Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik has compared firebrand cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri to the Pope while ridiculing him for wearing a similar headgear, earning the wrath of the country's Christians who demanded an apology from him for his "provocative" remarks.
"The Pope has a larger hat, Tahir-ul-Qadri's hat is smaller. Please ask him why he's acting like a semi-Pope," Malik told reporters earlier this week, shortly before the cleric marched into Islamabad with thousands of supporters to launch a protest aimed at pressuring the government to quit and dissolve the national and provincial assemblies.
On another occasion, Malik said Qadri's clothes made him look like a "Jewish padre."
Strongly reacting to his remarks, Father Emmanuel Yousaf Mani, Director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace and a senior priest of the Catholic Church, asked Malik to withdraw his statement "drawing a parallel between the Holy Father and Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri."
Mani described Malik's remarks as "unnecessary and provocative as there is no comparison or link between the two personalities."
"We (Christians) demand an apology from Mr Rehman Malik, who is otherwise assigned a responsible task, and request him to avoid any such remarks in the future," Mani said in a statement.
He said Pakistani Christians "feel deeply angered by such statements maligning the office and the position of Papacy."
Mani appealed to all leaders to keep "dissent and political battles within the limits of decency" because such remarks do not reflect the "better part of democratic culture."
He pointed out that while Pope Benedict XVI is an "undisputed leader of the Catholic Church, the largest faith group in the world, the credentials of Qadri are a prerogative of Pakistanis and Muslims to ascertain.
"On the other hand, the Pope has neither a political role nor ambitions in the 21st century states."
Mani said Pakistan's religious minorities have always stood with movements for democracy and human rights and would always strive for democracy and justice.