Apr 12 2004
By The Evening ChronicleBy Jane Picken, The Evening Chronicle
Pupils from the North East have told of their extraordinary meeting with the president of Pakistan.
Five talented pupils from Ponteland Community High School met President Pervez Musharraf as part of a 10-day tour around Pakistan which took in sights such as the historic Khyber Pass, the Himalayas and local schools.
The trip was awarded to Year 10 geography students Charles Dickinson, Michael Skelly, Martin Spurr, Philip Overbury and David Hindle after they impressed judges with their work in this year's annual Experience Pakistan Project.
The students were invited to London, where they outlined their research on diversity and unity in Pakistan to judges in a 15-minute multi-media presentation.
They were selected along with five other UK schools to go to Pakistan as part of the project, aimed at counteracting Pakistan's negative image as a country troubled by oppression, terrorism and violence.
The president, an ally of the West, talked openly to the students about the issues affecting his country and told them killing militants was not the way to fight terrorism.
The students returned from their visit late on Saturday with a few dodgy stomachs but many great memories.
David Hindle, 14, from Ponteland, is looking forward to helping to change people's views about the country as an ambassador of the country.
He said: "President Musharraf was very down to earth, he answered all our questions.
"We asked him about his life, the assassination attempts, Pakistan relations and the cricket. He answered them all honestly and openly.
"There were lots of great sights. I went to the Himalayas and saw the third highest mountain in the world. We went in a Hercules transporter and I got a great view from the cockpit.
"The most surprising thing was how nice the city of Lahore is.
"We will be changing people's perceptions of Pakistan by writing in the school news letter and telling all our friends about it."President Musharraf told the students the answer to terrorism and beating groups like al Qaeda was to address economic deprivation and ignorance.
The discussion remained friendly and President Musharraf went on to talk about his education plans for Pakistan, saying he wanted high-quality teacher training, new text books and curriculum covering all pupils.
The president also spoke of how two assassination attempts last December have effected his life.
He said: "I used to be quite independent, going to hotels after dinner for hot chocolate, but my security people are not happy about that now.
There was also talk of encouraging equality between men and women, and the president praised former headteacher Zubeida Jalal, who is now his education minister.
Launched in 2001, Experience Pakistan is financed by Pakistani-born business man Prof. Humayun Mughal, chairman of Akhter Computers, based in Harlow, Essex, and one of its aims is to create ambassadors for Pakistan in the UK.