Musharraf admits Al Qaeda presence in Pakistan
May 18, 2007 - 3:33:04 PM

Islamabad, May 18 - Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf Friday admitted that Al Qaeda is present in the country but said that any major military operation against its elements may cause casualties to civilian population.

'Al Qaeda, yes indeed they are here. I have stated thousand times they are here. When I said they are not here? Al Qaeda is in our mountains, in Mir Ali. This is completely true,' he told the private Aaj TV in an interview Friday -.

'How to deal with them? There are cities. Whether we surround them? Whether we bomb them? Bullets will be fired, air force will be used and thousands of civilians will lose - lives. Should we do that? No sir, this is not the way. So it is more an intelligence operation,' he said.

Musharraf also admitted that the phenomenon of militancy and extremism was on the rise in the country.

'There is an increase of extremism and militancy in the country. We have to counter it. We have to face it.'

During the interview, Musharraf also said that exiled Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif would not to be allowed to come to the country before the next general elections, due later this year.

'No, they - cannot return before elections,' he said in response to a question.

However, he said that the matter of their return might be considered after the elections.

To a question about the suspension of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, Musharraf said that the issue of reference against him was being politicised, adding that the May 12 incidents of violence in Karachi were the result of politicisation of this judicial issue.

'Now when the full bench of the Supreme Court is hearing this case, why this judicial issue is being converted into a political one?' he asked.

The president said that the people, who are giving ethnic colour to the Karachi incidents, were playing with the destiny of country.

'If ethnic violence starts in Karachi, we will turn back to the 1990s to the detriment of the country,' he remarked.

On Kashmir, Musharraf said different options are under consideration and Pakistan and India are closer to the resolution of this dispute.

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