Pakistanis Reject Religious Extremism. Why Doesn't Nawaz Sharif?

A new poll shows that Pakistanis overwhelmingly see the Taliban and al Qaeda as a critical threat to the country. According to the report, “An overwhelming majority think that Taliban groups who seek to overthrow the Afghan government should not be allowed to have bases in Pakistan.” This should come as no surprise, Pakistanis have had a close look at what life would be like under Taliban rule both in neighboring Afghanistan and, more recently, at home.

It also makes more important a critical look at Nawaz Sharif as he continues to try to rebuild his political machine. Not only has Sharif been critical of attempts to capture or kill terrorist leader Baitullah Mehsud, he has a long history of working with religious extremists.

A former ISI official even arranged for Nawaz to meet with Osama bin Laden, who gave Sharif cash to support his political aspirations. According to the ISI official, Sharif told bin Laden, “I love jihad.”

“Nawaz Sharif insisted that I arrange a direct meeting with the Osama, which I did in Saudi Arabia. Nawaz met thrice with Osama in Saudi Arabia. The most historic was the meeting in the Green Palace Hotel in Medina between Nawaz Sharif, Osama and myself. Osama asked Nawaz to devote himself to “jihad in Kashmir”. Nawaz immediately said, ‘I love jihad.’ Osama smiled, and then stood up from his chair and went to a nearby pillar and said, ‘Yes, you may love jihad, but your love for jihad is this much.’ He then pointed to a small portion of the pillar. ‘Your love for children is this much,’ he said, pointing to a larger portion of the pillar. ‘And your love for your parents is this much,’ he continued, pointing towards the largest portion. ‘I agree that you love jihad, but this love is the smallest in proportion to your other affections in life.’”

More recently, Nawaz Sharif has been found in Afghanistan working with with the Taliban. Sharif has been called an “old hand” in Afghanistan who “had developed good working relations with almost all the Afghan Mujahideen leaders.”

Pakistanis recognize that religious extremists – the Taliban and al Qaeda in particular – represent an existential threat to the nation. Nawaz Sharif, apparently, feels otherwise.

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