Whose side is Sharif on?

Nicholas Schmidle asks, Can the U.S. really trust Nawaz Sharif?. Looking at Sharif’s past – a messy mix of political strongarming and kowtowing to radical Islamists – and his recent return to the political scene, Schmidle wonders whether or not American politicians are playing with fire by giving Sharif so much attention.

But as much as Sharif has been playing coy with the U.S. lately, his actions speak louder than his words. Take, for instance, his recent opposition to the use of drones in fighting the Taliban in Pakistan’s tribal regions – one of the most effective tools in the war to date. What does Sharif say?

Nawaz Sharif is trying to stop the use of drones in Pakistan:

In a luncheon meeting with EU Ambassadors here, in the context of forthcoming first EU-Pakistan Summit meeting being held in Brussels on 17 June. He said the US drone attacks were causing massive civilian casualties and also violating Pakistan’s sovereignty.

Sharif says that without handicapping the fight against the Taliban, the people will not support the efforts. But what do we see happening today in Pakistan? Pakistani tribesman are taking up arms against the Taliban, supporting government efforts, and cleaning up their own villages.

Nearly 400 tribesmen attacked five villages in the Dhok Darra area locally which are thought to be militant strongholds, the Associated Press news agency quoted district official Atif-ur-Rehman as saying.

The citizens’ militia had occupied three of the villages since Saturday and was trying to push the Taliban out of two others on Sunday, he said.

Some 20 houses of local tribesmen suspected of harbouring Taliban fighters were destroyed, the official said.

Nawaz Sharif is using his demonstrable political machine to drum up support for his own personal vanity. Let us not forget that, as Schmidle remembers,

In May 1998, he tested a nuclear weapon (ignoring pleas from the Clinton White House). Shortly after that, he tried to impose sharia law nationwide, drawing sharp condemnation from women and religious minorities.

“We made a nuclear explosion in May,” said Sharif, who nearly provoked a war with India a year later. “Now we will make another social explosion with this bill.” Sharif was toppled in the October 1999 coup that brought Musharraf to power. A year later, he and his family went into exile in Saudi Arabia. He spent the next seven years shuttling between Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom, scheming a way to return to office–and his home.

Sharif’s scheming for his own personal power threatens to undo not only the important-but-fragile progress in Pakistan’s efforts to fight its own domestic terrorists.