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Pakistani leader 'not at all worried' about his survival

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said Sunday that he is "not at all worried" that he or his government may be in danger because of his support for the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism, which has triggered sometimes violent protests in his homeland.

"The vast majority of Pakistanis are behind me. I'm very confident," he said in an interview with NBC's Meet The Press while in New York for this weekend's United Nations General Assembly meeting. Musharraf, a general who took power in a military coup in October 1999, also said his army is firmly behind him, despite recent shake-ups in command among top generals.

"Everyone follows the chief. This is a very disciplined army that we have," he said.

Musharraf also said that he believes the recent capture of the Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif by Northern Alliance forces is a sign that the battle there "has turned the corner" and that the country's Taliban government will eventually fall.

"Successes are visible," he said. "I am very confident with the way the operations are going. I think a force or individuals with such primitive methods of force available to them cannot last very long."

Musharraf said he does not believe a claim by Osama bin Laden, published in a Pakistani newspaper, that he possesses nuclear weapons, though he said it is "a possibility" that the suspected terrorist mastermind could have chemical weapons.

"I don't believe him. I can't even imagine that he can have nuclear weapons. Chemical is a possibility because it's easy to fabricate and easy to possess," he said.

But he said that in the unlikely event that bin Laden did have weapons of mass destruction, and used them, the United States should not respond with its own nuclear arsenal.

"I think it would be more terrible if we responded in kind," he said.

Musharraf has expressed concerns about pressing ahead with the military campaign in Afghanistan during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins this week. He said Sunday that his concerns are not based on religious considerations but center around how that might be perceived in the Muslim world

"I just said the sensitivities of the Muslims should be taken into account. It's not in our religion that no fighting should take place in Ramadan, but I just said that it will give a cause to religious extremists who are protesting all over the world," he said.

Musharraf's expression of confidence in his government's stability was echoed Sunday by Secretary of State Colin Powell.

"I think he is securely in place. He has the support of his key people. He seems to have a plan as to how to deal with some of the disturbances he has seen in the society. And I think as we see more success on the battlefield, and as the fighting changes and perhaps goes down, it will be easier for him to control that," Powell said on Meet The Press.

Despite the recent cooperation on the anti-terrorism effort, one major bone of contention between the United States and Pakistan remains -- the fate of some F-16 fighters that Pakistan purchased but never received because of sanctions imposed by the United States after Pakistan tested nuclear weapons.

Musharraf has raised the issue with both President Bush and Powell in private discussions that the secretary of state described Sunday as "candid."

"There are no plans now to transfer those planes to Pakistan," Powell said.

Musharraf warned that refusal to hand over the planes will have a detrimental effect on Pakistani public opinion.

"This is one issue which is held very much against the United States [in Pakistan]," he said. "It will be received negatively."


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