ISLAMABAD: Tensions once again flared up between Pakistan and France when the French Foreign Ministry summoned Pakistan’s charge d’affaires and said that Islamabad must understand a recently passed bill and adopt a constructive attitude with respect to their bilateral relations.
“Pakistan’s chargé d’affaires had been summoned to the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs following the remarks made by President Arif Alvi during a conference which took place from February 20 to 21 relating to the bill to strengthen respect for the principles of the republic,” said a statement by the French Foreign Ministry.
Pakistan has not posted its ambassador in Paris as yet. President Alvi at a religious conference last week had criticized the new French law which was formulated after the beheading of a French teacher over caricatures of the holy prophet (PBUH). “When you see that laws are being changed in favour of a majority to isolate a minority that is a dangerous precedent. When you insult the prophet (PBUH), you insult all Muslims. I urge the political leadership of France not to entrench these attitudes into laws ... You have to bring people together, not to stamp a religion in a certain manner and create disharmony among the people or create bias,” Alvi had told the French government.
However, the French Foreign Ministry was not too pleased with the president’s statement and while summoning Pakistan’s charge d’affaires said: “We expressed our surprise and disapproval, while the bill does not include any discriminatory provisions, in accordance with our Constitution and our international commitments. It is guided by the fundamental principles relating to the freedom of religion and the freedom of conscience, makes no distinction between different religions and its provisions will therefore also apply to all faiths. Extensive consultations on the bill were carried out by the representatives of the major religions, civil society, associations and political parties.”
There was no reaction from Pakistan’s Foreign Office and despite several attempts, the FO spokesman did not respond. It is expected that Pakistan’s Foreign Office will also summon the French ambassador in Islamabad to send a message to Paris.
According to French media reports this new French legislation significantly expands the state’s powers to close religious organisations and places of worship if they are found to air “theories or ideas” that “provoke hate or violence towards a person or people”. It also creates a new crime of “separatism” — described as threatening a public servant in order to gain “a total or partial exemption or different application of the rules” — that is punishable by up to five years in prison.
Earlier Prime Minister Imran Khan had said that his government had entered into a new agreement with the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan and its demands seeking among other things the removal of the French ambassador in Pakistan and boycotting French products. The bill would be brought to parliament before April 20. The TTP had threatened to march to Islamabad to protest but now says it will wait till April when the government brings the demands to parliament.
In a television interview Khan said, “We will do it. However, I want to tell the TLP people that no other government has done as much as this government to check this menace. We are not doing it for the TLP but because it is part of our faith. This (blasphemy) is a planned conspiracy, which keeps repeating itself in the West and disturbs peace”.