The Tehrik Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) is once more on the streets, protesting not against some fresh blasphemy against the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him), but for the expulsion of the French Ambassador, because of its ire against the French President for his support to blasphemy. It is also protesting to secure the release of its leader, Hafiz Saad Hussain Rizvi, who was detained when the deadline for action on the Ambassador came up, and which sparked off protests that led to a number of deaths, as well as clashes with the police. The inevitable has happened, and the TLP succeeded in doing what it had done on the previous occasion, and shut down at least the large cities.
The underlying issue may be emotive, but that does not justify the casual handling by the state. The government’s pointman on the issue, Interior Minister Sh Rashid Ahmed, is away in Dubai, while Prime Minister Imran Khan is going to off to Saudi Arabia. The DG ISI, who is worse off than an officer under transfer (as no notification has yet been issued), cannot really concentrate on the crisis. But even when fully manned, the government has persisted in giving commitments it has not been able to keep. The deadline given for expulsion was not wise, and led to the panicked excuse that the matter had to be brought up in Parliament; and then ducking out from that.
The expulsion of the Ambassador of a leading European Union member, at a time when Pakistan’ case for renewal of its GSP Plus status is up for renewal, would be to cock the snook at the EU itself, not just France. This development coming at a time when the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has decided to keep Pakistan on the grey list only complicates issues. This should not distract from the basic issue of the writ of the state. The paralysis has meant that people could not move freely, could not get to their offices and schools, with medical emergencies getting stuck a likelihood. This persisted from the PML(N) era, when a minister had to be sacked to end the TLP sit-in at Faizabad. The TLP may have got hold of an emotive issue, but it has also got powerful protectors, who it seems it cannot persuade to follow a more orthodox course of action in registering its protest.