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Pakistani President, in Britain, Rejects US Offer of Troops

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf took his diplomatic offensive to Britain Friday at the start of a four-day visit. Speaking in London, the president quickly rejected any U.S. offer to send combat troops into Pakistan, and he chided the West for not acknowledging Pakistan's efforts to fight terrorism and for judging the country only on western notions of human rights and democracy. VOA's Sonja Pace reports from London.

President Musharraf took his message to London's prestigious defense and security forum, the Royal United Services Institute.

He reminded the West of Pakistan's help in defeating the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980's and of Pakistan's strategic importance in today's war on terror and al Qaida. Mr. Musharraf rejected criticism that his government has not done enough to fight extremists and terrorists. He said Pakistan has a multi-pronged approach against al Qaida terrorists, the Taliban and other Islamic extremists.

At the same time, President Musharraf quickly rejected any notion that his government would accept an offer from Washington to send U.S. combat troops into parts of Pakistan to help fight extremists.

"They [the Americans] have their hands full in Afghanistan, they need more force in Afghanistan," said President Musharraf. "I can't imagine their coming to Pakistan. They will dilute in Afghanistan so please handle Afghanistan first of all."

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said the United States would be willing to send troops into parts of Pakistan for joint operations against al Qaida.

During his speech in London, President Musharraf spent much of his time answering frequently cited western criticism of his government.

Yes, he said, Pakistan will hold elections on February 18.

"The elections will be free, fair, transparent and peaceful," said President Musharraf.

Mr. Musharraf also rejected the notion that his government was lax in pursuing democracy and human rights.

"The only thing we would like is that this freedom should be within bounds and not lead to violence and destruction and anarchy," he said. "We cannot allow violence, anarchy in the name of human rights. And may I say that every country has a different environment of human rights."

President Musharraf has repeated this message throughout Europe this past week, including at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland - namely that the West needs to recognize Pakistan's strategic importance, its efforts in the war on terror and its growing economy and not seek to impose a western definition of democracy and human rights.