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Musharraf Advocates Constitutional Changes in Pakistan - 2002-07-13

Pakistani military president Pervez Musharraf has defended his proposed constitutional amendments, saying they are needed to ensure a stable and sustainable government in Pakistan. In a nationally televised speech Friday, the military leader has also urged militants from other Islamic countries to leave Pakistan.

President Musharraf said corrupt civilian governments and power-struggle between prime ministers and presidents in the past have shown that true parliamentary democracy never worked in Pakistan. The military leader insisted that he is not power hungry and wants only to establish a stable democracy in the country.

President Musharraf's proposed constitutional changes include creation of a National Security Council that would oversee the working of an elected government. It would have the power to dismiss the elected prime minister and his cabinet, and dissolve the parliament. The president would be the head of the council. The council would be made up of five senior military generals and six civilian leaders, including the prime minister and the opposition leader in the future parliament. Mr. Musharraf wants his proposal implemented before the next parliamentary election in October.

Most political parties and independent observers have denounced President Musharraf's proposals. Critics say the constitutional changes will only ensure the military retains the ruling hand in the country's politics.

Pakistan is a key ally in the U.S.-led international war against terrorism in Afghanistan. In his Friday's speech, President Musharraf urged militants from other Islamic countries to leave Pakistan. He asked them to surrender and ask Pakistan for help in being repatriated.

A large number of Taleban and al-Qaida fighters are believed to be hiding in Pakistan's tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. With U.S. assistance, the Pakistani military are trying to track them down. President Musharraf insists that only a dozen American experts are providing technical help to his soldiers in the hunt.