KARACHI: Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry on Sunday said the government would neither turn a blind eye to nor forget inciteful speeches made by religio-political leaders during the countrywide protest sit-ins against the acquittal of Aasia Bibi.
“No one should think the government will condone such behaviour,” the minister said while addressing a news conference in Karachi.
The statement came a day after the government launched a countrywide crackdown against the ‘miscreants’ involved in damaging public and private properties and vehicles during the protests.
The government took the decision to take action against the troublemakers amid criticism against it for striking a deal with the protesters in which there has been no mention of the damage caused to the public properties.
The government was also under fire for not taking any action against the protest leaders who had threatened judges and used seditious language against state institutions.
“Those who think that the state is weak will soon be in for a rude awakening,” Chaudhry said.
“The government had two options – to use state power which could have repercussions or go for a negotiated settlement to defuse the situation,” he said while justifying the deal with the protesters.
He added that the deal struck with the protesters was only firefighting and not a cure to the issue, adding that the government got the cities opened without any damage.
“The way the state property was vandalised and the language used against the judiciary and state institutions cannot be ignored or forgotten,” Chaudhry said.
The issue was resolved under a strategy, he said, adding that the government would not spare those involved in damaging the public property.
The minister said the government would take steps to dispel any aspersions that the writ of the government could be challenged. He said they could not tolerate rebellion against the state.
“The way our people’s property was damaged, the way the judges of the top court, the Pakistan Army and the government were [spoken against] and the kind of speeches that were made, the government will not ignore or forget them,” he asserted.
“This is not a matter of religion… this is rebellion. Should the state ignore mutiny? The credibility of a state that ignores rebellion is questionable. Therefore, we cannot turn a blind eye to it,” he said.
“The way the Constitution, the people, the political leadership, the military and the judiciary were held in contempt, it is unlikely that we will forgive it,” he added.
“We’ve seen that being in government has its challenges. Dealing with those challenges is our day-to-day responsibility. There are people who sit ‘outside’ [the government] who think they can give all the solutions, but the choices that are available to you are not so broad,” explained the information minister.
“What was happening was before you: hundreds of people were shutting down streets. The government had two options: we could have used state powers, but there was a fear that damage would be incurred; and if that happened, we would have been criticised and questioned as to why we did it. So we did ‘firefighting’,” he said, using a word he employed earlier to refer to damage control.
“This doesn’t mean that any Pakistani or the government can approve the conduct that was witnessed here. This was firefighting. We reopened the cities without any damage. But this is not a solution,” he added.
Lashing out at the Pakistan Peoples Party-led government in Sindh, Chaudhry said the PTI parliamentarians had complained of being victimised by the Sindh government, adding that such behavior was expected of the PPP.
“There has been ‘goonda raj’ in Sindh,” he said, added, “PPP leader Khursheed Shah gets upset whenever the PTI government speaks about thieves.”
He said Sindh had been engulfed in ethnic politics since 1970s. “It is because of the PTI that the province has come out of the ethnic politics,” he said, adding that the PTI had succeeded in closing the chapter of negative and ethnic politics in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. “The same will be repeated in Sindh,” he said.
The minister said that it was not the PPP that was founded by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, but of Asif Ali Zardari. He clarified never saying the PPP government would not last long.
He said corruption cases against different politicians could not be withdrawn, and there would be no NRO. “People gave us the mandate because we promised accountability. We can’t go back on our promises,” he said.
Chaudhry said the federal government released funds worth Rs750 billion for the Sindh government.
Criticising the Sindh police, he said if the federal government withdrew Rangers, the Sindh police could not even handle day-to-day affairs.
He said the biggest subject under discussion with a United Arab Emirates delegation that had visited the country recently was the resolution of Karachi’s drinking water problem.
“[On] Karachi’s infrastructure, each time they tell us to stop interfering in provincial matters,” he said about the Sindh government. “But you do not give the people anything, nor do you allow us to give them anything. This is not on,” he added.
“The people of Karachi and Sindh have reposed their trust in us… and whatever the federal government gives to the people in interior Sindh, we will give to the urban dwellers of Sindh,” he said.
Meanwhile, the minister said fake news and fake narratives were a challenge, particularly in the presence of vibrant social media with large number of users.
The proposed Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority would also regulate social media, he said while speaking at a panel discussion on “There is no Truth only Narrative”.
The minister told a questioner that private television channels “daily broadcast a number of news as breaking news” to be later proved fake.