Who's first on Osama bin Laden's hit list? And who has the most dangerous job in the world? Not George W. Bush but Pervez Musharraf, according to Pakistan's president himself. Today, as he celebrates five years in power, General Musharraf grabs any opportunity to publicise his own role in the United States war on terror - a role that has won him powerful friends such as Mr Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and implacable enemies like al-Qaeda and the Taleban, who have apparently tried three times to kill him. The military dictator's much-ballyhooed anti-terror role has turned him into a global celebrity. On the fifth anniversary of his rule, they say General Musharraf can rightfully claim he is one of the most high-profile leaders in Asia - and the world. The 58-year-old general dethroned democratically elected prime minister Nawaz Sharif on October 12, 1999, without firing a shot. And two years later, he promoted himself to the presidency. But analysts say he would have remained an international pariah had it not been for the September 11 attacks on the US. 'The 9/11 strikes came as a godsend, or perhaps Allahsend, for Musharraf,' said a western diplomat who has watched the general's transformation into a world figure who commands attention in international capitals. 'He seized the opportunity with both hands and played his cards so well that his importance is not going to diminish at all in the foreseeable future. 'Don't judge him by his terrible reputation at home - he is accused of terrorising the country's fumbling judiciary, politicians, the fourth estate and shuffling prime ministers like cards. But the worst is his decision to stay on as army chief, reneging on a promise to discard his uniform by December 31, 2004.' The veteran diplomat added: 'No doubt, his domestic ratings have plunged after his recent announcement that he will occupy dual offices of the president and army chief in the national interest. But his brushes with public opinion at home don't seem to bother him. He attaches far more importance to the long handshakes with Mr Bush before TV cameras and the billions of dollars in aid for his cash-strapped nation.' Many Pakistanis say General Musharraf is a liability. There was uproar last month when he asked: 'How did General De Gaulle continue in uniform all through his period as president of France, and France is a democratic country.' Even as domestic critics tore into him for twisting recent history, General Musharraf was unfazed, knowing too well that the protests would die down. And they did. He is, by any account, the west's foremost ally fighting America's dirty war in Afghanistan against fellow Muslims. And he clearly enjoys more international clout than any Pakistani leader commanded even at the height of the cold war or during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. His support, according to strategic affairs specialists, is so crucial that the US administration is not demanding direct access to nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, who is suspected of smuggling equipment to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons, because it wants General Musharraf to catch Osama bin Laden before the presidential election next month. At present, it seems General Musharraf can do no wrong. A few days ago, Washington summarily dismissed a warning by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof that if a nuclear weapon destroyed Capitol Hill in coming years, it was bound to be based on Pakistani technology. International or domestic ratings apart, the general's 'balancing act', or his newly acquired penchant for telling off the west for targeting Muslims worldwide, has caught his detractors off guard. Speaking at the UN General Assembly in New York and then in Rome, he declared the war on terror would be won only if the US and the European Union quickly resolved political disputes with Muslim countries and the Islamic world rejected extremism. Condemning Israel on American soil, General Musharraf warned there would no peace in the Middle East until Tel Aviv stopped killing innocent Palestinians. He described the tragedy of Palestine as an 'open wound inflicted on the psyche of every Muslim. It generates anger and resentment across the Islamic world'. He noted that 'we may be winning the battle against terrorism but maybe we won't win the war against terrorism unless the core issues which give rise to extremism, militancy and terrorism are properly addressed by the world'. General Musharraf's vocabulary has dramatically improved since he grabbed power in a bloodless coup. His wife, Sehba, is believed to be the source of the gems studding his utterances of late. Recently, he urged industrialised nations to support his endeavour for an Islamic renaissance through adequate financial and technical assistance and larger trade opportunities, even as he warned that an iron curtain was falling between the Islamic world and the west. But by snuggling close to Uncle Sam, and virtually giving US forces a free hand in Pakistan to combat remnants of the Taleban in Afghanistan, General Musharraf has angered China, Pakistan's time-tested ally and alleged supplier of missile technology and military hardware. China has traditionally backed Pakistan in its conflict with nuclear rival India over Kashmir. But in the post-9/11 scenario, Pakistan allowed US forces into its border region close to China. Although the US presence has grave security implications for China, neither Islamabad nor Beijing have publicly commented on the prickly issue. 'If China is feeling let down, so, probably, is Pakistan, as Washington recently showed the green light to highly sensitive Israeli defence exports to India, a country Pakistan has fought three full-fledged wars with,' said foreign policy expert Prem Shankar Jha. But Mr Jha argues that General Musharraf's no-holds-barred campaign against terrorism will ultimately lead to the resolution of the Kashmir problem. Interrogation of Pakistanis arrested for attempts on General Musharraf's life - including two in December - has revealed that the conspirators were linked not only to al-Qaeda but also to the armed Islamic campaign for Kashmir's secession from India. 'This has brought home to General Musharraf and the Pakistani establishment that fighting terrorism in Pakistan and Afghanistan while encouraging it in Kashmir is no longer viable. The jihadis (Islamic fighters) are linked together and the only way of ridding Pakistan of the menace they pose is to uproot their organisation root and branch,' Mr Jha said. He said the president's sincerity in battling Islamic fundamentalists is not doubted. As many as 400 Pakistani soldiers have died in the past year fighting jihadis on the Afghan border. Crushing them has become a matter of honour for Musharraf's army. And if General Musharraf manages to capture bin Laden in the next four weeks, it will raise the dictator's standing beyond his wildest dreams.