Pakistan Muslim League-Nawazs chief Nawaz Sharif. — AP Photo
ISLAMABAD The Pakistan Muslim League-N has rejected criticism of its leader Nawaz Sharif's remarks about Ahmadis' rights following the suicide bombings on two mosques in Lahore last month. Mr Sharif upset religious and political circles last week after he said that “Ahmadi brothers and sisters are an asset” of the country. The former prime minister said Ahmadis were citizens of Pakistan.

Mr Sharif may have succeeded in pacifying leaders of the Ahmadi community and other minorities who have been criticising the Punjab government for its failure to provide them protection, but this provided an opportunity to his opponents to launch a campaign against him and his party.

PML-N spokesman Ahsan Iqbal told Dawn that the criticism was “just an act of exploitation”.

“Nawaz Sharif said what the Quaid-i-Azam had already stated that all Pakistanis were brothers irrespective of their religion, language or caste,” he added.

Mr Sharif's comments drew criticism from Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam, Jamaat-i-Islami, Wafaqul Madaris, Jamiat Ahl-i-Sunnat and Al-Hadith, Jamia Banuria and Khatm-i-Nabuwat Movement, Ulema and PML-Q.

In a statement, leaders of Wafaqul Madaris, an umbrella organisation of over 20,000 Madressahs, urged Mr Sharif to retract his statement and advised him not to “defy religion for petty political gains”.

JUI-F leaders termed the statement a “violation of the Constitution” as it had declared Ahmadis a minority community. “The PML-N chief should seek forgiveness from Muslims all over the world,” they said.

Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, the PML-Q leader, said Nawaz Sharif had issued the statement to “protect his properties in the UK”.

The participants of a recent Ulema seminar condemned Mr Sharif's remarks and termed it an attempt to appease the US.

Some religious leaders have even threatened to launch a campaign against the PML-N if Mr Sharif does not withdraw his statement.

Ahsan Iqbal criticised all those who were giving 'religious colour' to a statement which, according to him, had been issued in the 'national perspective'.

He said Mr Sharif had merely emphasised that every Pakistani citizen was entitled to equal respect and rights.

Mr Iqbal was of the opinion that it was wrong to see the remarks in the religious context. He accused Pervaiz Elahi of exploiting the issue for political gains.