ISLAMABAD, May 27: President Gen Pervez Musharraf announced on Monday that elections to the National and Provincial Assemblies would be held from Oct 7 to 11 for restoring “genuine democracy” in the country.

Addressing the nation by radio and television, the president assured that general elections would be held in a fair and free atmosphere. “It is my commitment with the nation that these elections will be fair and transparent, and all foreign observers who intend to witness them are welcome,” he said.

The president conceded that “certain irregularities” were committed in the referendum and apologized for it. He claimed that the youth, women and business community had supported him. “But I learnt that some people in their carelessness and ignorance performed some unworthy acts. If such is the case...(then) I am aggrieved and feel very sad. I apologize for this. I am particularly sad that my well-wishers who have always been supportive of me, may have found something unpleasant.”

Talking about India-Pakistan relations, he said there existed external threats as the enemy forces had gathered on the borders and their navy and air force had occupied forward positions. “Confronting them is the Pakistan army, navy and air force. Whole of the nation is with them. We will fight till the last drop of our blood but will not let any harm to the motherland.”

The president rejected Indian allegations of cross border terrorism. He said he wanted to give a message to the international community that Pakistan did not want war. “Pakistan will not be the one to initiate war. We want peace in the region ... and we have also assured the world community that Pakistan is doing nothing across the Line of Control, and Pakistan will never allow export of terrorism anywhere in the world from within Pakistan,” he assured.

Gen Musharraf pointed out that Pakistan had already taken bold steps and initiatives since his speech on Jan 12. “But, unfortunately, we have not seen any positive response from the Indian side,” he regretted.

The president urged the international community to persuade India to move towards normalization of relations by reducing tension on the borders. This, he added, was of mutual benefit for the two countries.

Gen Musharraf said the international community should also urge India to initiate the process of dialogue, stop atrocities being perpetrated on the people of occupied Kashmir and allow international media and human right organizations to enter occupied Kashmir and see the ground realities there for themselves.

“And I also urge the world that they must take note of atrocities being committed in Kashmir, in Gujarat and elsewhere in India against Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and also against their one scheduled castes.

“Tension is at its apex, fear of war has not been averted. Why such a situation? I would like to review it,” he said, recalling that there was an attack on Indian parliament on Dec 13. “That was a terrorist attack, which we fully condemned and termed it a terrorist attack. But the Indian leadership adopted an irresponsible and hasty attitude. They demonstrated the traditional Indo-Pakistan enmity and while doing so, hurled the allegation at us. And as a result, brought their army to the borders.”

This tension, the president continued, was already there, but some improvement had occurred when on May 14 there was a terrorist attack in Jammu in which many civilians were killed, for which Pakistan felt very sad. “And we feel that any attack targeting civilians is a terrorist attack. We intensely condemned it and we feel that anybody involved in such an attack wants to destabilize Pakistan.”

The world, he pointed out, knew that Pakistan was also faced with terrorism during these times. A church was attacked in Islamabad, where many foreigners died. Later Frenchmen died in Karachi, after being attacked by suicide bombers. “We did not accuse India of these attacks. Hence I understand that these days, such terrorism is perpetrated by some organizations or groups who want to destabilize us. We condemn them. There is no need to aggravate terrorism on account of this. And we have recently witnessed (Gani) Lone’s martyrdom, which was a very sad event. May God rest his soul in heaven.”

The late Lone, the president said, was an important member of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference. “We mourn his death,” he said, adding that blame for this was also readily put on Pakistan and ISI, and “I ask the Indian authorities that at such a place, where Lone was addressing the public, with army on all four sides, how could the people who martyred Lone, disappear? Did they wish away in air? So far, their whereabouts remain unknown.”

Gen Musharraf questioned where were those who had shot dead Mr Lone... which Pakistan would like to know. “I would like to say that all aggressive and offensive accusations are from the Indian side. This increases war hysteria. We don’t accept it at any cost,” he declared.

The president said that despite such provocations Pakistan had adopted a policy of tolerance and patience. “But this should not be taken as weakness on our part. During this period we have been undertaking measures for our defence and would continue doing so.”

Gen Musharraf said that Pakistan is a responsible country. “In my address of Jan 12, I had said that Pakistan will not be used for terrorism against anybody. I reiterate it. I want to assure the world that no infiltration is taking place from across the LoC. But I want to clarify one thing that freedom movement is continuing in occupied Kashmir and if any act takes place against Indian repression Pakistan should not be held responsible. We don’t want war, but if one is imposed on us we will give a befitting reply to that.”

Kashmir, he pointed out, lived in the heart of every Pakistani. Pakistan had and would always fulfil its moral, political and diplomatic duty towards Kashmir. “Pakistan will remain by your side in your freedom struggle,” he assured the Kashmiris.

He said Pakistanis were not daunted by enemy threats. “We will face the situation with courage, conviction and guts.”

Islam, he said, was a religion of peace that preached amity, progress and peace. “But if war is imposed, a musalman is not afraid of it and doesn’t retreat but with the cry of Allah-o-Akbar he jumps into the war to fight. Such a situation exists now,” the president said.

Kashmiris, he said, were a target of tyranny and “we are being threatened with war...” He assured the people that he would come up to their expectations.

The president said he had decided to take the nation into confidence. He said he had been meeting politicians, journalists and Kashmiri leaders to discuss with them the current situation as “we are at the cross-roads of history and confronted with a difficult situation”.

Nevertheless, he said, he felt sad that some of the politicians who were invited by him did not come for discussions. “I think at this crucial juncture and delicate time, national unity demands that all of us should rise above personal and political interests and think in terms of national interest,” he added. The president said that since many people had advised him to reinvite those politicians, he had invited them again. “I would like to remove doubts and suspicious of all politicians,” he said.