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Sunday, October 17, 1999 Published at 20:19 GMT 21:19 UK

World: South Asia

Musharraf promises 'true democracy'

General Musharraf said Pakistan had hit rock bottom

Pakistan's new military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, has said he has no intention of remaining in power for longer than it takes to lead the country towards what he called 'true democracy'.

However, he gave no specific date for elections.

Pakistan in crisis
In an address which lasted 15 minutes, Gen Musharraf said that the previous elected government had been "merely a label of democracy, not the essence of it".

"I shall not allow the people to be taken back to the evil of sham democracy," he said.

He announced plans to set up a six-member national security council that would give "guidance" to the cabinet of ministers, and promised a free press and religious tolerance.

Troop withdrawal

He said that Pakistan would exercise nuclear restraint and went on to announce a unilateral military de-escalation in the border dispute with India over Kashmir.

BBC's Mike Wooldridge examines the content of the general's speech
He pledged "to withdraw all troops sent to the area in the recent past".

At the same time Gen Musharraf said Pakistan would continue to support Kashmiris in their struggle for self determination.

"India must end its repression of the Kashmiri people and respect their fundamental human rights," he said.

[ image:  ]
He congratulated Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee on his election victory and welcomed his offer of friendly relations.

"The 20th Century saw our transition to independence, but the region has unfortunately remained mired in conflict and economic deprivation," he said.

"Together Pakistan and India can change this scenario."

Rock bottom

On foreign policy, Gen Musharraf said there would be no change.

[ image: General Musharraf has vowed to eradicate corruption]
General Musharraf has vowed to eradicate corruption
Pakistan would aim to strengthen ties with Islamic countries, and seek a "just and peaceful" resolution of the conflict in Afghanistan.

He said it was important for Pakistan to maintain friendly relations with all major powers, especially the United States.

Explaining his reasons for taking power, Gen Musharraf painted a gloomy picture of today's Pakistan.

He said the economy was crumbling, the country had lost its credibility, state institutions had been demolished, cracks were appearing in the federation and people who were once brothers were now at each other's throats.

He ended: "We have hit rock bottom. We have no choice but to rise, and rise we will."

He said he had sacrificed one of Pakistan's limbs - the constitution - in order to save its body - the nation. But the constitution had only been temporarily suspended.

"This is not martial law," he said, but rather "another path toward democracy."

International pressure

The BBC's correspondent in Islamabad, Owen Bennett-Jones, says that General Musharraf will come under considerable international pressure to name a date for democratic elections.

The BBC's Owen Bennett-Jones: "The speech was short on specific commitments"
The United States has cut off aid to Pakistan in protest at the imposition of military rule. The European Union has threatened to do the same unless the army provides a timetable for the return to civilian government.

The former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif remains in "protective custody" at an undisclosed location.

His bank account, and that of his predecessor, Benazir Bhutto, have been frozen.

In his speech, Gen Musharraf announced his intention to introduce a strict austerity programme, and promised that he would make public his own tax return. He also said he would crack down on financial crime.

'Horrendous' corruption

[ image: Tght security around the National Assembly building]
Tght security around the National Assembly building
"Corruption of horrendous proportions threatens the very basis of our society," he said.

Those who had looted national wealth would be ruthlessly pursued, he added, and gave tax defaulters four weeks to pay their debts or face prosecution.

The UK has joined Canada in calling for Pakistan's suspension from the Commonwealth.

Commonwealth foreign ministers will debate the issue at a special meeting in London on Monday.

But contrary to the broad international condemnation of the military's takeover, Saudi Arabia has voiced its support for the coup.

The Saudi Defence Minister, Prince Sultan bin Abdel Aziz, said his government had great confidence in the Pakistani armed forces, and in their capacity to protect all Pakistanis.

He said Saudi Arabia - which provides hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Pakistan - hoped for calm and stability there.

Other related stories:

  • UK tells Pakistan to expect suspension
  • Spotlight on Pakistan's Taleban connection
  • Pakistan declares state of emergency
  • Text of Musharraf's declaration
  • 'Plot to kill' coup leader
  • Politician tells of house arrest
  • Pakistan's coup: The 17-hour victory

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