Shahbaz’s ‘spare Punjab’ plea – by Aijaz Qamar

Originally Published at DAWN!

DISGUSTING, sickening and outrageous were some of the adjectives that came to my mind when I heard the Punjab chief minister, Shahbaz Sharif, begging the Taliban to spare his province on the grounds that his ruling PML-N shared the terrorist group’s anti-US agenda.

Frankly speaking, these adjectives are incredibly insufficient to describe the pain it must have caused to the thousands of men, women and children who lost their loved ones in the terrorist attacks masterminded and executed by the Taliban across the country.

What was the younger Sharif thinking when he made these thoughtless remarks? Was it a slip of the tongue or a poor choice of words or was there more to it?

I tend to believe that there is a lot more to what Shehbaz Sharif said if viewed in the context of what the Sharifs have been saying and doing since they launched their political career in the 1980s. The Sharifs have a history of deep contacts and relationship with some terrorist groups. According to a June 22, 2005 report in the Asia Times the Sharifs’ relationship with these groups dates back to the 1980s when Osama bin Laden paid Nawaz Sharif a huge sum of money to oust the first Benazir Bhutto government. The allegation also figured in a book The New Jackals by Simone Reeve, a British journalist who wrote extensively on terror-related issues.

Bin Laden was not the only terrorist that Sharif has been accused of having close ties with. According to Simon Reveev, “Photographs now in the possession of senior Pakistani intelligence officials reportedly show [sic] close association of Nawaz Sharif, with Ramzi Yousef’s maternal uncle Zahid Al Shaikh and one of his brothers.”

Ramzi Yousef also plotted to kill Benazir Bhutto in 1993; the plot was funded by Osama bin Laden.

When Ramzi Yousef was plotting to kill Ms Bhutto in Karachi, a leader of the Sipah-I-Sahaba was a minister in the PML-N-led 1990-1993 Punjab government. It was not just a coincidence that Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah in the Shahbaz Sharif government was recently spotted visiting a Sipah-i-Sahaba religious seminary in Jhang, though the PML-N tried to dismiss it as a campaign folly.

However, the PML-N’s history of close associations with Sipah-i-Sahaba and other extremist groups puts the visit in a perspective that makes it very hard to believe that Rana’s visit was only an electioneering event.

Are we headed for a Pakistan ruled by politicians who wear suits and ties but think and act like the Taliban? That the Sharifs may be thinking of finishing the unfinished agenda of a Shariah Bill they could not pass in the 1990s is really frightening.

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