Sunday, January 20, 2013

Catholics slam Interior minister for views on pope, who is not a politician

Pakistan's Catholic Church wants the country's Interior minister to apologise for making inappropriate and unjustified parallels between the pope and Tahirul Qadri, a Sunni cleric who is leading a street protest in the Pakistani capital.

The Pakistani-Canadian cleric, who was behind the march of a million people against corruption, has called for the dissolution of parliament. He wants a caretaker government to organise fresh elections open only to "clean" slates. His protest is set to end Thursday; talks with the government are scheduled for late afternoon. 

However, a probe has begun into suspicious funding Qadri received for his anti-corruption campaign.  

In a press release issued today, Fr Emmanuel Yousaf Mani, director of the Catholic Church's National Commission for Justice and Peace, called on Interior Minister Rehman Malik to withdraw a statement in which he drew parallels between Pope Benedict XVI and Qadri.

For Fr Mani, the minister's remarks were "unnecessary and provocative as there is no comparison or link between the two figures."

Pope Benedict XVI is the undisputed leader of the Catholic Church, the largest faith group in the world. He does not lead any major power and has no political ambitions. Qadri is involved in the politics of the country. For the Catholic priest, Malik should restrain himself from making such remarks in the future.

For his part, the Sunni leader is expected to meet later on Thursday with a commission set up by the Pakistani government to handle the protest.

Qadri has already said that his protest would end today, after a four-day march from Lahore, for the safety of women and children participants.

The government however wants more to time to examine his requests and determine the process that would lead to fresh elections. If successful, this would be the first time in the country's history that a democratically-elected government would end its term in office without a coup or as a result of military pressures. 

Together with Islamic fundamentalist groups, the armed forces are the dominant force in Pakistani politics.

Tahirul Qadri wants the military and the courts to be involved in the establishment of a caretaker government that would lead the country until elections are held this spring.

Conversely, the authorities accuse him of trying to push forward the date of the election in order to allow the military to take over again.

Pakistan experts believe the Sunni cleric is backed by the military who are using him to regain control.

Sources told AsiaNews that he has been a staunch opponent of religious extremism, an "open and tolerant" figure involved in the fight against country's greatest evil: terrorism.

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