- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 13, 2002

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf warned yesterday that India is preparing another nuclear test and said he would ask President Bush today to try to prevent it.

"There are certain indications I did share with the U.S. leadership" that India was preparing another nuclear test, Gen. Musharraf said.

In a speech at the Ronald Reagan building, Gen. Musharraf also said he would continue to crack down on religious extremists. "I keep telling everyone that Pakistan is a moderate Islamic society," he said.

He said religious party candidates have never garnered more than 5 percent of the votes in Pakistan, proving that "Pakistanis are religious, certainly, but we are not extremists."

He said his pledge in a nationwide speech Jan. 12 to crack down on extremists and religious hatred was "welcomed by the masses of people They are with me."

Speaking at a forum held by the Woodrow Wilson Center and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Gen. Musharraf offered little new response to Indian demands that Pakistan end support for terrorists, seal its border to prevent infiltration and hand over 20 accused terrorists.

India has massed hundreds of thousands of troops along their common border to pressure Pakistan to halt the flow of extremists into Indian-controlled Kashmir and India's heartland after an attack on its Parliament Dec. 13.

Gen. Musharraf simply noted that "Pakistanis are involved in the issue of Kashmir." He said he regretted that India refused to sign a joint statement after a summit in Agra last year that would have recognized Kashmir as a central issue in bilateral relations. He also called once more for international mediation, which India rejects.

Gen. Musharraf is seeking U.S. aid, relief of the $3 billion debt owed to the U.S. government, access to the U.S. market for Pakistani textiles and access to U.S. military equipment.

After seizing power in a 1999 coup against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Gen. Musharraf was shunned by U.S. officials even though the move proved popular in Pakistan.

Gen. Musharraf said yesterday that the spirit of democracy had never existed in his country, implying that its elected leaders provided only corrupt and ineffective rule.

After September 11, Gen. Musharraf won U.S. gratitude by providing official backing for the war on terrorism and access to Pakistani airspace and bases for raids on terrorist hide-outs in Afghanistan.

He said he did not fear that the United States would abandon Pakistan as it did after providing massive aid during the U.S.-backed Afghan resistance against Soviet rule in the 1980s.

And he noted that as a military man, he had seen two wars and was not a strong advocate of a military solution to the problems with India.

"Maybe I am the right man for peace," he said.

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