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Last Updated: Friday, 12 October 2007, 16:07 GMT 17:07 UK
Musharraf blames captured troops
By Owen Bennett Jones
BBC News, Rawalpindi

Pakistani army in Miranshah
The army faces well-armed, well-trained militants in Waziristan
Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf has blamed a group of more than 200 soldiers for their capture by pro-Taleban militants.

"I think they acted unprofessionally in that they were trying to clear a road block without taking any precautionary measures," he told the BBC.

The fact the president criticised the soldiers despite their still being in captivity is a sign of his frustration.

He knows that many Pakistanis do not agree with army actions in Waziristan.

Gen Musharraf, who is still chief of army staff, is also aware that others are shocked that the militants have been able to win control of parts of the tribal area on the border.

'Position of strength'

The president was speaking in an exclusive BBC interview at his office near the army's general headquarters in Rawalpindi.

Pervez Musharraf
I wouldn't say that I am fully satisfied with the operation
President Musharraf

He said the troops, kidnapped in August in South Waziristan near the Afghan border, should have made sure "they occupied the heights and dominated the position" before they did anything else.

The soldiers were captured without firing a shot. The militants have told the BBC that the authorities have shown "minimal interest" in getting the soldiers released.

But Gen Musharraf said the authorities were using a combination of negotiation and force: "We have to deal from a position of strength. I think we will come to a solution."

Over the last four years about 1,000 Pakistani security personnel have been killed fighting militants in or near Waziristan.

Gen Musharraf has been under strong US pressure to fight harder in Waziristan.

But the use of air power has resulted in civilian deaths which turned some Wazir civilians against the Pakistani forces.

"I wouldn't say that I am fully satisfied with the operation," Gen Musharraf said. "I am not. I am not satisfied. It is working partially [but] we need to do better."

Bhutto

He also spoke about the planned return next Thursday of the opposition leader Benazir Bhutto. For nearly a decade she has been living in London and Dubai in self-imposed exile.

Benazir Bhutto
Ms Bhutto says she will return on Thursday

"I have sent messages that she should delay her return," the general said.

And asked if he would try to prevent her return if she ignored his advice, he said: "No, that is not the case, but I would urge her not to."

Benazir Bhutto now feels it is safe to return because Gen Musharraf has passed a so-called National Reconciliation Ordinance dropping corruption charges against her and other politicians.

She still faces some risks. The Supreme Court could strike down the ordinance as unconstitutional.

There is also the issue of the time period (1986-1999) covered by the ordinance. Some of the allegations against Benazir Bhutto relate to events after 1999.

The Pakistani authorities have in the past accused her of involvement in the oil-for-food scandal.

They threatened to charge here with UN sanctions busting on the grounds that a UAE-based company of which she was chairperson made illegal payments to Saddam Hussein's regime.

Gen Musharraf implicitly acknowledged that case could continue.

"Whatever is covered by the ordinance is covered. And whatever is not, is not," he said. "We will abide by that document strictly."

Third term?

The general also spoke about his own political ambitions. He is now beginning his second term as president and under the constitution he can serve only two terms.

But Gen Musharraf did not rule out seeking a third five-year stint as president even if that did mean changing the constitution.

"If the people want to change it, they have a right to," he said. "Who knows what will happen after five years."



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