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Musharraf claims freeing Pak from extremism

New York, September 21
Defending his decision to renege on his pledge to step down as Army chief, Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf has claimed his leadership is freeing his country from the menace of extremism and that this national "renaissance" might be lost if he steps down as Army chief at the end of this year.

In an interview to the New York Times today, General Musharraf said he had succeeded in breaking up the network of a top Pakistani scientist who provided illicit nuclear technology to other countries, adding that full extent of that network was not yet known.

Of his promise to serve only as the country's civilian President after December 31, General Musharraf said, "Yes, I did give my word that I would." The step has been viewed as fulfilling his larger promise to return Pakistan to democratic rule, "but the issue is now far greater than this."

During his hour-long interview, General Musharraf claimed Pakistan was making significant inroads into Al-Qaida, arresting around 600 suspects, ending the terrorist network's illicit fund-raising in major cities and breaking up long established bases in remote border areas. This effort required "continuity", he said.

"This was a culture, a society which was moving towards extremism and fundamentalism and I am trying to reverse this trend and give voice to the vast majority of Pakistanis who are moderate," he said.

Speaking with regimental rigour, General Musharraf claimed that Islamabad was already enjoying the fruits of democracy, with local elections, functioning legislatures, freedom of speech and an independent press and empowerment of women.

He said he was certain that he had dismantled the network of disgraced nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan's atom bomb, who was exposed this year as a major furnisher of illicit nuclear know-how and material to North Korea, Libya and Iran.

But said he was not certain if the full extent of Khan's activities had been discovered.

US intelligence officials, the Times said, believe that the three countries might have accounted for less than 50 per cent of the network's customers.

"I'm 200 per cent sure that it has been shut down," General Musharraf said of Khan's network.

He rejected charges that his government had denied US investigators the chance to question Khan, whom he pardoned, saying the US never requested this.

Asked what would be the response if they did ask, he said, "We wouldn't let them. That would show a lack of trust in ourselves. I mean, we must trust our own agencies." PTI
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