At a time when the second wave of coronavirus infections is underway, TLP’s stick-wielding protestors have descended on the capital due to the recent actions of the French government and are demanding the expulsion of the French ambassador from Pakistan and cutting off all ties from France with immediate effect.

The Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan rally in the capital comes at a very sensitive period; and as always, its efficacy for Pakistani citizens is as arguable as ever. With infections quickly rising, a mass protest with absolutely no protective mechanisms in place is likely to be a disease hotspot, much like the opposition’s efforts to overthrow the government.

Two days have passed since the protests in Islamabad have laid siege to the capital. Mobile signals were jammed on both Sunday and Monday. Traders and employees alike have had trouble restarting their week with major roads blocked. The protestors have clashed with the police, leading to injuries, have reportedly damaged public infrastructure and even harassed mediapersons covering the demonstrations. This sort of behaviour is not generally tolerated when committed by others voicing their displeasure.

Ultimately however, even if we ignore the violence, COVID-19 and other issues highlighted above, who really are the protestors setting themselves up against—the French government or the Pakistani people? Blocking major roads in the capital, damaging public property such as Metro bus stations and leading to a complete shutdown of cellular services does nothing in the efforts to cut off diplomatic linkages with France. All it does is lead to stagnation of economic activity in Islamabad at a time when this is not affordable in the slightest.

The right to protest is one that should be exercised freely, but when it goes beyond this and becomes damaging for the country, the government must take action. As it stands, there are still 1500 protestors in the capital that have refused to move until their demands are met. The speeches at the rally have taken the tone they usually do; one that challenges the writ of the state and often toes the blurry line between free expression and hate speech. This is not something that should be encouraged.