Pakistan’s National Assembly to close amid ongoing protests

Pakistan’s National Assembly—its lower house of parliament—will reconvene today in Islamabad after its Friday session abruptly ended. The last session

Photo: Times of Islamabad

Pakistan’s National Assembly—its lower house of parliament—will reconvene today in Islamabad after its Friday session abruptly ended.

The last session devolved into disorder as the body debated whether to acquiesce to the far-right Tahreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) group’s demand that France’s ambassador to Pakistan be expelled. The issue was brought to the floor last Wednesday following over a week of vicious TLP-led protests. The demonstrations were motivated by France’s President Emmanuel Macron’s defense of a French magazine’s publication of caricatures depicting the Prophet Mohammad and catalyzed by the arrest of TLP’s leader Saad Rizvi.

Expect the National Assembly to sideline any debate on the expulsion of French Ambassador Marc Barety while a resolution on the issue is drawn. Nevertheless, it is highly unlikely parliament will vote to expel the Ambassador. Prime Minister Imran Khan and his majority Tahreek-e-Insaaf party, though sympathetic to TLP’s outrage, have insisted the expulsion will not affect France’s strict secularism. Protests are also unlikely to restart in the short-term as the issue is dealt with by parliament. Long-term, expect Islamist protests manifesting anger against the caricatures to continue as the Barelvi sect of Islam—which holds the Prophet in a uniquely high regard—remains dominant in Pakistan.

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