Prime Minister Imran Khan addressed the nation through a television address on Monday.
The premier said he decided to address the nation due to the “regrettable” incidents that took place in the country over the last week, referring to violence perpetrated by activists of the recently proscribed Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) after their leader’s arrest and the ensuing government crackdown.
“Our country is the only one which was founded in the name of Islam, what was its slogan? ‘Pakistan ka matlab kia, La Ilaha Illallah‘,” he said.
Prime Minister Imran said the Holy Prophet (PBUH) lived in the hearts of the people of Pakistan. “That is why whenever any disrespect is attempted to his name anywhere in the world, it hurts us,” he added, saying Muslims around the world are also pained by such acts.
Speaking about the events of the past week, he said “It appeared as if one party loves the Prophet (PBUH) more than other Pakistanis.
“I assure you that the purpose of the TLP for which they’re bringing people out, that is my purpose as well and that of my government,” he added.
Imran said like the TLP, the government too wanted that there was no blasphemy against the Prophet in any country.
“Only our methods are different,” he said, noting that while the TLP wanted the French ambassador to be expelled and Pakistan’s relations to be severed with France, his government had adopted a different strategy.
He continued: “Around 1990, Salman Rushdie wrote a book in which he disrespected our Prophet.
The public came out on Pakistani streets, the American embassy was attacked and people were martyred too.
“After that, you can see [in history] that after every few years, someone in any Western country does blasphemy against him. Muslims are hurt, there are reactions abroad too and demonstrations here in our country as well but the same process continues after every few years.”
“Has this approach made any difference?” the premier asked, saying the TLP was protesting in the manner seen in the past as well.
“Now, I ask will sending the French ambassador back and cutting off all ties with them stop this?
Is there any guarantee that no one will commit blasphemy after that?” he said.
The prime minister said even if Pakistan took steps against France, the same disrespect could be done in any other European country “in the name of freedom of opinion”.
“There they’ve made it an issue of freedom of expression and on that basis, they will also commit blasphemy [if we take action against France]. So will we send the ambassador [of that country] back too?”
The premier’s address to the nation comes at a tense time as the government engages with the workers of the TLP — who have been holding anti-France protests for more than a week — after a clash with the police in Lahore on Sunday.
The TLP has put forth four demands: the expulsion of the French ambassador over President Emmanuel Macron’s explicit backing of blasphemous cartoons, the release of party chief Saad Rizvi, the removal of the ban on the party and the release of activists arrested as well as the FIRs against them to be revoked.
A day earlier, the city of Lahore became a battleground as workers of the recently proscribed party and policemen clashed. TLP workers also took 11 policemen hostage, who were later released after the first round of talks with the government.
The second round of talks was due to be held after sehri, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid said.
Earlier today, while addressing a ceremony in Islamabad, Prime Minister Imran lamented that political and religious parties in Pakistan “misused” Islam to deal damage to the country itself — in an apparent reference to the banned TLP’s week-long protests.
“ln our country it is a great misfortune that many times our political parties and religious parties use Islam wrongly and use it such that they deal damage to their own country.”
The prime minister said that violent actions did not benefit Islam in any way and no loss was dealt to the country in which the blasphemous act was committed. Instead, only Pakistan suffered a loss, he said.
“Violent protests in Pakistan will make no difference to the country where the blasphemous act has occurred.”
He vowed to introduce a campaign that would seek to join Muslim countries so that the issue can be taken up on international forums, such as the European Union and United Nations.