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Musharraf more popular than Benazir: Economist

The London-based magazine says he has proved much better at running the country than either Nawaz Sharif or Benezir Bhutto.

india Updated: Jul 10, 2006 17:05 IST

In a clear boost to President Pervez Musharraf who wants to keep his uniform and seek a second term in the presidency, a British magazine has said he is more popular than Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, his principal detractors challenging him from their exile.

The London-based Economist magazine in its latest issue say he has "generally proved much better at running the country than either Nawaz Sharif or Benezir Bhutto," the two former prime ministers, who want to stage a political come back in time for the elections due to take place some time next year.

In dealing with arch rival India too, the magazine gives full marks to Musharraf. "Remarkably, given a career spent fighting India, he had done more to make peace than any his predecessors," the report noted.

The magazine praised the economic reforms introduced by President Musharraf, which had helped the country achieve seven per cent growth despite the fact that when he took over, the economy was in a crisis.

But the survey asserts that these sensible reforms have almost all only been partially or corruptly implemented.

It adds that Musharraf is clinging to his job by manipulation and with the backing of the army, and that by sabotaging Pakistan's fragile democracy to meet his own ends, he may have made the country even more dangerous".

The economy has become "tigerish", it says, but notes that foreign investors are still keeping away.

"General Musharraf inherited an economy in crisis. Shackled by sanctions and parched of capital, Pakistan had defaulted on foreign debts," said The Economist, adding: "Thanks partly to continued fiscal prudence and some sensible reforms, Pakistan has notched up average growth of seven percent over the past three years, about the same as India."

The Economist in a detailed survey said: "Six years on, General Musharraf is still in charge and the economy has been transformed.

In the financial year to mid-2005, it grew by 8.6 per cent, the highest figure for two decades, followed by a 6.6 per cent rise in the financial year just ended, daily The News said, carrying details from a survey conducted for the magazine by James Astill.

Pakistan has $13 billion in foreign reserves, up from $1.7 billion in 1999.

The Pakistani rupee is stable. Public debt as a share of GDP is 54 per cent, down from 80 per cent in 2000. "One-third of the population is still poor, but at least the figure has not increased recently."

It said agriculture, which constituted 22 per cent of the country's economy, had done well "thanks to helpful weather that boosted farm output in 2005 by 7.5 per cent.

Textiles, which account for 60 per cent of total exports, have grown by 20 per cent since global trade quotas were lifted at the start of the last year, rewarding several years of heavy investment in the sector."

On President Musharraf's initiative to start dialogue with India, the magazine commented, peace in South Asia is more possible than in the past.

"He then surprised many by throwing himself into peacemaking with India."

Peace on the subcontinent is still hard to imagine, but it may be more possible than at any time since the Independence in 1947, it said.

Referring to the Siachen glacier, The Economist said: "One big test of good intentions for both sides is the Siachen glacier in Kashmir, the world's highest battlefield, from which they have been talking of withdrawing troops."

It said if both Pakistan and India "can reach agreement on Siachen, they can probably settle a couple of smaller border disputes as well."

Whilst General Musharraf denounces extremism, he has proved reluctant to crack down hard on the killers.

The survey indicates that the reason for this is two-fold. General Musharraf, Astill states, distinguishes between truly dangerous militia and those he thinks he can control.

The other reason is that General Musharraf is afraid of the potential support that the extremist groups can muster.

But some liberal progress may emerge from General Musharraf's rule. He has liberated the media, meaning that Pakistanis now have more access to information about the world outside Pakistan.

TV viewers can increasingly watch foreign channels, including those from India, the magazine notes.