Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday issued a stark warning to religiopolitical groups that have been agitating against the Supreme Court verdict to acquit Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death on charges of committing blasphemy.
The premier addressed the matter in a short video message that solely focused on the Aasia Bibi verdict and its aftermath. The message was broadcast on state-run PTV.
He said he had been "compelled" to communicate with the nation due to the reaction given and language used by a "small segment" in response to the SC verdict.
Pakistan was founded "in the name of Islam" and the verdict given by the SC is in accordance with the Constitution, which is in line with the teachings of the Holy Quran and sunnah, he said.
He sharply criticised the protests that broke out, and are still underway, across the country in response to the judgement, saying people's livelihood was being harmed through the roadblocks and demonstrations.
Live blog: Protests erupt against Aasia Bibi's acquittal in different cities
The premier regretted the language used by hardliners against SC judges, the raising of questions against the army chief's faith and the call for a rebellion amongst the armed forces.
"It is my belief that the principles on which Pakistan was founded... if they are not adhered to Pakistan has no future.
"Our faith is incomplete if we don't love our Prophet [PBUH]," he said, and highlighted his government's efforts to fight blasphemous content.
"Which government can function when people say that kill the judges, rebel against the army chief?
"We are already facing such tough economic hurdles. My cabinet and I have yet to take a day off... we are struggling continuously to uplift the people [and] to improve the conditions of the underprivileged."
Referring to the protesters who have disrupted routine life across the country, he said: "If the Supreme Court does not issue a verdict according to their wishes, does that mean they will come out on the roads and paralyse the country?
"The people are to bear the brunt of this. The labourers who are reliant on daily wages... how will they feed their children?"
The prime minister urged the nation not to allow themselves to be "provoked" by the agitators.
"This is not a service being done for Islam. This is enmity taking place against the country," Khan observed.
In a stern warning to the extremist elements, the prime minister said: "I appeal to these elements... do not clash with the state.
"I appeal to you, don't harm this country in order to [increase your] vote bank.
"If you continue doing this... let me make it clear to you... the state will fulfil its duty [and] protect people's properties and lives.
"We will not allow any vandalism [or] blockage of traffic.
"I appeal to you... do not take the state to a point where it has no option but to take action," he concluded.
Prime Minister Khan's address comes as supporters of various religiopolitical groups burnt tires and blocked roads across various parts of the country in reaction to the SC verdict.
For hours the acquittal was met with near silence on the country's airwaves as broadcasters appeared to steer clear of covering the controversial topic.
One of the most vocal groups — the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) — called for “mutiny” against the army's top brass and the assassination of the top court's justices.
Severe traffic jams ensued, causing great diffculty to commuters who reported being stuck on the roads for multiple hours.
The Punjab home department as well as the Sindh and Balochistan governments imposed Section 144 across the respective provinces citing "threats to the law and order situation, sectarian harmony and public peace". Paramilitary troops were deployed in Islamabad to prevent protesters from reaching the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl has announced that it will hold countrywide protests on Friday in opposition to the SC ruling.
Twitter lauds PM's 'bold' speech
The reaction to Prime Minister Khan's address was overwhelmingly positive, with social media users describing it as "bold", "no-nonsense" and a "clear message".
Citizens appreciated the fact that Khan had addressed the issue directly and unambiguously.
However, lawyer and activist Jibran Nasir while appreciating the prime minister's address recalled that Khan had allegedly "fanned religious sentiments" during the TLP-led sit-in at Faizabad last year.
Michael Kugelman, a Pakistan expert at the Woodrow Wilson Centre for Scholars in Washington, remarked that Khan's speech "suggests that the state may finally be changing course in terms of how it deals with these dangerous and destabilising elements".
But although the speech marks a milestone for the country, action is more consequential than just talk, Kugelman cautioned.
Special Assistant to PM on Media Iftikhar Durrani had earlier announced on Twitter that Khan would address the nation at 7:45pm today.
Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry had tweeted around 6pm that Khan would address the nation "shortly".
The information minister did not state what the prime minister is likely to talk about in his address.
Khan's anticipated address comes a day before he is scheduled to leave for China on an official visit. According to the Foreign Office, the prime minister will depart for China at midnight on November 1.
The premier has communicated with the people through televised addresses several times since his election to the top office. In his speeches, Khan has shed light on various issues of national importance.
His last address to the nation was on Wednesday last week, when Khan reassured the public regarding the steps taken by his government to tackle the economic hardships faced by the country.