THE TLP affair should have been handled better. It is fairly obvious now that the PTI government has run circles around itself while attempting to get a grip on the situation. The bizarre turn of events on Tuesday — with the government introducing a resolution in the National Assembly through a private member to debate the expulsion of the French ambassador — has brought Pakistan to a stage where it will be seen as pandering to the TLP while pretending to play smart tactics.

This becomes even more obvious when the resolution is contrasted with the speech that Prime Minister Imran Khan delivered on Monday in a bid to explain his strategy. The crux of his argument was reasonable. He said that no Muslim would ever compromise on the finality of Prophethood, but this did not mean that one party should be allowed to monopolise the issue. He correctly pointed out that he had raised the matter at all international forums, including the UN, and therefore the objectives of his government and the TLP were the same, only the approach was different. The grave consequences of expelling the French ambassador from the country, as demanded by the TLP were also explained.

Banned: What does the TLP want?

However, of what use was this effort? For the very next day, his government caved in. While yesterday’s National Assembly resolution does not demand the expulsion of the ambassador, the very fact that the government has agreed to a debate on the issue is enough to extract a diplomatic cost. Unfortunately, this does not come as a surprise. From the start of the TLP protests, the government has made one mistake after another. The initial agreement with the TLP, in which the government had agreed in writing to the main demand of the right-wing outfit, was a major blunder. No government commits itself in writing to such demands from a pressure group without having to suffer the consequences.

When the TLP launched countrywide protests against the government’s refusal to comply with its original agreement, the government at first let the law and order situation slip out of its hand, allowing the protesters to run amok, and then hastily announced a ban on the organisation. However, it then started to negotiate with the party it had banned and finally accepted its demands to a very dangerous extent, including the release of the TLP’s leader.

To add to its self-created troubles, the government then launched critical barbs at the opposition instead of trying to forge a consensus on this sensitive issue. It is now important that the government brings transparency to all its dealings with the TLP including sharing what has been negotiated and agreed upon in letter and spirit. By its bad decision-making and weak management, the government has allowed the TLP to garner more importance and heft than it deserves.

Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2021

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