Lahore: Former premier and PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif has created ripples in Pakistan`s political and religious circles by saying that the members of the minority Ahmedi sect are his brothers and sisters and that militants should be flushed out wherever they are active.
Speaking a week after 95 Ahmedis were killed during terrorist attacks on two mosques of the sect that has been declared "non-Muslim" under Pakistani laws, Sharif said the Ahmedis too are citizens of the country.
"Ahmadis are our brothers and sisters," he said.
His comments came in the wake of Ahmedi leaders expressing dismay over the Punjab government`s apathetic attitude towards protecting marginalised sections of society.
Sharif`s PML-N party heads the coalition government in Punjab.
Sharif further told reporters that militants have no religion or boundaries.
"It is useless to identify them with one particular area. They must be chased wherever they were hiding. The government alone cannot fight terrorism, rather nations fight such wars," he said.
"The entire nation must stand up to the threat because it threatens its existence," Sharif said.
Over the past few days, there have been repeated calls for action against militants based in southern Punjab who were linked to the attacks on the Ahmedi mosques.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik has said militants from southern Punjab have joined hands with Taliban and al Qaeda to destabilise Pakistan.
Sharif said action should be taken against the militants, irrespective of where they came from.
"Wherever these militants came from, they played havoc with Lahore. They should be caught and taken to task. Some of them were caught in Lahore and they are giving good leads to their network," he said.
"People should rest assured that the federal and provincial governments are using all resources to win this war," Sharif said.
A separate cell has been set up in Punjab to deal with terrorism, collect information and prepare a strategy to counter the menace, he said.
However, Sharif`s comments on the Ahmedis drew sharp criticism from religious parties like Khatm-e-Nabuwat Movement, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam and Jamaat-e-Islami.
The KNM, which has been at the forefront of the movement against Ahmedis and played a key role in getting the minority sect declared as "non-Muslim" through a constitutional amendment in 1974, did not condemn the recent attack on the Ahmedi mosques. KNM head Maulana Ilyas Chinauti said Sharif should seek "forgiveness from Allah and the people of Pakistan for calling the Ahmedis his brothers".
"Ahmedis are traitors and they deserve no sympathy whatsoever. Nawaz Sahrif is trying to please the US by showing sympathy for Ahmedis," he said.
Sharif had hurt the feeling of all Muslims and KNM would stage protests till he apologised, he said.
JUI president Maulana Samiul Haq said his party would launch a countrywide protest if Sharif did not take back his statement.
Jamaat-e-Islami leader Farid Paracha said it was unfortunate that the PML-N had started toeing the line of the US.
Paracha said Ahmedis could never be "brothers or friends" of Muslims and a "true Muslim must not develop any relation with Ahmedis".
In a statement issued yesterday, leaders of the Wafaqul Madaris-al-Arabia - an umbrella organisation of over 12,000 madrassas - called the Ahmedis "traitors" and "infidels" and said they could not be brothers of Muslims until they "converted to Islam".
The organisation`s leaders urged Sharif to retract his statement and advised him not to "defy religion for petty political gains".