Sharif’s Pakistani Muslim League Nawaz Group (PML-N) is considered a conservative party that wants to woo the Islamist vote.
Pakistan's English-language “Dawn” newspaper quoted Sharif as saying that Pakistani counterterror operations -- in which civilians have also died -- are a “bloodbath of innocent Muslims” planned by President Pervez Musharraf “at the behest of others only to prolong his rule.”
“We in the PML-N opposed his policies and rejected dictation from abroad, and if the Taliban are also fighting for the same cause, then they should not carry out acts of terror in Punjab,” where the PML-N is the ruling party, Sharif said.
Sharif made the comments on March 14 at a seminary in Punjab’s capital Lahore, where multiple suicide attacks killed 54 inside a tightly guarded military garrison two days earlier. The founder of the seminary was killed in a suspected Taliban suicide attack last June.
Sharif's comments have since been widely condemned. The statement was debated in the national assembly and the provincial assembly of the North West Frontier Province, where thousands have died in militant attacks and military operations against the Taliban.
His party is trying to do damage control but his efforts have given Musharraf ammunition to once again justify his 1999 coup against Sharif’s elder brother and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Musharraf kept both brothers in prison and exile for nearly 10 years and is once again branding them Taliban sympathizers.
In a strong-worded editorial on March 16, “Dawn” called for the "most vigorous condemnation possible" of Sharif’s recent comments.
-- Abubakar Siddique