US, EU press Musharraf to hold elections

London, July 14:

The European Parliament has asked Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf to shed his Army Chief’s uniform and sounded a warning against him seeking re-election to the presidency from the current parliament and legislators that elected him in 2002.

There is also a clear message for Pakistan’s armed forces to “allow free and fair elections,” the Dawn said in a report from London.

A 19-point resolution was passed by the European Parliament yesterday even as the US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher told a US Congressional panel that Pakistan was “better off with an elected government” that “will also provide a better base to combat terrorism.”

Significantly, Boucher said he had heard this argument, made approvingly, from Musharraf himself.

Analysts noted that although both the events were pre-scheduled, they came in the wake of the Lal Masjid operations in Islamabad this week and a court verdict expected next week on the suspension of the country’s chief justice, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, by Musharraf.

Both crises have rocked Pakistan and had a direct impact on Musharraf’s plans, promised to US President in March last year, for holding general elections later this year.

A report from Washington said Boucher, who looks after South Asian affairs at the State Department, “came under intense grilling” in the US Congress for the Bush Administration’s unconditional support to Musharraf.

The resolution said, “The European Parliament urges the government of Pakistan to return to democratic government by holding free, fair and democratic elections by the end of the year and warns against the imposition of emergency rule or other measures to suppress freedom of speech, association, assembly or movement.”

“The European Parliament encourages President Musharraf to respect the existing constitution by allowing the new assemblies to hold presidential elections and by relinquishing his post of army chief, which he had previously agreed to do in an undertaking to the EU.” The point about allowing new assemblies to re-elect the new president pertains to Musharraf’s plans to get the present legislators to re-elect him before dissolving them.

The opposition parties have threatened that in such situation, they would resign en masse. The European Parliament resolution said that “a clear message” should be conveyed to President Musharraf that a transition to civilian rule by strengthening democratic institutions and processes was the “only acceptable way out of the current crisis.”