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Pak on democracy path: Musharraf

Paris, July 3 (AFP): Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf today insisted his country was on the path to democratisation, expressing confidence that its full membership in the 54-nation Commonwealth could soon be restored.

“Actually, democracy has never been so strong” in Pakistan, Musharraf said at a breakfast meeting before attending a conference organised by French business leaders on investment in his country. He leader said he believed that Pakistan could soon be invited to participate as a full member of the Commonwealth, telling journalists: “I am very optimistic after my discussions with (British) Prime Minister Tony Blair”.

Musharraf’s visit to France, which began yesterday, comes at the end of a four-nation tour that previously took him to Britain, the US and Germany. In May, Commonwealth foreign ministers welcomed democratic progress in Pakistan but failed to lift its suspension, saying it would be reviewed at their next meeting in September in New York.

The suspension, implemented after Musharraf took power in a 1999 military coup, applies to the Commonwealth’s top-level ministerial councils.

Pakistan has not been expelled from the group of former British colonies as a whole. Musharraf also highlighted Pakistan’s contributions to the global fight against terrorism and its efforts to stamp out corruption, saying none of his Cabinet members had been implicated in any wrongdoing since he took office.

Pakistani authorities have thus far arrested 480 suspected al Qaida operatives and nine members of Afghanistan’s former Taliban regime, he said.

Musharraf added the army continued to search for fugitive al Qaida members in lawless tribal areas along the Pakistani-Afghan border, claiming a security “vacuum” on the Afghan side.

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