LAHORE - Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry on Sunday claimed that the recent protests over Aasia Bibi issue had nothing to do with religion, but were about politics. And, he urged religious leaders and members of society to take ownership of a fight against ‘extremist ideologies’.

At a press beefing held regarding the upcoming ‘Rehmatul-il-Alameen Conferences’ being held this month across the country, the minister said the countrywide chaos following the apex court verdict was not a crisis of the government or the state but a societal crisis.

He admitted that during the protests, led by the Thereek-e-Labayk Pakistan (TLP) the state failed to safeguard those unarmed citizens who had a counter-argument, against those who wielded sticks and guns.

But he assured that government won’t let any group enforce its thought on others through force and intimidation. This ‘war of minds’ cannot be fought with weapons but reason, he stressed.

Fawad Chaudhry also took to rescuing Lahore NAB director general Saleem Shehzad by alleging that the PML-N had questioned the status of the official’s degree because he laid hand on Shehbaz Sharif.

A controversy is going on about the genuineness of his educational degree these days. The PML-N alleges his degree is fake while the National Accountability Bureau refutes the allegation.

The minister said Shehzad had been working with the NAB for the past two decades — during which the PML-N had also been in power. The opposition party should explain to the nation why this issue had not been raised then, he asserted.

The NAB said in a statement on Saturday that a mafia was operating against Saleem Shehzad.

Fawad, on occasion, also ruled out the option of appointing Shehbaz Sharif or Khursheed Shah the head of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

“Does it make any sense that younger Sharif [Shehbaz Sharif] probe into the corruption of his elder brother (Nawaz Sharif) while sitting in jail,” he mocked while giving an apparent reference to the cases against the opposition leader and predicting their outcome.

About Khursheed Shah, he said even the PPP did not know to which side he belonged.

If it was mandatory that PAC head must be from the opposition side then PTI would have no objection on Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s name, he said.

Criticising politics of JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the minister taunted that incumbent government was the only one in country’s history which was functioning without being in an alliance with Maulana Fazl.

Casting away rumours regarding political uncertainty, Fawad made it clear that government was strong enough to survive until the whole term.

On the Tareen-Cheema video leak issue, he said emergence of trivial conflicts within ranks of political parties and coalition partners was a normal phenomenon.

“Nobody should remain in fallacy that a crisis has erupted within ranks of the party [or the alliance]. Prime Minister Imran Khan is our leader and his orders are final for everyone.”

On financial crisis, he said PTI government inherited biggest financial mess but it had been sorted out now. He said 84 percent of the total amount of the national loan was taken by the previous governments of PML-N and PPP.

Fight of ideologies

Referring to the aftermath of Supreme Court verdict about Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who had been on death row for eight years in a blasphemy case, the minister said some people declared the apex court’s decision wrong even without reading it.

He insisted that country was not facing a political crisis but the issue pertained to ideological domain instead which could not be addressed with weapons, rather, logic and arguments were the right means to solve this problem. He urged the people to come forward to challenge the extremists’ thinking. He said the government will also work shoulder to shoulder with the religious parties to resolve this issue.

He questioned why a “particular segment of society needs to use this issue for its politics” and does so by “bringing up a new issue every week”.

Fawad said love for the Holy Prophet (PBUH) was the foundation of Islam but some groups were trying to misuse it for political gain.

Describing the situation as a “fight of ideologies”, the minister claimed that these groups are “taking advantage of religious leaders’ and society’s lack of ownership of this fight”.

“When you can’t present an argument against a different argument, and you are protesting against a Supreme Court verdict which no one has read, then there an ideological crisis takes birth,” Fawad Chaudhry said.

“The state’s failure was that it cannot safeguard those who had a counter-argument. One side had an argument and they also had weapons, while people on the other side were unarmed. Until the state can ensure a level playing field, the issue cannot be resolved,” he said. He encouraged people belonging to religious segments of society and other citizens to come forward to counter such groups.

“The first rebellion against these people should have come from religious segments [in society], but unfortunately it is not the case because of certain facts,” he said. “Keep in mind, it is a fight of ideas, and the war of ideologies is not fought with weapons but with arguments.”

He added that it is the responsibility of the state to ensure the availability of an environment where everyone can present their arguments.

The minister said that for the first time in country’s history the month of Rabiul Awwal was being observed on a state level. He said PM Imran Khan will inaugurate the International Khatam-e-Nabuwat conference which will be attended by renowned scholars from across the world.