PTI Punjab Bigwigs Stoke Religious Fervor After Shehbaz Meets Macron

PTI Punjab Bigwigs Stoke Religious Fervor After Shehbaz Meets Macron
Noted leaders of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) have invoked both, the religion card and politics of far-right Islamic extremist party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) in wake of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif's meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron.

Punjab Health Minister Yasmin Rashid said on Wednesday party chairman Imran Khan had penned a letter to leaders of Muslim states on how the honour of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) constituted a red line after Macron had defended the publication of blasphemous caricatures. She went on to add in a tweet that "uncle" (Shehbaz) was making merry with an individual who had defended blasphemy the world over while "niece" (Maryam Nawaz), on the other hand, was accusing the PTI chairman of 'perverting religion'.

In a separate press conference at the DGPR, Punjab Spokesperson Fayyazul Hassan Chohan urged TLP ameer Saad Rizvi to enquire after Shehbaz given how he had met Macron. "Shehbaz Sharif had a ball with the French president. Is it not binding on TLP chief Saad Rizvi to check in on him," the one-time information minister said.

In a thinly-veiled reference at a brand of agitation peculiar to the TLP, Punjab Education Minister Murad Raas asked in a Tuesday tweet what the far-right party had to say about the premier's meeting with the French president. The tweet featured the caption alongside a photo of Shehbaz and Macron exchanging pleasantries. Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari was also pictured in the photo.

Shehbaz had met Macron on the sidelines of the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. The prime minister had thanked the French president earlier in an August tweet for expressing solidarity with the flood-ravaged people of Pakistan.

Far-right TLP emerged as a major politico-religious force after becoming the fifth-largest political party in the 2018 general elections by securing 2.2 million votes. It has routinely been encroaching the centre-right vote. In the 2022 Punjab by-elections the TLP obtained 124,035 votes across 20 provincial assembly seats up for grabs.

The party initially came to fore in connection with a demand to release Mumtaz Qadri, the assassin of former Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer. Nationwide protests organised by the TLP were held after his 2016 hanging. The far-right party also led the 2017 Faizabad sit-in and country-wide protests after the acquittal of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman on death row for alleged blasphemy, in 2018.

Notorious for its heavy-handed tactics, the party compelled the then ruling coalition to send former law minister Zaid Hamid packing. It also prevailed on the PTI to backtrack on economist Atif Mian's appointment to the Economic Advisory Council. The party had also compelled the Imran Khan-led party to present a resolution calling for the expulsion of the French envoy from Pakistan at the National Assembly.