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Musharraf outlines 'road to democracy' on Pakistan's 54th Independence Day

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    Musharraf outlines 'road to democracy' on Pakistan's 54th Independence Day

    Source: CNN


    Pakistan's president, General Pervez Musharraf, has announced that his country will begin its return to democracy on October 1 next year.

    Elections would be held on that date at provincial and federal levels, he said.

    Speaking on Pakistan's 54th anniversary of independence Musharraf also said he was willing to "go to any length" to build good ties with neighboring India and settle disputes between the two nuclear rivals.

    The announcements give an insight into how the military ruler plans to implement his "road to democracy" and boost fragile South Asian ties.

    Musharraf took power in a bloodless coup in October 1999 and declared himself president in June.

    Pakistan's Supreme Court, which last year ruled Musharraf was justified in seizing power, has earlier ordered a return to full democracy by October 2002.

    Musharraf has promised to abide by the order, but until now had not given any indication of when democracy would be restored to this nation of 140 million people.

    Announcing the date for elections Musharraf vowed to install a democratic rule that will last.

    He told newly elected district councils that nationwide polls will be held October 1-11 next year.

    Local elections, which Musharraf has said were the first step to democracy, were completed last week.

    Preparations for elections to the provincial assemblies and two houses of parliament are scheduled to take place between September this year and June 30, 2002.

    There was no indication in his speech that he intended to give up his leadership position.

    Nor did he mention whether the elections will involve more than one political party -- although he has said in the past that future elections would be open to established national parties.

    Pakistan's military has ruled Pakistan for 27 out of the country's 54-year history.


    Pakistani border officers pass sweets to their Indian counterparts near Lahore to celebrate the day
    Successive civilian governments have been thrown out by the military on charges of corruption and ineptitude.

    In a bid to promote transparency and encourage international investors, Musharraf outlined reforms to introduce more checks and balances into Pakistan's government.

    Musharraf's ability to return the country to democracy is a key step in lifting U.S. sanctions against this poor country, which is heavily dependent on foreign loans.

    Washington imposed sanctions on Pakistan following the 1999 military coup.

    A U.S. law bars most types of aid to countries that have overthrown democratic governments.

    The sanctions are particularly damaging to Pakistan because it was already dealing with earlier sanctions imposed following underground nuclear tests in 1998.

    In another speech Musharraf urged Pakistanis to show restraint in judging last month's failed summit with India.

    He promised to seek more high-level talks with New Delhi after talks collapsed because of differences over Kashmir.

    "We are willing to go to any length in order to maintain friendly relations with all our neighbors, which is particularly true with regard to India," he said.

    His comments came a day after he called for both sides to draw back in a new war of words with India over the summit.

    Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee sent Musharraf a greeting to mark Pakistan's day.

    Vajpayee said India too was committed to establishing a relationship of durable peace and friendship with Pakistan

    Both sides have traded blame for the collapse of the summit, but Vajpayee and Musharraf have agreed to meet again to try to settle their row over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.

    India accuses Pakistan of sponsoring the revolt in about 45 percent of Kashmir ruled by India, which has taken over 30,000 lives.

    Islamabad, which controls a little more than a third of the region, denies the charge and says it provides only moral and diplomatic support to the Kashmiri freedom fighters.

    The rest of Kashmir is controlled by China.

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