• Speaker tells govt to engage opposition for consensus on ‘private resolution’ draft
• PML-N, JUI-F seek to discuss agreement with TLP first

ISLAMABAD: The government in a dramatic way managed to present a resolution in the National Assembly on Tuesday on the issue of the French envoy’s expulsion from Pakistan over the publication of blasphemous caricatures in line with an ‘agreement’ with the banned Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) amid a noisy protest by the opposition members belonging to the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F).

Speaker Asad Qaiser, however, did not put the resolution tabled by a ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) lawmaker as a private member’s agenda for a vote after the opposition protested over the government move to bring it into the house without prior consultation with them and demanded a full-fledged debate on the issue of Namoos-i-Risalat (the sanctity of the Prophet).

Mr Qaiser then asked the government to engage the opposition and try to build a consensus on the resolution’s draft before adjourning the sitting till Friday morning.

The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), the second largest opposition group in the assembly, boycotted the sitting that had been called on a short notice by the Speaker while exercising his special powers after the ‘successful talks’ between the government and the leadership of the outlawed TLP in Lahore in the wee hours of Tuesday morning.

The PPP’s decision to boycott the sitting was announced by party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari through his social media account on Twitter at a time when Prime Minister Imran Khan was presiding over a meeting of the ruling party’s parliamentary group in the Parliament House.

“It’s your mess PM, clean up or go home,” said the PPP chairman in his tweet while criticising the government for not taking the parliament into confidence over the recent developments at any stage and accusing the prime minister of “hiding behind the National Assembly”.

The resolution seeking a debate on the issue of French ambassador’s expulsion from the country was read out by PTI MNA from Mianwali, Amjid Ali Khan, as a private member’s agenda. Just a day ago, PM Khan in his televised address to the nation had hinted that the government could not send back the envoy to his country on TLP’s demand, as such actions and severing of ties with France would add to economic crisis, joblessness and poverty in Pakistan.

The House witnessed rowdyism when the opposition members gathered in front of the Speaker’s dais to protest his act of approving a motion moved by Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Khan authorising him to constitute a special parliamentary committee having representation of all the parties to further deliberate upon the resolution.

Mr Qaiser had a verbal clash with PML-N’s Shahid Khaqan Abbasi when the latter passed some personal remarks against him. “You always behave like this. Mind your language and stay in your limits,” said the Speaker when the ex-premier shouted at him for not giving the opposition an opportunity to speak.

“You don’t feel ashamed while making it [the issue] controversial. I willtake my shoe off and hit you,” Mr Abbasi was heard saying to the Speaker who later gave him the floor. The PML-N leader was also heard asking Mr Qaiser “to learn how the House is run”.

The House also witnessed a rumpus when Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri instead of briefing the session about background of the resolution after government’s agreement with the outlawed TLP started criticising the PML-N for making “controversial changes in the election laws, killing 22 TLP activists during a similar protest by the group and hanging Mumtaz Qadri” during its government. The minister also mentioned the Model Town tragedy in his speech while hitting out at the PML-N and declared the prime minister a “true lover” of the Prophet, saying that “no moulvi or pir” could match Mr Khan in this regard.

In their speeches, the opposition leaders later lashed out at the government for trying to bulldoze the proceedings while discussing such a sensitive matter of Namoos-i-Risalat. They also protested over the absence of the PM Khan from the House on such a crucial occasion.

The opposition also demanded the government present the agreement it had signed with the TLP before the House instead of putting the resolution for a vote. They said those ‘responsible for the bloodshed’ in the country during the last week must also be identified.

Blasting the government for not ‘owning’ the resolution, the PML-N said it should have been moved by a government minister instead of getting it tabled as a ‘private resolution’.

The opposition also criticised the government for not taking them into confidence at any stage, not sharing the resolution draft before its presentation and before calling the emergency meeting. They also opposed the move to constitute a special committee and demanded that a full-fledged debate should be conducted on the issue in the House allowing every member to speak.

Resolution

The resolution ‘strongly condemns’ the publication of blasphemous caricatures by the French magazine Charlie Hebdo in September last year and ‘regrets’ the French president’s act of “encouraging the elements hurting the sentiments of hundreds of millions of Muslims in the name of freedom of expression.”

“This House demands that a debate should be held to discuss the issue of expelling the French envoy from the country and that all the European countries, especially France, should be apprised of the gravity of this matter.”

It also called for a “detailed discussion with all the Muslim countries and to raise the issue collectively on international forums”.

Besides, it stated: “the House demands that matters related to international relations should be decided by the state and no person, group or party can exert unnecessary and illegal pressure in this regard.”

The resolution also called upon all the provincial governments “to allocate specific sites for protests in all districts so that daily life of the citizens is not affected”.

Opposition speeches

PML-N legislator Abbasi said the entire country was “unanimous” on the Namoos-i-Risalat issue, but the Speaker made it controversial in the House.

“You have paralysed this House for three years and turned it into an arena of abuse and cursing,” he alleged, asking the Speaker to allow the opposition to present a comprehensive version of the resolution. There was no need to constitute a special committee and the issue should be debated in the whole House, he added.

In his speech, PML-N lawmaker Ahsan Iqbal referred to the 2018 incident when he received injury due to firing by a religious group’s activist and said the minister for religious affairs had once again presented the same narrative for which he had already paid a price. “Nobody has the authority to issue certificates on the people’s faith and Islam,” Mr Iqbal said, in his apparent reference to the speech of the minister for religious affairs in which Pir Qadri had declared that “no moulvi or pir” could match the prime minister in his love for the Prophet. He said no government minister had the courage to present the resolution, which was a private business with no official status.

He said: “The prime minister should have been present in the House. There can be no more important business than the discussion on the Namoos-i-Risalat issue. Where is the prime minister at a time when the parliament is discussing the Namoos-i-Risalat issue?” He requested the Speaker to make it binding on Mr Khan to be present in the House.

Maulana Asad Mehmood, son of JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, said the PM had given a policy statement in his televised address on Monday adding “fuel to the fire”. It was also surprising for them to see the government talking to an organisation that it had proscribed only three days earlier, he said. The JUI-F lawmaker asked the government to bring the agreement before the House and tell them as to who had negotiated with the TLP after the government had announced its policy (of declaring the TLP a proscribed outfit).

“Why you had been criminally silent for three months? Why didn’t you debate it during the three months?” he asked the treasury benches.

Condemning the ban on media coverage of the recent incidents in Lahore, the Maulana said the government should tell the nation as to who was responsible for the bloodshed, including the killing of the policemen, during the week.

Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Khan said the draft of the resolution tabled by the PTI MNA was based on the “exact discussions” held between the government and the TLP leadership, as the government could not make changes to it.

Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2021

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