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Former Islamist seeks to turn the tide of religious extremism in Pakistan

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Extremism in Pakistan exists not just in the Taliban strongholds in Pakistan's northwestern states bordering Afghanistan – where schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai was shot for standing up for girls' education – but also in the country's heartland, Nawaz said.

"Our analysis is that Pakistani society has been affected by extremism to an unacceptable level," Nawaz said.

He cited the example of Salman Taseer, governor of Punjab and a liberal politician close to President Asif Ali Zardari, who was shot dead in January 2011 by his bodyguard for suggesting Pakistan's blasphemy law be reformed.

Taseer had angered many people because of his defence of a Christian woman who was sentenced to death on blasphemy charges. Lawyers hailed Taseer's killer as a hero, tossing rose petals at him after he was arrested. More than 500 lawyers offered to defend him for free.

"The way that the murderer was treated as a hero openly and brazenly, that's an indication," Nawaz said.

Just this month, Pakistan authorities in the southern city of Karachi were caught off guard by the shootings of polio vaccination workers, saying they had not expected attacks in areas so far from Taliban strongholds.

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