A session of the National Assembly called to vote on the expulsion of the French ambassador from Pakistan — one of the key demands made by the proscribed Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) — was held in Islamabad on Tuesday.
The government had called the session to debate the French envoy's expulsion, and a PTI lawmaker presented a resolution in this regard. However, before a vote could take place on the resolution, the speaker announced the formation of a special committee to discuss the matter and asked the government and the opposition to engage with each other to develop consensus on the issue.
At the start of the session, PTI lawmaker Amjid Ali Khan moved a resolution condemning the publication of blasphemous caricatures by French magazine Charlie Hebdo in September last year. It also regretted the French president's "encouragement of the elements hurting the sentiments of hundreds of millions of Muslims in the name of freedom of expression".
The resolution asked for a debate to be held on the issue of expelling the French ambassador from Pakistan, and to "apprise all European countries, especially France, of the gravity of this matter". It further said detailed discussions on the matter should be held with all Muslim countries and it should be taken up jointly on international forums.
"This house also demands that the state should decide matters of international relations and no person, group or party can exert unnecessary illegal pressure in this regard," Amjid said while reading out the resolution, which also called upon the provincial governments to allocate specific sites for protests in all districts so that citizens' daily life was not disrupted.
The PTI lawmaker also sought the formation of a special committee to consider the resolution regarding the matter which he termed "highly sensitive". This motion was adopted.
Speaking during the session, PML-N MNA Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said the entire country was "unanimous" on the issue of the protection of Namoos-i-Risalat, and accused the speaker of making it controversial within the house.
"This resolution should have been unanimous. You adjourned the House yesterday and called it today. You and the government did not bother to talk to the opposition regarding the purpose of calling the [session]," Abbasi said, addressing Speaker Asad Qaiser. "You wanted to bring a resolution, the [right] way is to talk to the opposition."
He reiterated that there was no difference of opinion on Tahaffuz-i-Namoos-i-Risalat and Khatm-i-Nabuwwat.
"This resolution is inadequate," the PML-N leader said, requesting that the opposition be given an hour to study the draft and suggest any additions so that the resolution could be passed unanimously today and a debate could be started. He said there was no need for a special committee.
"You have paralysed this House for three years and turned it into an arena of abuse and cursing," he alleged, requesting that the opposition be allowed to present a comprehensive version of the resolution.
Responding to him, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan said the government desired a debate on the issue. He said the resolution based on the exact discussions held between the government and the TLP was moved by a private member and therefore the government did not plan to make changes to it, however, "whatever the entire House considers appropriate will be done."
Earlier today, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed announced that the government will present a resolution on the expulsion of the French ambassador in parliament.
On Monday, the NA session was adjourned to meet again on April 22 (Thursday) at 2pm. However, shortly after the minister's statement, it was announced that the schedule had been changed and the session would take place on April 20 (today).
The announcement came after a government delegation, comprising the interior minister and Religious Affairs Minister Pir Noorul Haq Qadri, met TLP workers for yet another round of talks in Lahore late on Monday.
In his remarks today, Maulana Asad Mehmood of the JUI-F said Prime Minister Imran Khan had given the government's policy statement in a national address on Monday evening, which he said the ministers could not do in the parliament yesterday.
"[The prime minister] did a good job of adding fuel to the fire," Mehmood alleged, saying it was surprising for his party who held negotiations with the TLP after the government had announced its policy (of cracking down on the TLP).
"We had demanded that you bring the agreements here ... there was a ban on media, the facts of what happened in Lahore three days ago were not shown. I demand that the media be given full freedom to show the blood-letting of TLP workers. The govt should be bound that Tahaffuz-i-Namoos-i-Risalat and Khatm-i-Nabuwwat is part of our belief," he said.
The JUI-F MNA said the House was united on the part about Namoos-i-Risalat in the resolution, but the opposition found its second part to be inadequate in light of the current situation in the country. He also condemned the "atrocity and violence" carried out by the government against TLP activists.
"[Regarding] the development last night, the parliament should be made aware who actually negotiated with the TLP," he said, referring to the headway in talks between the government and the TLP. "The government should announce who is responsible for our policemen and officers losing their lives or suffering injuries, and all the people who died on this issue."
He criticised the government for allegedly not taking the opposition into confidence before calling the emergency session.
"I believe the whole parliament should be made into a committee," Mehmood said, adding that he was under the impression that the government would present a resolution calling for the French ambassador to be expelled but the wording of the resolution was "weak".
"Why were you criminally silent for three months? Why didn't you debate on this in three months?" he asked the treasury benches.
He warned the government against "bulldozing" the resolution through the assembly, saying if it ignored the opposition, "I swear on oath, I will not let you run the parliament."
'Problems should be solved in parliament'
Taking the floor, Religious Affairs Minister Qadri said after the TLP came out on the streets and was supported by a number of political and religious parties, it was the duty of both the government and the opposition to listen to their stance.
"We should walk on a path that instead of blood-letting and solving problems on streets, we solve them in parliament. This resolution is the conclusion of that thought and determination," he added.
He said the National Assembly was a protector of Khatm-i-Nabuwwat and Section 295-C of the Constitution ensured Namoos-i-Risalat. He termed the resolution presented today as a positive step.
"Imran Khan has done full diplomacy for Namoos-i-Risalat, he has taken it to all corners of the world. I believe more steps need to be taken regarding this matter in the UN and OIC," the minister said.
He then addressed the opposition, who were chanting slogans against the government, saying: "We saw your emotions when [resolutions] on Khatm-i-Nabuwwat were being bulldozed here, [Mumtaz] Qadri was being hanged, when 22 innocent people at Faizabad were being shot and killed [and] you have seen the Model Town incident. On the other hand, there is Imran Khan. It is a twist of fate that you have been forced to chant these slogans now."
Qadri asked the opposition to give their recommendations regarding the resolution in the special committee after 2-3 days, saying this was not a matter of one hour.
The speaker urged both sides not to do politics on what he said was a "very sensitive matter". He said the resolution had not been passed yet and they could debate it.
PML-N's Ahsan Iqbal said the "narrative" presented by Qadri was the same which he paid for "with a bullet" — referring to him being shot at and injured in 2018 by a suspect who showed affiliation with the TLP.
Speaking about the background of the TLP's 2017 protest regarding an amendment to the Khatm-i-Nabuwwat oath in the Elections Act, 2017, he said: "In 2017, PTI people were in that committee, what happened through this parliament was unanimous but when reservations were expressed, the parliament reversed it (the amendment) without even questioning whether it was needed because when it comes to Namoos-i-Risalat, we cannot tolerate that there is even an iota of doubt in someone's mind."
Stressing that respect and love for the Holy Prophet (PBUH) was part of every Muslim's faith, Iqbal accused the government of doing "politics on Namoos-i-Risalat". He said "nobody has the right to give a certificate on someone else's faith."
He criticised Prime Minister Imran's absence from the session.
"We were told we would debate on the disrespect of the Prophet that was done in France. I was expecting the prime minister would be in his seat and he had presented this resolution. The government did not consider it important enough, no minister showed the courage to own this resolution," he alleged.
The PML-N MNA said parliamentarians were aware that private member business was not official business. "If this resolution was presented after [reaching] some agreement, then a minister should have introduced it along with the agreement," he added.
He said if the government had entered into any agreement with the TLP then the prime minister should have been in attendance at the session, "because there could not have been any business that's more important".
"Where is the prime minister? It means that when Pakistan's biggest parliament is debating on Namoos-i-Risalat, the [PM] is attending to some other important business."
He called upon the government to take ownership and present the agreements signed with the TLP in the parliament.
"Are you keeping the parliament hostage because of your agreement with one party?" he asked the treasury benches. "If so, then what we are doing here? If the issues of Pakistan's army and security agencies can be brought here, why can't the agreement be brought here?"
Iqbal said clarification was needed on many things concerning the resolution. "On one hand, you want to debate on the expulsion of the French ambassador. On the other hand, you are saying only the state can do this. Until we get the state's point of view, what kind of resolution is this?" he asked, saying his party wanted the resolution to reflect the aspirations of the 220 million Pakistanis.
Federal Planning Minister Asad Umar, meanwhile, said he was proud of the manner in which Pakistan had raised its voice against blasphemy, adding that such an example was not seen in other Muslim countries.
"I am confident that the voice that will go out from this parliament will be such that no other parliament has raised," he remarked.
Umar said history had shown that "burning each other's cars and attacking each other" could not solve the problem of blasphemy. "I am proud and confident that the solution to this will be given by Pakistan and Pakistanis," he added.
He said the government had no objection to the opposition being a part of this process and that both the sides should sit together. "I believe we can talk with one voice," Umar said.
Speaker Qaiser subsequently adjourned the session until 11am on Friday, asking the government and opposition to engage with each other and come up with a "unanimous" document.