Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has dared religious extremists in the country to fight his policies in the poll arena, declaring, "I am the real Muslim".
Pakistan faced "no external threat", but some "internal elements" were against the development of the country, he said on Saturday during a tour of North West Frontier Province (NWFP), which is ruled by rightwing Islamist parties that have questioned his policies on women and his advocating "enlightened moderation".
"Extremists, whether Taliban or others, shall not be allowed to hold sway in Pakistan," the president said at the inauguration ceremony for a project to supply gas to the southern NWFP districts of Hangu, Karak, Bannu, Lakki Marwat, Tank and Dera Ismail Khan.
"Some retrogressive elements propagate that I am against Islam but I tell you that they are wrong," he said. "I am the real Muslim," Pakistan Online quoted him as saying.
With religious extremists trying to fan "a civil war", Musharraf harked back to the era when Pakistan was created in 1947. The Pashtuns, he said, had backed Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founding father, during the foundation of Pakistan.
Records of that era, however, say that the Pashtuns under Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan had opposed Jinnah's Muslim League and chosen to stay within united India - till the Congress and the Muslim League agreed to the partition of the Indian subcontinent.
"Pakistan is passing through the same situation and needs the assistance of Pashtuns in this critical moment," Musharraf said.
Musharraf's appeal was aimed at the Pashtun tribals of the province bordering Afghanistan that hosts Afghan refugees. It is also the home for the Taliban and their Al-Qaeda collaborators, staying as "guests".
He urged people not to harbour foreigners living in their areas without legal documents, Daily Times said.
He said that Pakistan was at crossroads. "People have to decide whether they want to embrace development or backwardness," he said while opening a water filtration project.
Pakistan was in dire need of big dams to cope with an energy shortage, he said, assuring the province's people that the Kalabagh dam, contested by various groups including environmentalists, would be built.