Pakistan faces unpleasant options amid violent protests over Prophet cartoons

Pakistan faces unpleasant options amid violent protests over Prophet cartoons
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Saad Rizvi (center) leader of the recently outlawed Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), was arrested in Lahore for threatening a campaign of civil disobedience. (AFP/File)
Pakistan faces unpleasant options amid violent protests over Prophet cartoons
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Traders in Islamabad shout anti-France slogans in a closed market during a nationwide strike to show their solidarity with the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP). (AFP)
Pakistan faces unpleasant options amid violent protests over Prophet cartoons
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Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan said meeting the TLP’s demands to break diplomatic ties with France would hit Pakistani exports to the EU. (AFP/File)
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Updated 21 April 2021

Pakistan faces unpleasant options amid violent protests over Prophet cartoons

Pakistan faces unpleasant options amid violent protests over Prophet cartoons
  • In TV address, PM Imran Khan said breaking ties with France in protest against the caricatures will hurt Pakistan more
  • Religious political party TLP has demanded the expulsion of the French ambassador to Pakistan before April 20

ISLAMABAD AND KARACHI: Unrest has gripped Pakistan since April 12 when Saad Rizvi, leader of the recently outlawed Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), was arrested in Lahore for threatening a campaign of civil disobedience against the government unless it expelled the French ambassador over the re-publication last year in France of cartoons of Prophet Muhammad.

Violent protests have paralyzed major cities and highways all week, leading to the death of six police officers and injuries to more than 800, according to the government.

Photographs of police officers taken hostage by TLP supporters, with their heads, legs and arms heavily bandaged, have been posted on social media throughout the week.

On Sunday, the TLP said three of its members had been killed in clashes outside its headquarters in the eastern city of Lahore. The religious party also took several police and paramilitary troops hostage, releasing 11 officers in the early hours of Monday following negotiations with the government.




Saad Rizvi (center) leader of the recently outlawed Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), was arrested in Lahore for threatening a campaign of civil disobedience. (AFP/File)

The riots have prompted the French embassy to urge its citizens to temporarily leave the country.

Rizvi became leader of the TLP in November after the sudden death of his father, the firebrand cleric Khadim Hussein Rizvi. His party gained prominence in Pakistan’s 2018 federal elections promising to defend the country’s blasphemy laws, which call for the death penalty for anyone who insults Islam.

The party has a history of staging protests to pressure the government to accept its demands. In November 2017, Rizvi’s followers staged a 21-day sit-in after a reference to the sanctity of Prophet Muhammad was removed from the text of a government form.

Now the TLP is calling on the government to honor what it says was a commitment made in February to expel the French envoy before April 20 over the publication of the cartoons. Imran Khan, the prime minister of Pakistan, insists his government is only committed to debating the matter in parliament.




Traders in Islamabad shout anti-France slogans in a closed market during a nationwide strike to show their solidarity with the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP). (AFP)

On Monday, Khan said that meeting the TLP’s demands to break diplomatic ties with France would hit Pakistani exports to the EU and lead to poverty, unemployment and inflation.

“The biggest effect (of breaking ties with France) will be that after great difficulty our economy is rising, the large-scale industry is getting up after a long time, people are getting jobs, wealth is increasing in our country, our exports are rising and after a long time, our rupee is strengthening,” Khan said in a televised address to the nation.

He added that breaking ties with France would be tantamount to severing relations with the entire EU.

“Half of our textile exports go to the EU and that will be stopped, resulting in unemployment, devaluation of the rupee, increase in inflation and poverty,” Khan said.

“We will be at loss but this won’t make any difference to France.”




Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan said meeting the TLP’s demands to break diplomatic ties with France would hit Pakistani exports to the EU. (AFP/File)

Rather than act unilaterally, Khan said the leaders of Muslim countries should collectively take up the issue of blasphemy with UN and EU.

“We should tell the Western countries that blasphemy to our prophet in the name of freedom of speech hurts us. And if they don’t stop it, we can then collectively do the trade boycott,” he said.

Khan said this was the only way to “achieve the objective” of creating an environment in which no one would dare to disrespect the prophet, and pledged to personally lead such a global campaign to ensure this.

Khan’s address came as the government went into a third round of negotiations with the TLP.

“We believe in negotiations and it’s our policy,” Pir Noorul Haq Qadri, the federal minister for religious affairs, said in a policy statement in the National Assembly on Monday.

“No political, democratic and elected government can afford such things and whatever happened in the past few days is regrettable to everyone.”

On Sunday evening, Fawad Hussain Chaudhry, the information minister, said the government was forced to launch an armed operation against protesters after they kidnapped law enforcement officials.

“The government believes in negotiations but can’t be blackmailed,” he said. “The operation was started after police and Rangers personnel were kidnapped ... Imran Khan has the strongest affection with the prophet and he has talked about this at every (national and global) forum.”

Earlier on Sunday, police spokesperson Arif Rana said the operation against the TLP had been halted as the attackers were armed with petrol bombs and a tanker with 50,000 liters of petrol.

By Sunday evening, the situation was “at a standstill,” he said, with protesters sitting on roadsides with sticks and petrol bombs in their hands and law enforcement standing guard.

Last week, the interior ministry said it was moving to have the TLP party banned for attacking police and paramilitary troops and disrupting public life during its protests. The interior ministry’s decision has been approved by the federal cabinet but needs to be ratified by the Supreme Court for the TLP to be officially dissolved.

In October 2020, protests broke out in several Muslim countries, including Pakistan, over France’s response to a deadly attack on a teacher who showed his pupils cartoons mocking Prophet Muhammad during a civics lesson. French President Emmanuel Macron has defended the caricatures as freedom of expression.

During last year’s protests in Pakistan, the government negotiated with the TLP and met a number of its demands, including an agreement to hold a parliamentary debate on whether or not to expel the French ambassador.

The agreed deadline to hold that debate expires on April 20.

Related


Lava pours out of volcano on La Palma in Spain’s Canary Islands

Lava pours out of volcano on La Palma in Spain’s Canary Islands
Updated 13 sec ago

Lava pours out of volcano on La Palma in Spain’s Canary Islands

Lava pours out of volcano on La Palma in Spain’s Canary Islands

LA PALMA, Spain: A volcano erupted on the Spanish Canary Island of La Palma on Sunday, sending lava shooting into the air and streaming in rivers toward houses in two villages from the Cumbre Vieja national park in the south of the island.
Authorities had begun evacuating the infirm and some farm animals from nearby villages before the eruption at 3:15 p.m. (1415 GMT) on a wooded slope in the sparsely populated Cabeza de Vaca area, according to the islands’ government.
Two hours later, with lava edging down the hillside from five fissures torn into the hillside, the municipality ordered the evacuation of four villages, including El Paso and Los Llanos de Aridane.
After nightfall, video footage showed fountains of lava shooting hundreds of meters into the sky, and at least three incandescent orange rivers of molten rock pouring down the hill, tearing gashes into woods and farmland, and spreading as they reached lower ground.
One stream, several hundred meters long and tens of meters wide, crossed a road and began engulfing scattered houses in El Paso. Video footage shared on social media, which Reuters has been unable to verify, showed the lava entering a house.
“When the volcano erupted today, I was scared. For journalists it is something spectacular, for us it is a tragedy. I think the lava has reached some relatives’ houses,” local resident Isabel Fuentes, 55, told Spanish television TVE.
“I was 5 years old when the volcano last erupted (in 1971). You never get over a volcanic eruption,” added Fuentes, who said she had moved to another house on Sunday for her safety.

’STAY IN YOUR HOUSES’
Canary Islands President Angel Victor Torres told a press conference on Sunday night that 5,000 people had been evacuated and no injuries had been reported so far.
“It is not foreseeable that anyone else will have to be evacuated. The lava is moving toward the coast and the damage will be material. According to experts there are about 17-20 million cubic meters of lava,” he said.
Flights to and from the Canaries were continuing as normal, the airport operator Aena said.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez arrived in La Palma, the most northwesterly island of the archipelago, late on Sunday for talks with the islands’ government on managing the eruption.
“We have all the resources (to deal with the eruption) and all the troops, the citizens can rest easy,” he said.
Stavros Meletlidis, a doctor of volcanology at the Spanish Geographical Institute, said the eruption had torn five holes in the hillside and that he could not be sure how long it would last.
“We have to measure the lava every day and that will help us to work it out.”
King Felipe spoke with Torres and was following the developments, the royal household said.
La Palma had been on high alert after more than 22,000 tremors were reported in the space of a week in Cumbre Vieja, a chain of volcanoes that last had a major eruption in 1971 and is one of the most active volcanic regions in the Canaries.
In 1971, one man was killed as he was taking photographs near the lava flows, but no property was damaged.
The earliest recorded eruption in La Palma was in 1430, according to the Spanish National Geographical Institute (ING).


Can concerted global action mitigate climate change’s worst impacts?

Can concerted global action mitigate climate change’s worst impacts?
Updated 20 September 2021

Can concerted global action mitigate climate change’s worst impacts?

Can concerted global action mitigate climate change’s worst impacts?
  • Experts warn rich and poor countries alike will experience mass internal migration as a result of climate change
  • World Bank report predicts global warming-linked disasters will displace millions of people by 2050

LONDON: World leaders will gather on Monday at the UN’s New York headquarters for a closed-door session on climate change hosted by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. 

Johnson, who is scheduled to host world leaders in Glasgow in November for the COP26 climate summit, is expected to press delegates to pledge to reduce carbon emissions, with a particular emphasis on ending the use of coal.

It is hoped that world leaders will be free to speak frankly during the closed-door session rather than simply trotting out feel-good bromides or reverting to established positions. 

Johnson is likely to find a ready ear. Last week, Abdulla Shahid, the new president of the UN General Assembly and Maldives foreign minister, told Arab News that climate change will be among the most critical issues of his presidency.

The Maldives’ Abdulla Shahid is making climate change a critical part of his UN General Assembly presidency. (AFP)

And so it should be. The Maldives, an island nation in the heart of the Indian Ocean, is the lowest-lying country in the world, with an average elevation of just 1.5 meters. Rising sea levels caused by global warming pose an immediate existential threat to its future.

The focus on mitigating the effects of climate change cannot come soon enough for the hundreds of millions of people that the World Bank believes will be displaced as a result of global warming. 

A bombshell World Bank report published earlier this month predicted that without decisive action some 216 million people will be displaced by climate change by 2050 — more than 20 times as many people as were displaced by the Syrian civil war.

In a worst-case scenario, the World Bank’s Groundswell II report said that North Africa alone could lose more than 19 million people to climate migration — more than the entire population of Tunisia.

These people, the World Bank said, will be uprooted from their homes by a combination of rising sea levels, declining freshwater access and other issues, which threaten to undo decades of progress on poverty reduction, child mortality, development and education.

North African states, in particular, rely heavily on their agricultural industries to fuel economic growth and to feed their rapidly growing populations. Climate change threatens to devastate these industries, forcing millions from their homes.

Despite the doom and gloom of the report, Ferzina Banaji, communications lead for climate change at the World Bank, told Arab News: “There is a window of opportunity to act now but it is shrinking rapidly.

“Immediate and concerted action to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and support green, inclusive and resilient development could reduce the scale of internal climate migration by as much as 80 percent from as much as 216 million people to 44 million people across the six regions covered in the report,” Banaji said.

“In North Africa, where water stress will amplify already scarce water resources, it is critical to step up action on these fronts, building on the already strong efforts of the countries in the region.”

The diversification of livelihoods in the North African region away from agriculture could also improve its resilience to climate change. Although the World Bank report did not directly cover the Middle East, Banaji said that the “region already faces climate change impacts, particularly extreme heat and water stress, which are both expected to worsen in the coming decades.”

Even in a best-case scenario, tens of millions of people globally will undoubtedly be uprooted by climate change by 2050. And the future for these displaced people — disproportionately vulnerable and from lower and middle-income countries — is bleak.

Troels Hedegaard, an associate professor studying migration at Denmark’s Aalborg University, told Arab News that his research indicates that people look even less kindly on climate migrants than they do on those fleeing war and persecution.

“My research indicates that populations in Northern Europe view climate migrants less favorably compared to migrants fleeing because of personal persecution or civil war,” Hedegaard said. 

“They are, however, more welcome than migrants leaving because of economic reasons. I believe this is because this category of migrants is generally unknown to most people in Northern Europe.”

INNUMBERS

216 million - Estimated number of internal climate migrants worldwide by 2050.

19 million - Predicted number of North African internal climate migrants by mid-century.

80 percent - Possible reduction in scale of climate migration if action is taken to reduce emissions. (Source: World Bank)

(Source: World Bank)

In Northern Europe, one of the world’s most climate-resilient regions, Hedegaard cautioned that despite the relative safety, “it would be very difficult to gather public support behind granting climate migrants residency or any other kind of permanent stay.”

This difference in attitude, he said, could be related to long-standing global norms derived from supranational bodies, such as the UN, which have defined what it means to be a refugee — or not — for decades, and this could result in institutional barriers to external migration.

“Even though the terms climate refugees or environmental refugees are sometimes used to describe people displaced by climate events, they are not included in the United Nations 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol relating to the status to seek protection, and therefore they cannot seek asylum,” Hedegaard said.

Immediate global action on climate change could reduce impending large-scale climate migration by up to 80 percent, the World Bank has said, amid warnings over the future stability of North Africa. (AFP)

But according to Dr. Alex de Sherbinin, an associate director at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, the vast majority of future climate migrants are likely to be internally displaced — and while the emphasis, in general, is on poorer countries in the global south, rich countries such as the US are not exempt from these issues.

The US regularly experiences deadly wildfires, hurricanes, droughts and other such environmental catastrophes that scientists predict will only get worse. Now the US has adopted a strategy of “managed retreat,” de Sherbinen said. 

“The idea of ‘managed retreat’ is to implement a package of interventions such as home buyouts and re-zoning. In some cases managed retreat maeqeey not actually be a retreat — the place may be so valuable that you build flood barriers around it, for example, or take other measures to keep people in place.

The US regularly experiences deadly wildfires, hurricanes, droughts and other such environmental catastrophes that scientists predict will only get worse. Now the US has adopted a strategy of “managed retreat,” de Sherbinen said. 

“Places like the Netherlands have done that successfully for decades,” he said. “It’s not completely inconceivable. But in some cases, it may not be economically viable to protect the area.”

But while these efforts are continuing, de Sherbinin believes that they will never create a true safe haven for people within the US or elsewhere to completely protect them from the impacts of climate change.

“Climate change is with us to stay. The notion that we are going to find an ideal safe space where everyone can be perpetually safe from climate disasters is not going to be part of our 21st-century existence — or into the 22nd.

“We poked the beast, and it’s not going to stop affecting us.”

____________

Twitter: @CHamillStewart 


Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband calls for new British foreign secretary to prioritize wife’s return from Iran

Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband calls for new British foreign secretary to prioritize wife’s return from Iran
Updated 19 September 2021

Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband calls for new British foreign secretary to prioritize wife’s return from Iran

Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband calls for new British foreign secretary to prioritize wife’s return from Iran
  • Ratcliffe said he would be speaking to the new British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss on Sunday
  • Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been in custody in Iran since 2016 after being accused of plotting to overthrow the government

LONDON: The husband of a British-Iranian woman detained in Iran has called on the new British foreign secretary to ensure his wife’s return is a “top priority.”
Richard Ratcliffe told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show that he has given the names of 10 people he accuses of being involved with “hostage-taking” in Iran to Liz Truss ahead of a phone call with her on Sunday. 
“We’ve put in front of the new foreign secretary a file of names, those who are involved in Iran’s hostage-taking across the chain, so those involved in taking people, processing them, giving them judges, those who are involved in treating them badly in prison,” Ratcliffe said. 
“I’ve got a phone call with the foreign secretary today, to be speaking to her two days into the job is a positive sign for sure.
“Partly I just want to hear that this is a top priority and that Nazanin and the others who are being held as bargaining chips will be brought home,” he added.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been in custody in Iran since 2016 after being accused of plotting to overthrow the government.
Iranian media has linked her detention to the UK’s failure to pay an outstanding £400 million debt to Iran.
“This coming week she (Liz Truss) should be meeting with the new Iranian foreign minister in New York when they’re over for the UN event, so hopefully there will be a positive conversation,” Ratcliffe said.
“Right now I think enough needs to be enough, and it needs to be signaled really clearly to Iran that you can’t use innocent people in this way.
“I’d really like them to be firm, to be brave and make some clear steps,” he added.
Ratcliffe has been campaigning tirelessly to have his wife released from prison and urged former foreign secretary Dominic Raab to take a firmer stand against Iran over the issue.
“One of the key problems I feel these past years is there’s been no cost for the Iranian side to carry on holding Nazanin, to carry on holding others, and so we’ve seen that now there are more British citizens in prison than there were when Nazanin was first taken,” he said.


India reports 30,773 new COVID cases as it seeks to welcome back tourists

India reports 30,773 new COVID cases as it seeks to welcome back tourists
Updated 19 September 2021

India reports 30,773 new COVID cases as it seeks to welcome back tourists

India reports 30,773 new COVID cases as it seeks to welcome back tourists
  • India, which has so far administered 804.3 million vaccine doses, is looking to protect the population and welcome back tourists
  • The death toll rose by 309 to 444,838, the health ministry said on Sunday

NEW DELHI: India on Sunday reported 30,773 new coronavirus infections in the past 24 hours, taking the total to 33.4 million, as it seeks to reopen the country to overseas tourists.
The death toll rose by 309 to 444,838, the health ministry said.
India, which has so far administered 804.3 million vaccine doses, is looking to protect the population and welcome back tourists, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Saturday.
“India’s vaccination drive is not just a safety cover for health but is also a protective shield for livelihood,” Modi told health workers in the tourist state of Goa via video.
“Friends, there’s been very little talk about this, but India has given a lot of priority to its vaccination program in states whose economies are driven by the tourism sector.”


Macron to hold call with US President Biden

Macron to hold call with US President Biden
Updated 19 September 2021

Macron to hold call with US President Biden

Macron to hold call with US President Biden
  • France would be seeking “clarification” over the cancelation of a submarine order

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron will have a call with US President Joe Biden in the next few days, the French government spokesman said on Sunday, amid a diplomatic crisis triggered by Australia’s cancelation of submarine contract with Paris.
France said on Friday it was recalling its ambassadors from Washington and Canberra over a trilateral security deal also involving Britain which sank the multi-billion dollar order for French submarines.
“President Biden asked to speak to the President of the Republic and there will be a telephone discussion in the next few days between President Macron and President Biden,” Gabriel Attal told news channel BFM TV.
France would be seeking “clarification” over the cancelation of a submarine order, Attal said.
The scrapping of the contract, struck in 2016, has caused fury in Paris, which claims not to have been consulted by its allies. The Australian government, however, says it had made clear its concerns for months.
After the initial “shock” of the cancelation, discussions would need to take place over contract clauses, notably compensation for the French side, Attal added.