuel Paty. Macron was particularly strident in criticising Islamic extremism and stressed the need of developing an “Islam of Enlightenment”.
Paty was killed by an Islamist in the Paris suburb for showing the caricatures of Prophet Muhammad first published in Charlie Hebdo weekly satirical magazine in his classroom. In a gruesome act, the Islamist killed Paty and decapitated him, for his act of reproducing the pictures of Prophet Muhammad, which is considered as a taboo in Islam.
However, Macron’s speech and the corresponding actions initiated by French authorities to curb extremism in France invited the wrath of the Muslim leaders, who were quick to criticise the French president and defended the killing of Samuel Party for blasphemy. Turkish authoritarian leader Recep Erdogan, Pakistani PM Imran Khan and former Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad had all railed against the French president and called for boycotting French products.
The Pakistani PM’s diatribes against his French counterpart seemed to have empowered and emboldened the radicals back home, who have taken to streets, unrestrainedly indulging in vandalism, arson and protests to oppose the French President for defending the Freedom of Speech and cartoons of Prophet Muhammad.
Tehreek-e-Labaik(TLP) and its history of carrying out protests in Pakistan over blasphemy
The TLP is the political arm of the Tehreek-e-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYRA) movement, which has previously gathered huge crowds for protests over blasphemy in Pakistan.
The group, presided over by Khadim Hussain Rizvi, came into limelight for its opposition to the hanging of Mumtaz Qadri, a policeman who killed the governor of Punjab province Salman Taseer in 2011 because he had expressed his disapproval of the country’s blasphemy laws.
The TLP also made its presence and heft felt when in 2017 it shut down the federal capital for weeks to demonstrate against the government of then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. In essence, TLP is also responsible for Imran Khan becoming the Prime Minister of Pakistan.
However, the group was cut to size last year when its top leaders were arrested for their involvement in violent protests against the release of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who was incarcerated over charges of blasphemy.
While Imran Khan laments on almost every global platform that his country is one of the biggest victims of radicalisation and terrorism, his government’s willingness to sign a pact with such radical organisations is, perhaps, one of the reasons why there are few takers in the world on Pakistan’s claims of fighting terrorism.