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Musharraf promises 'fair' elections, to lift emergency rule

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  • Bin Laden, his top deputy likely in Afghanistan, not Pakistan, Musharraf says
  • Pakistani president says ousted Supreme Court chief will not be reinstated
  • Musharraf: Opposition saying elections will be rigged to justify anticipated loss
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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has promised to lift the controversial emergency rule he imposed on his country last month and says the upcoming parliamentary elections will be "free and fair."

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Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf says his military can handle al Qaeda without U.S. military intervention.

"I do guarantee that they will be free and fair, yes, absolutely," Musharraf told CNN's Wolf Blitzer.

In an interview that aired Sunday, Musharraf also said he believes Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri are more likely in Afghanistan than in Pakistan.

If the pair are hiding in Pakistan, Musharraf said, the military will find them without the help of the U.S. military.

Musharraf also vowed to lift Saturday the emergency order on his nation, one day earlier than he had previously announced.

Asked whether former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif -- his leading political opponents who have spent years in exile -- would be allowed to run for office, Musharraf insisted it is not his call. An elections commission and procedures are in place "for submitting of petitions against any candidate," he said. Video Watch how anti-Musharraf protesters took to the streets last week »

"I am not in charge," he added. "I am not the chief justice of Pakistan. I never speak to the elections commission. I never speak to anybody down the line."

Opposition leaders in Pakistan, as well as human rights groups and some world leaders, have slammed Musharraf for recent moves they say jeopardize democracy in Pakistan.

Along with declaring a state of emergency last month, Musharraf suspended the nation's constitution and removed members of the Supreme Court, including Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, replacing them with handpicked justices.

Asked if Chaudhry would return to the high court's helm, Musharraf responded, "No, not at all. He is no more the chief justice of Pakistan."

Critics allege that Musharraf imposed the emergency rule so he could remain in power. Observers had expected that the Supreme Court would issue a ruling nullifying Musharraf's October election victory.

Pakistani opposition leader Imran Khan told CNN he is calling on opposition parties to boycott the elections because Musharraf has rigged the outcome.

"[Musharraf] wants to become the Hosni Mubarak of Pakistan," Khan said, referring to the Egyptian president. "Keep holding fraudulent elections, have his own pocket judges, control the election commission, muzzle the media and then just sit there and have this rubber-stamp parliament, which is what he's had in the last five years, and this is quite obviously his plan."

Mubarak won re-election in 2005 after weeks of arresting opposition figures and protesters. Independent monitors accused Mubarak's party of widespread voting irregularities.

Musharraf told CNN the opposition's charges are merely an excuse for their anticipated loss in the elections.

"This is a clear indication of their preparation for defeat. Now when they lose they'll have a good rationale, that it is all rigged, this is all fraud," he said. "This is what they do always in Pakistan -- the loser always cries."

Defending his recent crackdown, Musharraf said that people need to understand "what was happening that led us to act."

"The complete executive machinery was in near paralysis. The law enforcement agencies were totally demoralized, and they were not acting because terrorists were being more encouraged than the law enforcers," he said. "The parliament, the supremacy of the parliament, was totally violated in that they gave me 57 percent vote and yet they were not allowed to go through with their decision."

He also said the economy had taken "a downturn," and that the environment was helping foster terrorists. The chief justice, Musharraf insisted, failed to understand the nation's needs and politicized the situation.

Chaudhry and his supporters have repeatedly rejected Musharraf's allegations.

Musharraf denied suggestions that Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders had found safe haven in his country.

President Bush has said he would send U.S. troops into Pakistan if he had intelligence that bin Laden was hiding there. Musharraf said in the CNN interview, however, that his military is capable of handling bin Laden without U.S. assistance or intervention.

"It is the Pakistan forces who will act," he said, noting that his troops have killed or arrested numerous al Qaeda fighters.

Musharraf said there was "zero proof" to the U.S. intelligence claim that top al Qaeda leaders were hiding in the mountainous tribal regions of northern Pakistan, near the Afghan border.

"They can be anywhere," Musharraf said. "Do they have any proof? Do they have any intelligence to substantiate whatever they are saying? No sir, they don't."

Al Qaeda elements may be in the northern Pakistani mountains, he said, but bin Laden and his deputy al-Zawahiri are more likely in Afghanistan, he said.

"We are trying our best to locate them," he said.

Musharraf bristled at criticism that some of his troops may be sympathetic to the Taliban and al Qaeda. The Pakistani military has suffered about 1,000 casualties "at the hands of these very terrorists. So I can't even imagine one person to be sympathetic to a person who is killing their own brothers-in-arms," he said.

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He also rejected claims by Afghan President Hamid Karzai that foreign fighters are entering Afghanistan through Pakistan. The terrorism problem, Musharraf said, was imported into Pakistan from Afghanistan -- not the other way around.

"They may come into Pakistan and get some sanctuaries here, hide here, recuperate here and go back," he said. "But the real support, the real backbone of everything that is happening there, is in Afghanistan." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

All About Al QaedaPakistanPervez MusharrafOsama bin Laden

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