Pakistan’s Parliament is expected to vote on Tuesday on whether to expel the French ambassador, a move widely seen as a capitulation by the government to a militant Islamist party that has led large protests and clashed with the police.
The vote illustrates how deeply unsettled Prime Minister Imran Khan’s administration’s feels amid a reeling economy, a new wave of coronavirus infections and spreading social unrest. It also suggests the party, Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan, which has capitalized on public anger over the publication of caricatures depicting the Prophet Muhammad in France, could pose a major threat to Pakistan’s stability.
Just a week ago, the government declared Tehreek-e-Labaik a terrorist outfit and banned it. At least four police officers have been killed in clashes with the group, and at least 11 officers have at one point been taken hostage. Police officials acknowledged the death of three protesters, but the party claims that a larger number of their supporters have been killed.
Intermittent protests since last winter were sparked by President Emmanuel Macron of France, who last year gave a defiant eulogy for a French teacher who was murdered after showing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in a classroom. Mr. Macron said the teacher, Samuel Paty, was killed “because the Islamists want our future and they know that with quiet heroes like him they will never have it.”
Salman Taseer, the sitting governor of Punjab Province. At the time, Mr. Taseer sought justice for a Christian woman who had been jailed on dubious charges of blasphemy.
Mr. Qadri was eventually sentenced and hanged in 2016, but the group tried to free him by justifying the murder he committed. Since then, it has shaped itself into a political party contesting elections and continuing to unsettle governments.
On Tuesday, it was clear Mr. Khan’s government had made some concessions to the group, while trying to give itself political cover by putting the ambassador’s expulsion to a vote in Parliament.
Sheikh Rashid Ahmad, Pakistan’s interior minister, said the 11 police officers who were taken hostage during the week of protests had been released. He also said that Tehreek-e-Labaik have pledged to call off a nationwide protest while the government seeks a dialogue with France.
“After long negotiations between the government of Pakistan and Tehreek-e-Labaik, it has been agreed that the government will present a resolution on the expulsion of the French ambassador to the National Assembly today,” Mr. Ahmad said in a video message early on Tuesday.