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LONDON, Jan 25: President Pervez Musharraf kicked off his three-day visit to the UK here on Friday with an hour-long talk on ‘Vision for Pakistan and Regional Harmony’ at a prestigious think tank as small groups of flag-waving and slogan-chanting people of Pakistani origin staged demonstrations against him outside and at the hotel where he and his entourage are staying.

The content of his talk at the think tank, the Royal United Strategic Institute (RUSI), was almost the same that he had delivered in other European capitals and Davos over the week.

He said the man in the street in Pakistan would see any attempt by foreign troops to enter Pakistan to fight the terrorists as an attack on Pakistan’s sovereignty. He said Pakistan would be happy to receive training for their troops by the Americans and even their intelligence help but not their physical intervention.

Saying that the US troops in Afghanistan were already short of numbers and they were extended in Iraq as well, he thought they would not have enough men to send into Pakistan in the first place” as they needed more troops in Afghanistan itself.

The president recounted the ‘successes’ he had achieved on the economic front since he took over when Pakistan had almost defaulted but in another context he said that during the 1990s Pakistan was one of the most sanctioned countries in the world.

He blamed the upsurge in militancy in the region on the United States which, he said had ditched Pakistan and Afghanistan after the Soviet Union had been defeated in the late 1980s. Now, he said, it would be almost impossible for the world to ditch the region since the strategic attention had shifted from Europe to the Middle East, Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran.

He claimed that Al Qaeda which was made up of mostly foreigners --Uzbeks, Chechens -- had already been defeated and now they were operating in groups of threes or twos as against large groups in the past.

He said the Taliban was an indigenous phenomenon and accused Baitullah Mehsud of leading it from South Waziristan. He claimed that the Taliban-operated suicide bombers were mostly young, illiterate and brainwashed people who thought they would go straight to heaven and their parents would also follow as a reward for their supreme sacrifice for the glory of Islam.

He claimed he had introduced the essence of democracy in the country and for the first time in Pakistan’s history all kinds of elections from local bodies to provincial, national, senate and presidential elections had been held in time and all the institutions had completed their constitutional tenures.

He promised that the next elections would be held in time and they would be free, fair, transparent and peaceful.

He reassured later during the Q&A session that the elections would be held on time. He also reassured the audience that Pakistan’s nuclear assets were under safe hands and their custodial control was fail-safe and that Pakistan did not need foreign help to safeguard them.

He was seemingly rattled when Dawn asked for his comments on suggestions that Pakistan’s ability to safeguard its nuclear assets and conduct a competent inquiry into Benazir Bhutto’s assassination came under suspicion when suspected terrorists like Rashid Rauf give the slip to Pakistani police and escaped.

He said: “It is people like you that cast such aspersions and then such aspersions get around and are picked up by the foreign media.”

He said he believed in human rights and freedom of the press, but implied that he would not permit people to attack police or the press to promote violence.

He repeated his charges against incarcerated Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry and said he was trying to bring the executive to a standstill and create hurdles in the way of his elections.