Anti-France protests continue in Pakistan, as Macron seeks understanding

Protesters throw an effigy of French President Emmanuel Macron during an anti-French protest in Karachi on Oct. 31, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 01 November 2020

Anti-France protests continue in Pakistan, as Macron seeks understanding

  • Hundreds of supporters of Pakistan’s main religious political party, Jaamat-e-Islami, set effigy of Macron on fire
  • The interview set off a storm on social media, as many argued the Qatari station erred by giving space to the French President

KARACHI: Hundreds of protesters in Pakistan on Sunday burned effigies of France's leader and chanted anti-French slogans, as President Emmanuel Macron tried to send a message of understanding to Muslims around the world.
The demonstrations, which followed anti-France protests across the Muslim world last week, came after President Macron's interview late Saturday in which he said that he understood the shock Muslims felt at caricatures depicting the Prophet Muhammad. Macron was speaking with the Qatar-based Arabic TV station Al-Jazeera, where he also defended freedoms of expression and France's secular values.
Macron’s office said the interview was aimed at clarifying misunderstandings around France’s position and the president's words which they say have been taken out of context.
“I have never said that,” Macron told the Al-Jazeera interviewer, explaining that some false translations of his words in the media showed him to support the cartoons mocking Prophet Muhammad. “Those are lies.”
Macron explained that all religions are subject to the freedom of expression and “these drawings.”
“I understand and respect that people can be shocked by these cartoons,” he said. “But I will never accept that someone can justify the use of physical violence because of these cartoons. And I will always defend freedom of speech in my country, of thought, of drawing.”
The interview set off a storm on social media, as many argued the Qatari station erred by giving space to the French President, whom they said failed to apologize for offending Muslims.
Some criticized Macron for choosing Al-Jazeera, a station that has been at the center of political disputes between Arab Gulf nations and Turkey and viewed by many as giving airtime to hardliners and Islamist groups, outlawed in many countries in the Middle East.
But for others, Macron's appearance on Al-Jazeera was hailed as a success of the protest and boycott campaigns, which have forced the French president to address Muslims through an Arabic-speaking channel.
The protests in Muslim-majority nations over the last week, and calls for boycotts of French products, began initially after Macron eulogized a French teacher in Paris who was decapitated for showing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in class. Two attacks followed on a group of worshippers in a church in Nice, and a Greek priest in Lyon.
Islamist groups and hardliners around the Muslim world have rallied their supporters against the caricatures and the French government’s staunch secularist stance, keeping up protests over the last week targeting Macron.
On Sunday in the Pakistani city of Karachi, hundreds of supporters of the main Islamist party, Jaamat-e-Islami, set an effigy of Macron on fire. The crowd of about 500 chanted against Macron and called for the boycott of French products.
The crowd, which was smaller in number after larger rallies over the past days, marched toward the French Consulate in the city while security cordoned off the area.
Earlier Sunday in Karachi, Shiite students marched for three kilometers (1.8 miles) chanting and pledging to sacrifice their lives for the honor of Islam and its prophet. Some 500 students, including a couple hundred women, dragged French flags on the floor and carried pictures of Macron. One banner depicted Marcon’s face with a big cross.
“We condemn blasphemy of Islam and Prophet Muhammad by French President,” read a slogan scribbled on a French flag.
The well-organized crowd wearing face masks were chanting praise for Prophet Muhammad.
In the central Pakistani city of Multan, hundreds of merchants rallied in a demonstration to call for a boycott of French products. The crowd also burned an effigy of Macron and chanted: “Muslims cannot tolerate blasphemy of their prophet” and “the civilized world should give proof of being civilized.”
In Lebanon's capital of Beirut, a dozen protesters marched to the French Embassy in the Lebanese capital, raising banners that read: “Anything but Prophet Muhammad,” and chanted in defense of Islam. Security was tight around the embassy.
In Ahmedabad, a city in India's Gujarat state, protesters pasted photographs of Macron onto streets overnight, leaving them for pedestrians and passing vehicles to go over on Sunday.
Anti-France protests were held by Muslim groups on Friday in Mumbai, India’s financial and entertainment capital, and Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh state.

Ex-PM Khan remains in Attock jail despite court order for transfer to Rawalpindi — party

Updated 7 sec ago

Ex-PM Khan remains in Attock jail despite court order for transfer to Rawalpindi — party

  • Khan held in Attock since conviction in case involving ‘corrupt practices’ when he was PM
  • Khan has also been remanded in jail until Oct. 10 in separate case involving leaked state secrets

ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party said on Tuesday its leader had not been moved yet to Rawalpindi’s Adiala Jail despite an order from the Islamabad High Court a day earlier that he be transferred from a high-security prison in Attock.

Khan was arrested on Aug. 5 after a trial court in Islamabad found him guilty of “corrupt practices” in a case involving the unlawful sale of state gifts during his tenure as prime minister from 2018 to 2022. He has since been serving his sentence at Attock Jail.

The IHC suspended Khan’s sentence on Aug. 29 but he remains in jail on remand in another case, popularly called the cipher case, in which he is charged with leaking state secrets. The latest extension of the remand order will keep Khan in jail until Oct. 10. Meanwhile, the former PM had filed a petition with the IHC seeking his transfer to Adiala Jail.

On Monday, IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq observed that under-trial prisoners (UTPs) of all the courts in the federal capital were kept at Adiala, issuing directions to shift Khan to that prison.

The direction followed arguments by Khan’s counsel Sher Afzal Khan Marwat who said the court had suspended Khan’s sentence in the state gifts case and the ex-PM was now facing a trial in the cipher case before a special court in Islamabad. As a UTP in the federal territory, Khan must be kept in Adiala Jail, he had argued.

“Imran Khan is still in Attock Jail where a special court judge conducted today’s hearing in the cipher case,” Rizwan Ahmed, a PTI spokesperson, told Arab News on Tuesday morning. “The court has extended Imran Khan’s judicial remand in the cipher case till October 10.

“Imran Khan may be shifted to Adiala Jail from Attock prison after the Islamabad High Court issues a written order in this regard,” he added.

“Our legal team is following it and we’ll be updating the media accordingly.”

A day earlier, a senior Khan aide, Zulfiqar Bukhari, had said arrangements were being made to move Khan to the Rawalpindi prison.
In the state secrets case, Khan is charged with making public the contents of a confidential cable sent by Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States and using it for political gain, according to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).

Khan alleges that the cable proves the United States had pressed Pakistan’s military to orchestrate the fall of his government because he had visited Russia shortly before its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Washington and the Pakistani military have denied Khan’s accusations.

Khan also faces a range of other legal cases he says are politically motivated.

Pakistan in talks with Saudi Arabia to introduce shorter stay Hajj visits

Updated 7 min 26 sec ago

Pakistan in talks with Saudi Arabia to introduce shorter stay Hajj visits

  • Pakistani pilgrims traveling for Hajj under government’s program have to stay for 40 days in Kingdom
  • Saudi Arabia has recently proposed reducing number of Hajj operators from Pakistan from 905 to 46

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is working with Saudi Arabia to introduce short Hajj packages for next year’s annual pilgrimage, according to the minutes of a meeting on Monday of the Senate Standing Committee on Religious Affairs and Inter-Faith Harmony.

More than 81,000 Pakistani pilgrims performed the pilgrimage under the government scheme this year while the rest from a total quota of 179,210 used private tour operators. Pakistani pilgrims traveling for Hajj under the government’s program have to stay for 40 days in the Kingdom.

“The ministry with the collaboration with Saudi Government is planning to introduce a short time period for the Hajj,” the minutes of the Senate panel meeting said, quoting Caretaker Federal Minister for Religious Affairs, Aneeq Ahmed.

Briefing the committee on arrangements for Hajj 2024, Ahmed said the ministry would introduce suitcases with QR codes and specially design scarves for women so that pilgrims from Pakistan could be easily identified.

The panel also discussed a recent letter written by Saudi Arabia, proposing to reduce the number of Hajj operators from Pakistan from 905 to 46.

“Saudi Arabia intends to provide better facilities to pilgrims, and in this regard, the letter has been sent to all Muslim countries,” Ahmed said.
 “The Committee recommended that exception should be provided to Hajj operators for the year 2024 and the proposed number of operators by the Saudi government should be increased to 100.”

The committee also discussed the Makkah Route initiative, introduced by Saudi Arabia in 2019 to streamline Hajj pilgrims’ visas, customs, and health requirements at departure airports, thus saving them time both before departure and upon arrival in the Kingdom.

“Ministry is in negotiation with Saudi government to extend Road to Makkah Project currently available at Islamabad International airport, and with due course of time the same service will also be available at Karachi and Lahore,” Ahmed added. 

Pakistani leaders, Saudi envoy laud Kingdom’s efforts to ‘shape’ the future

Updated 26 September 2023

Pakistani leaders, Saudi envoy laud Kingdom’s efforts to ‘shape’ the future

  • Glittering ceremony held in Islamabad to celebrate Saudi Arabia’s 93rd National Day
  • Senate chairman praises Saudi efforts to promote peace, stability in Middle Easy and beyond

ISLAMABAD: At celebrations to commemorate Saudi Arabia’s 93rd National Day in Islamabad on Monday, Pakistani leaders as well as the Kingdom’s envoy to Pakistan praised the leadership in Riyadh for its efforts to realign Middle East dynamics and open up the Saudi economy and society.

The Saudi government, in an effort led by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, has made remarkable changes in recent years under a vast economic transformation plan, the Vision 2030, to diversify away from oil and open the Kingdom to business and tourism amid rising regional competition. The Kingdom has also gone into diplomatic overdrive, restoring relations with Iran and agreeing to a rapprochement with Syria in its quest to rebuild regional alliances, instead of leaning entirely on the United States, its long-time big power ally. It has also recently joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as parts of Riyadh’s attempts to build a long-term partnership with China.

“Under the ideal leadership, Saudi Arabia is not just addressing the future, it is actively shaping it,” Chairman Senate Muhammad Sadiq Sanjrani said at a ceremony to celebrate Saudi National Day, which the Kingdom is marking this year with the slogan, “We dream and we achieve.”

The Senate chairman lauded steps taken by Saudi Arabia to promote peace and stability in the region.

“Dialogue and mutual respect are the bedrock on which lasting peace is made,” he said. “We are confident that Saudi efforts will open doors to various opportunities, including trade, the sharing of initiatives, and collaboration between leaders and their followers, not only for the region but for the entire world.”

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are close allies and share strong economic, security and cultural ties. Saudi Arabia is also home to more than two million Pakistani expatriates, making it the largest contributor to remittance inflows.

This year, Pakistan received $2 billion in financial support from Saudi Arabia in July, a day before the International Monetary Fund’s board gave the final approval for a $3 billion bailout deal. Saudi Arabia’s continued economic and investment support is key for Pakistan, as economic stabilization is a major challenge, with the $350 billion economy on a narrow recovery path after the IMF bailout averted a sovereign debt default. Economic reforms have already fueled historic inflation and interest rates.

“Pakistan is grateful for all the support extended by the Kingdom in the difficult times,” Sanjrani said, adding that Pakistan had also provided “unwavering and never-ending” support to the Kingdom on the diplomatic and security fronts.

Speaking at the ceremony, which was organized by the Saudi embassy, Ambassador Nawaf bin Said Al-Malki called on Pakistan and the world to “support all development plans and initiatives taken for the progress and prosperity of the Kingdom.”

“At the forefront of these successful initiatives is the Kingdom’s Vision 2030,” the ambassador said, “which represents a new stage leading the country to a bright future.”

Pakistani PM pitches investments, improved business climate in stopover visit to UK

Updated 24 min 10 sec ago

Pakistani PM pitches investments, improved business climate in stopover visit to UK

  • Kakar meets senior leaders of London’s capital and financial markets, prominent British-Pakistani business heads
  • Discusses “multifaceted bilateral relations and resumption of PIA flights” with British foreign secretary

ISLAMABAD: Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar on Monday met the UK’s foreign secretary as well as financial and capital market leaders and top British-Pakistani and other business groups on a stopover visit to London on his way back from New York to attend the UN General Assembly.

Pakistan in June set up a Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) — a civil-military hybrid forum — to fast-track decision making and promote investment from foreign nations. The council has identified five sectors as priority for seeking investment, namely agriculture, mining, information technology, defense production and energy, as the South Asian country deals with a balance of payments crisis and requires billions of dollars in foreign exchange to finance its trade deficit and repay its international debts in the current financial year.

Last week, Kakar used his visit to New York for the UN General Assembly as an opportunity to meet business and thought leaders and stakeholders and make the case for improved business climate in Pakistan and its potential for foreign direct investment in a range of sectors.

On Monday, senior leaders of London’s capital and financial markets called on Kakar in London and expressed “keen interest in exploring promising investment opportunities in the financial and capital market of Pakistan, reflecting a growing mutual interest in expanding economic collaboration,” the PM’s Office said in a statement released after his meeting with notable investment firms, including Fidelity International Limited (FIL), Wellington Management, Ashmore, Jefferies International, Redwheel Capital, Switex Industrial SA, Oxford Frontier Capital, GuarantCo, JP Morgan, Kalrock Capital, and UBL UK.

“Prime Minister Kakar informed the delegation about Pakistan’s current economic landscape, highlighting government measures for external account improvement,” the PM office said.

“He said that recent administrative actions strengthened the Pakistani rupee against the US dollar, fostering optimism for stability. He said positive indicators, including inflows from the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, and friendly nations, contributed to reduced inflation, stabilized reserves, and revival of industrial growth.”

Kakar also spoke about the potential for foreign direct investment in Pakistan’s key sectors and the positive impact of a Stand-By Arrangement (SBA) with the IMF, agreed in June. He highlighted economic improvements such as reduced inflation and improved trade after the removal of restrictions on imports and fiscal measures for monetary support and medium-term inflation targets.

“Furthermore, the Prime Minister highlighted Pakistan’s pro-investment efforts, introducing the Special Investment Facilitation Council,” the PMO said. “This initiative, led by the Prime Minister himself, streamlines investment processes, attracts investments in key sectors, and fosters long-term growth by simplifying the business landscape.”

Kakar separately met prominent British-Pakistani businessmen in London and highlighted positive economic indicators resulting from reforms pursued by his government, including a strengthening of the rupee, reduced inflation, and expected economic growth.

 “The Prime Minister spoke about Pakistan’s investment-friendly approach, mentioning incentives and ease-of-business reforms,” the PMO said. “He introduced the Special Investment Facilitation Council, chaired by himself, to streamline investment in key sectors through a single-window platform. This initiative aims to enhance ease of doing business, remove bureaucratic hurdles, and create a long-term investment roadmap.”

Kakar also shared the government’s resolve and commitment to privatize loss-making state-owned enterprises and urged overseas Pakistanis to take advantage of the opportunities for investment in Pakistan. He invited diaspora business leaders “to invest, especially in Special Economic Zones, to contribute to Pakistan’s economic recovery.”

The PMO said the business leaders “conveyed their strong interest in expanding their business operations in Pakistan while actively seeking to increase their investments in the country.”

Abdullah Kamani, a leading British businessman and the co-founder and executive chairman of Boohoo Group, separately called on Kakar. Boohoo Group plc is a British online fashion retailer, aimed at 16–30-year-olds. The business was founded in 2006, and had sales in 2019 of £856.9 million. It specializes in own brand fashion clothing.

“Kamani expressed keen interest in establishing long-term buying linkages with Pakistan and the ambition to create a comprehensive supply chain in the country, encompassing organic cotton to apparel production,” the PM’s office said. “They also hoped for improved Pakistan-UK air connectivity to facilitate increased imports from Pakistan.”

Kakar conveyed Pakistan’s commitment to facilitating investment and offered support in establishing manufacturing facilities within the country, particularly within Special Economic Zones (SEZs). He urged Boohoo Group to consider opening buying houses in Pakistan and invited the company to send a buying delegation to Pakistan.

Kakar also met UK’s Foreign Secretary James Cleverly on Monday and discussed “all areas of mutual interest, including multifaceted bilateral relations, and resumption of PIA flights.”

Pakistan condemns latest desecration of Qur’an in the Netherlands

Updated 25 September 2023

Pakistan condemns latest desecration of Qur’an in the Netherlands

  • Anti-Islam activists have burnt, damaged several copies of Muslim holy book in recent months
  • Desecrations have enraged Muslims, unleashed demands governments ban such acts 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Monday condemned the latest “senseless” act of desecration of the Qur’an in the Netherlands in front of a number of embassies of Muslim countries.
Anti-Islam activists have burnt and damaged several copies of the Muslim holy book in recent months, prompting outrage in the Muslim world and demands the nations’ governments ban such acts.
Intentionally burning the Qur’an is seen by Muslims as a blasphemous and insulting act worthy of severe punishment. 
“Pakistan condemns in the strongest terms the latest senseless and deeply offensive act of desecration of the Holy Qur’an that took place in The Hague, the Netherlands in front of some embassies of OIC member countries including Pakistan,” the Pakistani foreign office said.
“It is a deliberately provocative and Islamophobic act that has hurt the sentiments of Muslims around the world. Such acts cannot be condoned under the guise of freedom of expression, opinion and protest.”
The foreign office said Pakistan believed freedom of expression came with responsibilities and governments should actively prevent racist and Islamophobic acts that incite religious hatred.
“Pakistan’s concerns have been conveyed to the Dutch authorities. We urge them to be mindful of the sentiments of the people of Pakistan and Muslims around the world and take active steps to prevent such hateful and Islamophobic acts.”
Last month the United Nations Human Rights Council approved a disputed resolution on religious hatred in the wake of the burning of a Qur’an in Sweden, prompting concern by Western states who say it challenges long-held practices in rights protection.