Pakistani president, British PM meet in London

Monday, January 28, 2008

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf held talks with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in London on Tuesday, reassuring his host that Pakistan will hold a fair election next month and is ready to continue a sustained fight against terrorism and extremism.

Gordon Brown

The visit has been widely called President Musharraf's "charm offensive." The Pakistani leader has held talks in Brussels, Paris, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland and now in London in an effort which has been seen as an attempt to shore up European support for his government.

His message throughout has been much the same - namely that Pakistan has been successful in fighting Islamic extremists, that his government can sustain that effort, that it has a political strategy to wean local Pakistanis away from extremist ideology and that it is committed to democracy.

Pervez Musharraf

Speaking at a joint news conference with Prime Minister Gordon Brown, President Musharraf rejected the notion that his government has failed in its efforts.

"We have not failed. We are going along fighting al Qaida, fighting militant Taleban and fighting Talebanization flowing outside," he said. "And also fighting extremism in some segments of our society in Pakistan."

"The question that needs to be asked is how come if General Musharraf is our best bet to fight terrorism, how come terrorism is increasing by leaps and bounds. Last year was the bloodiest year for Pakistan, culminating in the assassination of [opposition leader] Benazir Bhutto," said Khan.

President Musharraf's government has come under increasing criticism at home and abroad, and world leaders have repeatedly urged him to move ahead with democratization.

President Musharraf said he reassured Prime Minister Brown about the upcoming vote.

"I did inform the Prime Minister [of] our strong desire to go forward with the elections and to ensure that elections will be fair, free and transparent," said Mr. Musharraf.

The elections are scheduled for February 18 and opposition politician Imran Khan says they will be vital. He said it is also important that western powers support the process.

"In my opinion the only way forward for Britain and the United States is to back not people, not individuals, not political parties, but the democratic process. They should back free and fair elections in Pakistan. It is the only way out of this quagmire," he said.

Khan was among hundreds of anti-Musharraf protesters outside Prime Minister Brown's offices at Number 10 Downing Street.