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Musharraf Defenders Point to Successful Economy


As Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf seeks a further five-year term in office, his critics argue he has failed to honor his commitment to return the country to democracy. But the president's defenders maintain that he has brought a degree of stability to Pakistan that the country never knew under civilian rule. And as Correspondent Simon Marks reports, they cite the economy as one area that has experienced the benefits.

These are heady times at the Karachi Stock Exchange. While Pakistan is gripped by political turmoil, the country's economy is thriving .The exchange has seen its value rise 11-fold since General Musharraf seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999.

Karachi, the country's business capital, is benefiting from an annual average growth of 7.5 percent over the last four years.

And as in prosperous Western capitals, businesses are now beginning to cater for those people with wealth. Club Havana is Karachi's only cigar lounge -- launched six years ago by its British-educated owner Hamid Ali Khan. "You know what? Life is very good," he says. "I hate to say it because I was brought up to believe in democracy. I was brought up to believe in a great process of elections and all of that. But you know what? As a businessman, I think he's done a great job."

The view that Mr. Musharraf has delivered stability to Pakistan is widespread in Karachi's business community.

But also widely shared in the same city is the sense that the economic disparities in Pakistan have only widened under his watch.A slum in the heart of the city is close to one of Karachi's wealthiest neighborhoods. The government estimates that more than 40 million Pakistanis live on less than a $1.00 a day.

Local shopkeeper Deedar Ali Kohkhar says the economic gulf between rich and poor is growing. "The poor are poorer. He should control prices. Everything has doubled. Something that used to cost one rupee now costs two. Please tell him to lower prices. Flour has become very expensive. Sugar has gone up in price. Our main request to him is to control prices."

The symbols of poverty are on open display in Karachi's slums where young drug addicts inject themselves with fixes, unconcerned by our camera or local residents.

There is plenty of money in Pakistan. The country now has foreign exchange reserves of $16 billion, up from less than a billion dollars eight years ago.

But the failure of that money to trickle down to the poor has left many Pakistanis disillusioned with the promises made by politicians of all stripes. Liaquat Ali is a television repairman. "Why should people be interested in politics?" he asks. "Politicians always fulfill their own interests and leave. That's why people have backed away from politics. Politicians only advance their own interests."

Whatever Pakistan's political future, there will be pressure on the government from all sectors of society to maintain economic stability and improve the distribution of wealth.

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