ISLAMABAD, July 18: President Pervez Musharraf believes the latest spate of suicide bombings and other related incidents in the country have clearly drawn the battle lines between the forces of moderation and extremism, and according to him, the biggest challenge for the government now is to effectively block the rising tide of Talibanisation from the tribal region to the country’s ‘settled areas’.

However, he says no matter how complex the situation may be, under no circumstances would he use it as a pretext to either impose emergency or postpone the general election.

During the course of a lengthy question-and-answer session with newspaper editors on Wednesday, Gen Musharraf also admitted that he would like to remain in power to ensure, what he called, a unified command to take on the forces of extremism and terrorism.

And in order to do that he would prefer to get re-elected from the present assemblies and that too without doffing his uniform. “Yes, I will remain the way I am,” he said while pointing towards his military uniform.

The president’s declaration may put to rest speculations doing the rounds in the country for months, not just about the possibility of imposing emergency rule, but also about the mode of his re-election as the head of the state. However, the announcement is bound to spark a fresh debate on the constitutionality of such a move where the incumbent army chief intends to seek re-election from an elected parliament.

President Musharraf’s justification has been pretty straightforward. He believes a civilian government on its own cannot handle the militancy situation, and there is a definite need for a joint effort in which a military-president can effectively use the security forces in the troubled areas.

And in his words, since he is opposed to the idea of amending the rules or the Constitution to call an early general election and to seek his own election from the new assemblies, he has decided to get re-elected from the present assemblies.

Perhaps the basis of his reasoning was the cut-off point for the presidential elections, which was in the middle of October. Since the next general elections are not expected before this period, technically it becomes impossible for Gen Musharraf to remain in power without getting re-elected from the present assemblies.

Although faced with growing opposition and a series of challenges from the chief justice crisis to the Lal Masjid aftermath in the form of suicide bombings, President Musharraf showed little sign of weariness or fatigue. In fact, throughout the meeting he gave an impression of someone who was in complete control of the situation.

A few thought his sense of humour, which disappeared at the height of the judicial crisis, was also back.

The president’s main theme during the discourse was the challenge posed by what he referred to as talibanization. “Yes, Al Qaeda is there, but because of our actions, it is on the run,” Gen Musharraf said.

“And we are also dealing with the militant Taliban in Waziristan and elsewhere in the tribal areas.”

But according to him, “it was talibanization … the way extremists were spreading their influence in the settled areasoutside Fata that I think poses the most serious challenge,” the president said.

As he was speaking to the editors, tribal militants in North Waziristan again struck, this time killing seventeen more security personnel. More than fifty troops from the army, paramilitary forces and police recruits have died in recent attacks, with another deadly bombing in Islamabad on Tuesday indicating that civilians too were now as vulnerable as those in uniform.

Gen Musharraf called it a case of direct confrontation. “The stage has come where it is now clearly a battle between (the forces of) moderation and extremism”, he said. And he said this was the time where the media and the society will have to decide if they would like to support the government in the fight against extremism, or to sit back and allow such forces to gain further strength.

Describing the situation as extremely serious, he said if there were a few more incidents of bombing, it may have a direct bearing on the overall situation, and may even effect foreign investment. If that happens, he said, “then we are in for trouble”.

While defending the security operation against the Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa militants, the president said they have solid information that the clerics who managed the Lal Masjid had direct links with some of the top militant leaders operating from Waziristan and Malakand. He didn’t give details of the entire network, but said they have managed to identify the bigwigs dealing with recruitment and training of suicide bombers, and said the aim is to go for them at the right time, and to hit them hard.

He also presented some details of the troop deployment in the districts that border the troubled tribal belt, and said it was part of the grand strategy to contain the spread of Talibanization. Gen Musharraf said a division-strong contingent each has been sent in the Northern and Southern districts, covering areas ranging from Malakand and D.I. Khan. The president said troops will remain there till December when a newly trained and better equipped paramilitary force will take charge of handling the militancy situation.

Showing yet another sign of confidence, the president also picked on his critics in the United States, particularly those officials who have been questioning his sincerity in dealing with Al-Qaeda and Taliban issue. He flatly rejected the latest intelligence report that talked of Al-Qaeda finding new haven in the border region of Pakistan. “What the hell are they blaming us for”, he said. The president said he was neither taking nor was prepared to take any dictation from the US or any other country, and said he would only act in Pakistan’s own interest, keeping in view the country’s own sensitivities.